Developing an Open Source Wallet for digital credentials
Pilot explored a mobile app to store Verifiable Credentials
Many organizations in the U.S. and worldwide are experimenting with digital credentials that provide equitable, verifiable records of the many forms of academic credentials available to learners — diplomas, professional certifications, and any of an increasing variety of microcredentials. The members of the Digital Credentials Consortium (DCC) — comprising 12 international universities — are working together to develop new digital systems for academic credentials. The DCC approach focuses on open standards, as well as developing software, systems and approaches to ensure learner control of their digital credentials.
In 2020, MIT entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to design and implement an open source mobile wallet app to store digital credentials, a critical but under-developed element in the digital credentials technology ecosystem. A digital wallet allows learners to store and control their credentials in one place, with equal visibility and accessibility, so they can more easily manage and share them with others.
This project included writing a specification for the wallet, informed by the team’s work with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), with plans to introduce it through the open standards community. Next, the team developed the Learner Credential Wallet, a mobile wallet app for learners to store open standards-compliant digital credentials (i.e., Verifiable Credentials), available for both iOS and Android.
Beyond this project, the DCC continues to work with pilot sites at College Unbound, Georgia Institute of Technology and San Jose City College on use of the mobile wallet.
“Digital credential technology will change how learners can store and manage their academic records in the future,” says MIT research scientist Philipp Schmidt, principal investigator on this project. “It’s crucial that we involve their voices in the design process, and work with students from a wide variety of institutions to make sure the systems we design really work for them.”
Specification, wallet and pilot
In May 2021, the team published a Learner Credential Wallet Specification. The specification describes the necessary wallet features and technical requirements enabling individuals to curate and present their learning and employment records. The specification is written for a technical audience seeking information about interoperable credential wallets. Credentials related to educational, training and professional development are the primary focus.
The Learner Credential Wallet is built on existing open source libraries developed through international working groups to enable institutions, governments and vendors to adopt or build upon the wallet. The mobile app was built to align with the specification and the full source-code is available online.
“We’re pleased to have developed the initial release of Learner Credential Wallet and made it available through the app stores. While the wallet is fully functional, we anticipate developers and other institutions will find equal value in the open source code upon which they can develop their own wallets,” said Brandon Muramatsu, wallet product manager and associate director of special projects at MIT Open Learning.
To demonstrate the wallet’s capabilities, the project team worked with colleges and universities to issue digital credentials that could be added to the wallet. The project team identified three schools with very different populations, goals, and resources to test the wallet’s viability:
- Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U) is a living laboratory focused on the future of higher education located in Atlanta, Georgia. Both founding members of the DCC, MIT has an ongoing collaboration with Georgia Tech to promote academic digital credentials that empower learner control. Georgia Tech has prior experience in both issuing digital credentials and developing the technology to support them. The project provided them an opportunity to explore Verifiable Credential-based digital credentials.
- College Unbound (CU) is a degree-completion college for adult learners in Providence, Rhode Island that aims to provide alternative pathways for students who have faced significant barriers to completing a traditional Bachelor’s degree program. Founded in 2015, CU confers a single Bachelor of Arts degree and has a small, yet growing student body of 165 learners which is expected to reach 500 enrolled students by 2025.
- San José City College (SJCC), founded in 1921 and a member of the San José-Evergreen Community College District, is a fully accredited community college located in San José, California. SJCC selected their Technest credential, a program built in 2016 through a collaboration with businesses and collaborating institutions including MIT, for use in the deployment.
Key takeaway and next steps
The deployment site teams were enthusiastic and supportive of the efforts, and the process taught the project team a lot about the infrastructure and resource needs for implementing a digital wallet at different universities. The key takeaway from this pilot at all three schools was that while developing the specification and the wallet was straightforward, there is a lack of production-ready tools for issuing Verifiable Credential-compliant credentials that universities can use. As with any new platform or system, widespread adoption of a digital wallet at universities and other organizations will require technical assistance, development of processes and policies, and change management.
The Digital Credential Consortium’s work is guided by a consideration for the potential impact of digital credentials in efforts towards more equitable academic and career landscapes in a variety of contexts. The project team expects that the use of this technology will increase the ease with which institutions securely confer credentials.
“We hope institutions find that a learner-centered approach will offer solutions to some of the issues faced by learners from vulnerable communities in the United States,” says Schmidt. “These could include the financial cost of requesting credentials, an inability to demonstrate competencies obtained from a partially completed or non-traditional degree program or lack of access to credentials from institutions that have closed.”
The DCC team at MIT are continuing to refine and improve the functionality of the mobile wallet. In addition, later this year, it will release a web verifier application that can be used by academic institutions and potential employers who want to check the validity of a digital credential that is presented to them. Additionally, the team is conducting research on the use of digital credentials in education to employment pathways. Informed by the findings of these research projects and pilots, the DCC will continue to explore the potential value in digital credentials in more granular ways, providing evidence of achievements of professional skills, individual competencies and other non-traditional educational offerings.
For more information please read the project’s report on the design and implementation of the Open Source Wallet.
This project was funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
Developing an Open Source Wallet for digital credentials was originally published in MIT Open Learning on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.