How Blockchain Will Come To Campus

How Blockchain Will Come To Campus

Blockchain, the decentralized, secure information technology, is most often associated with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. But almost from the outset, encouraging and entertaining uses have been under consideration and development.

But in education, uses for blockchain have been slow to develop, even conceptualize. That may be because education leaders and institutions have developed a reputation as slow adapters to technology, a reputation that’s probably earned in some cases. It may also be because, even though teaching may be becoming less human, learning still entirely is. Another explanation may be that education is about liberally sharing information. For the most part, knowledge is not something we safeguard.

Nonetheless, blockchain is probably coming to campus. More accurately, it’s coming after campus.

While the Groningen Declaration sounds like something economists throw jello over at the Nobel Prize cafeteria, or maybe the next Bourne sequel, it’s actually an agreement to work toward creating easily accessible, highly transportable and secure education credentials.

The idea rests on four pillars.

The first is that accessing transcripts, the existing records of academic achievement, is labor intensive and takes time. The second is that a transcript has limited information, usually only a course title and a grade. Third, with personal and population mobility, accessing academic records with common standards, any time and in any place will be essential. And finally, there’s an assumption that, going forward, learning won’t end when you graduate high school or college, it will be a life-long endeavor of upgrading job skills and staying current with evolving technology.

For that last purpose, ongoing education is likely to cross institutions, geography and significant amounts of time. If, for example, three years ago you paid for, went to, and completed a program in computer coding at Dev Bootcamp, which closed in 2017, showing that accomplishment to an employer or future education provider could be a challenge.

 

So, the theory is, future education credentials will need to hold more information, be accessible by many people while being both secure and verifiable – things that seem well suited for a blockchain-type solution.

So far, nearly 100 schools and education organizations around the world, including about 40 in the United States, have signed on to Groningen. American signers include Duke, Johns Hopkins, Stanford and the University of Texas, Austin.

Earlier this year, the Groningen conference in Paris featured multiple presentations specifically on blockchain. One presentation was by “Blockchain in Education” – a group assembled at the University of Groningen to run an ongoing pilot with 20 international college students using blockchain to access and verify their credentials. MIT (MIT Media Lab) has already developed mobile credential storage app called Blockcerts and used it, in 2017, to issue blockchain-secure digital diplomas to graduates of some of their programs. And one college, the University of Nicosia (UNIC) in Cyprus, is already offering full blockchain credentials for all their programs.

But progress, while ongoing, is likely to remain slow and patchy because creating a global, blockchain-based academic and educational credential system is not easy. Political considerations and credential standardization concerns are real.  There are technical impediments too.

In just one example, according to recent analysis by Merija Jirgensons and Janis Kapenieks of Riga Technical University in Latvia, different places can’t agree on the particular type of blockchain technology to use. “The Europeans, especially in the UK, have preferred Ethereum; while the Americans have opted for the bitcoin blockchain,” the report found. “Most states in the EU are planning blockchain strategies to fit national agendas, and most employ the Ethereum blockchain.” The MIT Blockcerts application, for example, “…  is currently unavailable for Ethereum,” the technology most under government development in Europe. (Post-publication note: Blockcerts does now support Ethereum blockchain.).

If global standardization is a goal, that level of discontent with between cultures with similar education structures and standards is a really bad sign.

Add to those complications, the reality that blockchain itself is not yet consumer-ready in most cases. Consider this description of the MIT Blockcerts process from the Riga Technical University report,

After the wallet has been downloaded, algorithms automatically generate the public / private key combinations which are a series of digital codes. The private key is used to generate the user’s cryptographic signature (really a digital ID) needed to verify each transaction. Now the Blockcerts wallet is available on Apple’s iTunes and Google Play, but not the Blockcert itself that is issued by the university. Next, the student sends the public key to MIT that makes a digital record of it and returns a hash string of numbers to the student as verification of the authenticity of the diploma. The diploma itself is sent later by e-mail as a JSON file (JavaScript Object Notation file) on which the student’s public key information is inscribed. The private key in the student’s possession verifies the authenticity of the diploma. However, an employer or another university may seek to further verify the authenticity of the diploma by checking the MIT verification portal …”

Frankly, that doesn’t sound all that much better than simply using a “verification portal” to request a paper copy of your transcript or diploma.

Still, the promise for blockchain in academic and education credentials is real, it has momentum and it’s almost certainly going to happen. The only open questions are when and how universal it will be.

 

Source: Forbes

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.