Category Archives: Credentials

PESC Transcript in JSON-LD

I was (virtually) at the PESC 2023 Data Summit recently, presenting on a panel about Re-Engineering the “All-Or-Nothing” Academic Transcript to Reveal Its Unequivocal Value. This post is based on that presentation. It sets out the journey of a working group that I have been on, taking an XML record-based approach to detailing a student’s progress through education and turning it into JSON-LD. My input has been to focus on the Linked Data / RDF standards aspects of that. I should note that initially the project was about a transition to JSON, the emphasis on Linked Data and the model we’re adopting dropped out of our discussions about what we wanted to achieve and what various models enabled. We didn’t start with this solution in mind and try to jemmy it in. I think that’s important.

What we started with

We started with the PESC transcript in XML, and translated this to JSON.  XML gives you records with nested elements with meaning that depends on their parent & sibling elements. The image below is incomplete and very simplified and I have taken some liberties to make it presentable, but it gets the idea across.Nested boxes of information, like a form. The outer box is College Transcript. Within that are boxes for Transmission data and Student, each containing further boxes.

Presented like this you can see how the nested structure is kind of reassuringly similar to a printed transcript. Take note of how in the bottom right the information under “course” mixes information that is true of the course that everyone took (Course Number, Name) and information that is specific to the person whose details are provided nested in the same Student element. In reality the Course Number and Name have nothing to do with the Student.

JSON can be similar, but for Linked Data–as in JSON-LD–you no longer have a “record” paradigm, you have sets of statements about different things and the statements describe the characteristics of those things and the relationships between them.

The first cut

We took a first trip through the data model, focusing what were the different things being described and how did they relate to each other. The image below illustrates (again a very simple) example of what we came up with.

This usefully shows that there are some things that “belong” to the transcript, some things that are about a Person and what they have done, and some things that are about an Organization (e.g. a College) and what they offer (Courses).

But, when you look at real world examples, it was actually a bit of a mess: the relationships were more about where you find things on a printed transcript than what makes sense as relationships between the things being described. Look how you go from AcadmicSummary to Academic Session to Academic Achievement to Course.

Where we are now

We started thinking of a transcript as a record of a person’s various types of achievements in programs/courses/sessions/etc offered by an organization. That looks like this.

It looks a little less simplified, but it’s showing two achievements.

See how there is a split between the personal private information (yellow and blue boxes on the middle left) and the corporate public data (pink boxes on right and at the top) typically found in a Course Catalogue or similar, the type of information that could be made available as linked data through the Credential Engine Registry (other registries could exist, but Credential Engine pay me)

What if there were no need to generate the corporate data just for the transcript because it could be reused (either by repeating it in the transcript data or just linking to it.)

One final thought on the data structure. The heart of this view of the transcript is a series of assertions that an organization issues saying that a person has achieved something. These are represented by the Person-Achievement-College boxes running diagonally from botton left to the to right. This is the same core as a W3C Verifiable Credential, and the transcript is the same structure as a Verifiable Presentation. What if the data structure of the transcript were the same as that of a Verifiable Presentation? That is the approach taken by other similar standards, such as the European Learner Model and 1EdTech’s Comprehensive Learner Record. Having a common data model (even without going the whole way into including signed VCs in the transcript) will surely be helpful. If it is compatible with having a transcript made up of VCs, then so much the better, but we shall continue to follow the use cases to find a solution, not the other way round.



What am I doing here? 1. Credential Engine

January seems like a good time to review the work that I am doing at the moment. Rather than try all of it in one post, I’ll take it one project at a time. This one is about my work with Credential Engine, a US-based not for profit that aims to provide information about educational and occupational credentials on offer and the things related to them. The aim is to empower learners with the information they need to make decisions about their educational options.

(Note, I think of educational / occupational credential as synonymous with qualification, and tend to use credential as a shorthand for that.)

About the work

I provide consultancy to Credential Engine on their RDF vocabulary, CTDL, the Credential Transparency Description Language. I’ve been associated with CTDL for longer than the Credential Engine has been around: I was on the technical advisory committee for the precursor project, CTI, the Credential Transparency Initiative, seven years ago.

[Aside, fun fact: the first job I had in learning technology was in another CTI, the Computers in Teaching Initiative. Yes this was a factor in my agreeing to serve on the advisory committee.]

The CTDL is key to Credential Engine’s mission to make credentials more transparent by providing more information about how to obtain them, for example who offers them, what competencies (knowledge, skills, attributes) are necessary to earn them, how are these competencies assessed, what opportunities are available to learn them, and what are the likely outcomes (in terms of things such as employability and salary) of possessing the credential. As such CTDL describes a lot more than just the bare details of a credential, it goes far beyond into organizations, competencies, learning opportunities and outcomes data. In fact, by CTDL we actually mean three related vocabularies:

  • CTDL, itself which covers the core of credentials, courses, pathways, organizations;
  • CTDL-ASN, an extension of the vocabulary for competency frameworks and related entities developed for the Achievement Standards Network;
  • QDATA, for quantitative data about outcomes.

As well as the bare vocabulary definitions we also provide a Handbook with sections for each of the vocabularies, covering how the terms are designed to be used to meet various use cases.

About my role

My first contract with Credential Engine was to set up and lead the EOCred W3C Community Group to improve and extend’s capability to describe educational and occupational credentials. CTDL was created following the same model as, and Credential Engine were keen to keep the two languages harmonized. The outcome of that project was the EducationalOccupationalCredential class and related terms, and some documentation from the working group about the how to address the use cases we identified.

