Is it possible to develop a community sourced credential? How do you even go about doing so? And even if you managed to develop one how would a community sourced credential function?

This past weekend, during power blackout caused by a big storm of wind and rain here in Vancouver, I read a book called Open Source City by flashlight then went to bed. In the middle of the night I woke up with some ideas for a community sourced credential. Thought I’d share them here.

rain drops

Rain photo by Inge Maria from Unsplash licensed CC0

The traditional approach to develop a “certificate” is to convene subject matter experts who define the body of knowledge and skill required to attain the certificate. Learning objectives are set, a syllabus is written, readings and resources identified, learning activities defined, and a series of tests and assessments devised to confirm knowledge acquisition. All this is done internally within the institution or organization developing the certificate. That institution or organization then becomes the provider and centralized authority assessing and verifying successful completion.

This is a tried and true process used everywhere by schools, colleges, universities, and corporate training providers. But is it right for Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a globally distributed community of grassroots practitioners. Its headquarters and global network of affiliates act as stewards of the licenses and enablers of participation and use. Taking on the role of a centralized authority with its own team of subject matter experts who are arbiters of correctness and assessors of knowledge  and skill seems fundamentally out of character with the very identity of Creative Commons and the way a Commons works. But what is the alternative? Is it possible to develop a community sourced credential? How do you even go about doing so? And even if you managed to develop one how would a community sourced credential function?

I’ve been grappling with this conundrum since taking on responsibility for leading the development of Creative Commons certificates for educators, librarians, and government. I haven’t been able to get myself to buy in to the traditional process and means of providing a certificate, despite my many years of experience creating them. And yet defining an alternative approach and means of achieving it has been equally difficult.

Even the term certificate seems inappropriate. It seems so 1980’s. It suggests a start and an end. A guided process that leads to mastery designated by completion. Complete your learning – get a certificate. End of story. Learning done. But that seems so much less than what it should be. Creative Commons learning is ongoing, never ending. An ever expanding engagement in use and creation of the Commons accompanied by growing social exchange and networks of relationships. How can that be done as a certificate with a start and end date? How does a traditional certificate build community?

Creative Commons has enabled open movements – Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Access (OA), Open Science, open data, … Creation of a Creative Commons certificate needs to walk-the-talk and emulate the best of these open practices. The certificates are not just about Creative Commons they have to embody the Creative Commons ethos. The experience of taking a certificate should align with the culture and norms of Creative Commons.

In that light taking on the role of a centralized authority certifying knowledge and skill acquisition seems inappropriate.

Individual creators motivated to share and identifying with the social benefits of doing were the early adopters of Creative Commons and make up a large portion of our community. As Creative Commons has grown around the world we’ve seen Creative Commons adopted not just by individuals but by governments, institutions, and businesses. Adoption by an entire organization creates new needs to educate and skill up staff within those organizations on what Creative Commons is and how it works. People in organizations may not be actual Creative Commons users themselves and may not be as bought in to the open ethos as CC’s foundational community. Creative Commons certificates for educators, librarians and government must address the needs of both our large individual creator community and the needs of organizations.

I’ve been told I’m making it harder than it needs to be. I expect I’m driving my certificate production team crazy exploring alternative ideas around what a certificate might be and how to create one in the spirit of Creative Commons. I’ve been told by many to just do what everyone expects and create a traditional certificate. I’ve even been told that acquiring a formal Creative Commons “certificate” is a motivator for some.

A traditional certificate may indeed be what we end up doing. But for me that seems to falls short of modelling what a community based credential could be.

Creating Creative Commons certificates in an open and community based way has proven to be harder than I thought! (OERu, I’m feeling your pain.)

We’ve already adopted a lot of practices aimed at community sourcing this credential. We’ve got What If videos, a GitHub to WordPress means of sharing the curricula, Potluck Style Invitations to provide feedback and contribute resources, Twitter CCQuests, and input from distributed working groups.

So far we’ve defined a CC Certificate as having a series of modules and learning units like this:

CORE Modules Details

Thanks to the great ideas of David Wiley and Olga Belikov we’ve also defined an instructional design approach that looks like this:

  • Learning Outcomes
  • Big Question / Why it Matters
  • Pre-Assessment Reflection
  • Open Educational Resources (to be used for learning)
  • Quest (learning activity)
  • Answering The Big Question

On the dark and rainy night I was without power I imagined each learning unit as a six sided cube. Side one is the unit. Side two is the community person or organization who defines the learning activity associated with that unit. Side three is the big question that establishes the relevance of the learning. Side four the Open Educational Resources to be used in acquiring that learning. Side five the learning quest or activity involved. Side six the way of indicating completion and the evidence associated with it.

Here are a series of photos showing this in action:

box Box with certificate module title - Significance of the Commons

Names and pictures of creators Org sponsor of learning unit

box3 box4

Quest Completion with links to evidence and CC Cert points


You’ll see from these photos that I actually went out and purchased six inch by six inch cardboard cubes which I used to create a tangible physical representation of that learning unit.

The breakthrough for me was sourcing the learning associated with each learning unit to the community and acknowledging their contribution with their pictures and names. It could be the name(s) of an individual or an organization. They become almost like sponsors of that unit of learning.

Another breakthrough for me was thinking of the “certificate” as a collection of six sided learning units (“cubic units of learning”). It compacts and condenses our learning structure and content into smaller easy to absorb sizes. I imagined it as a game card where the CC Certificate is represented by a “game” card that includes all the learning units including the specialized ones unique to educators, librarians, or government. Each participant gets their own CC Credential game card that they use to show their progress through the learning, turning learning units they complete to “Done” to signify completion.

Another idea I played with is that completion of a learning unit generates “CC Cred” which I imagined as being similar to “street cred”. Like street cred, CC Cred comes not from a credentialing authority but from your peers and community. I dropped the notion of a “certificate” and instead imagined participation in the CC Cred as being ongoing. Experience and acquisition of capabilities generates points in the form of CC Cred which represent a certain prowess or experience with Creative Commons accumulated over the years.

Finally I imagined creation of this CC Credential as being done via Hack The Cred events where those who already have developed learning resources for CC, and those interested in doing so, are brought together physically for 2 or 3 day sprints of learning unit creation. Of course the idea is still to produce these cubic units of learning in ways that people can modify, fork or customize as needed.

Interested in creating a CC learning unit? Let me know.

I’ve shared these ideas about community sourcing a credential with a few people.

Here’s a sampling of responses:

  • What’s in it for a person or organization to create a learning unit?
  • Would there be some ongoing expectation that the person or organization who create a unit have an obligation to support its use or maintain it over time?
  • Community sourcing a credential will be harder and more work than simply creating your own.
  • You’ll only get interest in 5-10% of the units of learning you’re aiming to create.
  • How would such a credential satisfy the needs of those who are looking for a defined program of study with a credential from Creative Commons at the end of it?
  • What is the value of a community sourced credential?

These are all great questions and reactions. What are yours?

Is a community sourced credential even possible?