(of computer systems or software) able to exchange and make use of information. (Oxford Dictionary)
if two products, programs, etc. are interoperable, they can be used together. (Cambridge Dictionary)
It’s no surprise that digital versions of learning and employment records (LERs) like certifications, licenses, and diplomas can introduce new worlds of opportunity and perspective. If they are issued, delivered, and verified according to well-established and supported standards, computers are able to exchange and use this information securely and interoperably. This practice of technical interoperability could also precipitate an increase in systemic interoperability by providing more individuals with direct, convenient, understandable, and affordable access to their confirmable LERs that are syntactically, structurally, and semantically similar. This can make digital credentials useful across many different systems.
Interoperability of digital LERs has three primary aspects:
- Verification describes when the claims were made, who the credentials are from, who they are about, and provides methods to prove these identities and that the claim data have remained unchanged since issuance.
- Delivery describes how the LERs move from one entity to another; overlaps with the verification layer.
- Content describes what each claim is and is also referred to as the credential subject.
At the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) there’s a standard called Verifiable Credentials (VC) that describes how claims can be verified. It’s being used for claims that require unmitigated proof like government credentials, identity documents, supply chain management, and education credentials. A diploma issued as a VC by a university would contain content representing the diploma and would be digitally signed by the university. The identities of the university and the student could be represented by a Decentralized Identifier (DID, also a recommendation developed at the W3C for cryptographically verifiable identities. The diploma could be stored in a digital wallet app where the student would have access to their cryptographically verifiable digital diploma at a moment’s notice. Verifiers, such as employers, who understand the VC and DID standards could verify the diploma efficiently without notifying the university. Digitally, this resembles how watermarked and notarized documents are handled offline.
The connections between the wallet, the university credential issuing system, the student, and the verifier encompass the delivery of VCs. This overlaps with verification because DIDs and digital signature methods must be taken into consideration when the LERs are issued and transported. There are a handful of ways to accomplish this and several efforts aiming towards making this more interoperable including W3C CCG VC HTTP API and DIF Presentation Exchange.
Verifiers can recognize that a VC is a diploma, certification, or a transcript because there are many semantic standards with vocabularies that describe learning and employment records like these. Open Badges and the Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR) at 1edtech (formerly IMS Global) provide descriptions of credentials and the organizations that issue them. Both of these standards have been working towards upgrades (Open Badges 3.0 and CLR 2.0) to use the W3C Verifiable Credential model for verification. They provide a structural and semantic content layer that describes the claim as a type of achievement, the criteria met, and a potential profile of the issuer.
Another standard is the Credential Transparency Language (CTDL) at Credential Engine which provides a more in-depth vocabulary to describe organizations, skills, jobs, and even pathways. When LER VCs contain CTDL content on its own or in addition to Open Badges or CLR, the rich data source can precisely describe who or what is involved in an LER providing additional context and taxonomy that can be aligned with opportunities.
Standards groups continue to seek ways to meet the needs of issuing services, wallet vendors, and verifying services that are coming to market. The Credentials Community Group (CCG) is a great place to get acquainted with the community working on this. The W3C Verifiable Credentials for Education Task Force (VC-EDU) is a subgroup of the CCG that is exploring how to represent education, employment, and achievement verifiable credentials. This includes pursuing data model recommendations, usage guidelines, and best practices. Everyone at every stage of technology understanding is welcome to join in because we are all learning and every perspective increases understanding. VC-EDU meets online most Mondays at 8 am PT/11 am ET/5 pm CET. Meeting connection info and archives can be found here. Subscribe to the VC-EDU mailing list by sending an email to email@example.com with the subject “subscribe” (no email message needed).