More recently I have been working more closely with the core Credential Registry team on developing CTDL. They have well-established policies and procedures  for updates, which include setting up open working groups to “socialize” major proposals. While I have been working with them we have produced major updates to address Credit Transfer, Education to Work relationships, Educational Pathways, Scheduling Patterns, Approval Lists, as well as many minor tweaks on an almost monthly basis. Coming soon: assessment rubrics.

One of the things that I really appreciate about the Credential Engine work is that it gives me the freedom (or lets me take the liberty) to explore new RDF-related technologies that might benefit CTDL. The best example of this is how I have been able to build some working knowledge of SHACL as part of our thinking on how we express the CTDL data model and applications profiles of it in such a way that data can be validated. This has helped me justify my (otherwise unfunded) contribution to the Dublin Core Tabular Application Profile work. Other examples come from wanting to make sure CTDL is used as widely as possible, include contributing to the W3C Verifiable Credentials for Education community group, PESC’s work on transcripts and ETF training events on linked data.

Best of all, Credential Engine have a great team, it’s a pleasure to work with them.

Thoughts on IEEE ILR

I was invited to present as part of a panel for a meeting of the  IEEE P 1484.2 Integrated Learner Records (ILR) working group discussing issues around the “payload” of an ILR, i.e. the description of what someone has achieved. For context I followed Kerri Lemoie who presented on the work happening in the W3C VC-Ed Task Force on Modeling Educational Verifiable Credentials, which is currently the preferred approach. Here’s what I said: Continue reading

New work with the Credential Engine

Credential Engine logoI am delighted to be starting a new consulting project through Cetis LLP with the Credential Engine, helping them make credentials more transparent in order to empower everyone to make more informed decisions about credentials and their value. The problem that the Credential Engine sets out to solve is that there are (at the last count) over 730,000 different credentials on offer in the US alone. [Aside: let me translate ‘credential’ before going any further; in this context we mean what in Europe we call an educational qualification, from school certificates through to degrees, including trade and vocational qualifications and microcredentials.] For many of these credentials it is difficult to know their value in terms of who recognises them, the competences that they certify, and the occupations they are relevant for. This problem is especially acute in the relatively deregulated US, but it is also an issue when we have learner and worker mobility and need to recognise credentials from all over the world. Continue reading

The confusing concepts of credentials and competences

Back in July and August the Talent Marketplace Signaling W3C Community Group made good progress on how to relate JobPostings to Educational and Occupational Credentials (qualifications, if you prefer) and Compentences. These seem to me to be central concepts for linking between the domain of training, education and learning and the domain of talent sourcing, employment and career progression; a common understanding of them would be key to people from one domain understanding signals from the other. I posted a sketch of how I saw these working,.. and that provoked a lot of discussion, some of which led me to evaluate what leads to misunderstandings when trying to discuss such concepts.

Continue reading

Indiana Appathon Credential Data Learn and Build

This week I took part in the Credential Engine’s Indiana Appathon in Indianapolis. The Credential Engine is a registry of information about educational and occupational credentials (qualifications, if you prefer; or not, if you don’t) that can be earned, along with further information such as what they are useful for, what competencies a person would need in order to earn one and what opportunities exist to learn those competencies. Indiana is one state that is working with the Credential Engine to ensure that the credentials offered by all the state’s public higher education institutions are represented in the registry. About 70 people gathered in Indianapolis (a roughly equal split between Hoosiers and the rest of the US, plus a couple of Canadians and me) with the stated intentions of Learn and Build: learn about the data the Credential Engine has, how to add more and how to access what is there, and build ideas for apps that use that  data, showing what data was valuable and potentially highlighting gaps. Continue reading

Inclusion of Educational and Occupational Credentials in

The new terms developed by the EOCred community group that I chaired were added to the pending area in the April 2019 release of This marks a natural endpoint for this round of the community group’s work. You can see most of the outcome  under EducationalOccupationalCredential. As it says, these terms are now “proposed for full integration into, pending implementation feedback and adoption from applications and websites”. I am pretty pleased with this outcome.

Please use these terms widely where you wish to meet the use cases outlined in the previous post, and feel free to use the EOCred group to discuss any issues that arise from implementation and adoption.

My own attention is moving on the Talent Marketplace Signalling community group which is just kicking off (as well as continuing with LRMI and some discussions around Courses that I am having). One early outcome for me from this is a picture of how I see Talent Signalling requiring all these linked together:

Outline sketch of the Talent Signaling domain, with many items omitted for clarity. Mostly but not entirely based on things already in


Progress report for Educational and Occupational Credentials in

[This is cross-posted from the Educational and Occupational Credentials in W3C community group, if you interested please direct your comments there.]

Over the past few months we have been working systematically through the 30-or-so outline use cases for describing Educational and Occupational Credentials in, suggesting how they can be met with existing terms, or failing that working on proposals for new terms to add. Here I want to summarize the progress against these use cases, inviting review of our solutions and closure of any outstanding issues. Continue reading

Educational and occupational credentials in

Since the summer I have been working with the Credential Engine, which is based at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, on a project to facilitate the description of educational and occupational credentials in We have just reached the milestone of setting up a W3C Community Group to carry out that work.  If you would like to contribute to the work of the group (or even just lurk and follow what we do) please join it. Continue reading