The Digital Credential Consortium has published an interesting white paper on building the digital credential infrastructure for the future. The Digital Credentials Consortium was founded by leading universities with expertise in the design of verifiable digital credentials. Together, we are designing an infrastructure for digital credentials of academic achievement. Founding members are Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands), Georgia Institute of Technology (USA), Harvard University (USA), Hasso Plattner Institute, University of Potsdam (Germany), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA), McMaster University (Canada), Tecnologico De Monterrey (Mexico), TU Munich (Germany), UC Berkeley (USA), UC Irvine (USA), University of Milano-Bicocca (Italy), University of Toronto (Canada).
The Delft Extension School is involved in this project, and I'm one of the participants and I reviewed this white paper.
The Case for Digital Academic Credentials
Technology is profoundly changing higher education, but the way we issue and manage academic credentials, which represent learning outcomes and achievements, has not yet taken advantage of the possibilities of digital technology. What would an academic degree look like if it was designed today? Or a professional certificate? Or a certificate for an online course? As the question of trusted verification and authentication of
learning and credentials poses itself with increased urgency we need to redesign the way we issue, recognize and transact with academic credentials.
Adding digital technologies enables three broad areas of benefits:
- It increases the efficiency of exchanging and evaluating credentials,
- It provides more reliable ways to protect and verify the credentials, thereby reducing the opportunity for fraud,
- It expands learners’ control over their credentials, enabling a verifiable history of lifelong
The Digital Credentials Consortium proposes to modernize the concept of credentials, bringing benefits to learners and to relying parties (such as employers) by improving how skills and competencies are conveyed and recognized. Our hope is that this will strengthen trust and enable additional value in how academic credentials are considered within nations and globally.
What is a Digital Credential?
A digital credential can be imagined as a combination of two components: a document and an envelope into which that document is placed. The document is like the piece of paper a university issues to a graduate, which might contain the name of the recipient as well as a description of the credential they received. The envelope protects the content of the document so it cannot be changed and it reliably communicates the authenticity of its contents.
Our efforts focus on the envelope and the system that provides safe delivery and storage of multiple envelopes—similar to the postal service for mail. The envelope contains information about who issued the credential and to whom it was issued. It creates robust links to the identity of an issuer (e.g., a specific university) and the learner (e.g., a particular learner).
What makes this different from other initiatives?
Our effort is entirely driven by institutions of higher education. We are committed to open source and open standards and are actively working with standards groups to complement existing efforts. We are not developing commercial products and services; instead, we are working with technology companies, online learning platforms and IT vendors to create a vital ecosystem of options to choose from. We will also work with employers to integrate verification services into their hiring workflows. By working together, we intend to put into practice a new standard for learner-controlled, privacy-preserving credentials, in a manner that ensures interoperability and avoids vendor lock-in. To this end, the consortium will incubate standards openly within the framework of a W3C community group, with draft specifications and reference implementations
released under the W3C Software and Document License, and will consider collaborating with other standards bodies as appropriate.
About this white paper
This white paper sets out the design considerations of the system architecture. It serves as the foundation for the development of reference implementations, software libraries, and deployment prototypes by the participating universities. It describes technology choices we are making, the tradeoffs they come with, and the state of our current thinking.
The paper is intended for a general audience, but contains sufficient technical detail to invite review by technology system designers and digital credential developers. We also intend for the white paper to act as a call-to-action that will help clarify to others (not just partners mentioned in this paper, but other individuals, organizations and corporations) how they can work with us.
More information about this effort can be found on the project website at
Most of the text above are originally from the white paper and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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