Blockchain in Education – 2020 Update

Among the many innovations in the field of technology, blockchain is an especially promising one. Its goal to achieve widespread adoption has yet to be reached, but that is not stopping its impact and prominent presence. Since Bitcoin’s 2009 inception, blockchain is seen as a catalyst for change in regards to various industries. Moreover, blockchain in education has the potential to disrupt the education sector.

The creation of an array of blockchain projects and alternate cryptocurrencies proves the power of blockchain technology. It is capable of providing innovative alterations across a broad spectrum. Governmental use, digital identification, medical records, and even agriculture all benefit from using blockchain. With its increasing popularity and largely reliable reputation, adoption by the masses no longer seems outlandish. In fact, it seems plausible.

Another field that blockchain is gradually making its mark on is education. Educational institutions are a crucial component in the development of new technology. For that matter, the industry isn’t lagging when it comes to adopting, executing, and developing the applications of blockchain technology. In this sense, it should come as no surprise that blockchain education is becoming a topic of discussion.

So, is blockchain the way of the future the education industry?

A brief overview of blockchain

For those new to the technology, blockchain is a system of peer to peer transactions. Their creation stems from cryptocurrency and their maintenance is through a series of computers. All of which connect together in a peer network. Because this is a decentralized system, there is no real need for the involvement of a third party or middlemen.

On the surface, this structure sounds incredibly risky. However, it actually provides users with a strong sense of reliability and authenticity.

Blockchain provides a sense of trust among all participating parties. It is equipped with a feeling of ownership courtesy of the public and private keys. By being in possession of these digital tools, the user can easily fulfill the requirements surrounding authenticity. This is an element that is not available at the best of times when there is a third party or a middleman.

There is so much more that blockchain is able to give and implement. Generally speaking, authenticity is nothing without authorization. This is a factor that is pivotal when assuring that a system like blockchain is indeed a reliable one. Because blockchain operates on a peer-to-peer network, it greatly reduces failure that a centralized system would often cause.

Educational progress

During the past couple of decades, educational technology has been making incredible strides. Yet, for all its progress, the road ahead leading to full modernization is still long. For some, the transition is too complex. For others, there is the mindset of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Regardless of the reason, total modernization is still out of reach. Technologies such as blockchain exist as a way to escalate the process. Pieces of ledger tech – including AI, smartphones, and tablets – are becoming the main method of teaching. They are replacing bulky desktop computers as well as out-of-date textbooks at a considerably rapid rate.

A recent study from the University of Cincinnati reveals that improvements in technology are exceedingly beneficial in the classroom. Up to 92% of teachers claim that technology is having a substantial impact on how students both learn and interact. Among these technologies that are leaving a positive impact on the learning process is blockchain. Its ledger technology possesses the capability of better managing accountability and transparency for both students and teachers. All in all, it improves the overall educational experience.

Strength and impact of immutability

One of the key elements pertaining to blockchain technology is its decentralized design. Bitcoin and Ethereum are two cryptocurrencies that are essentially immutable ledgers, serving as information and value storage. Their success would go on to provide a way for individuals and institutions to store important information. Data that they cannot afford to be subject to tampering or removal by a third party.

In this sense, the application of blockchain technology makes it a perfect candidate for record-keeping. Moreover, it is ideal when it comes to proof of ownership of intellectual property, credentials, and academic records. In the year 2019, this would flourish and capture the attention of many.

Probably one of the best examples stems from the “blockchain island” of the country of Malta. In a significant move for blockchain and education, the Maltese government signed a contract. One that would permit that all educational records in the country would be put into storage on a blockchain. The execution of the two-year pilot project will be in collaboration with software developer, Learning Machine. The main intent of the project is to store all of the records from Malta’s educational institutions.

Being a pioneer in this field, Learning Machine has become partners with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 2017, their partnership would ensure the distribution of digital diplomas to a specific number of graduates. The pilot project allows students to apply for, as well as have access to, digital versions of their respective qualifications. Both of which are completely verifiable and resistant against tampering.

Benefits

There is an array of benefits that come from incorporating blockchain technology into education. There are three primary ones:

  1. An increase in transparency
  2. Accountability by way of smart contracts
  3. Incentivizing the need to learn
private blockchain

The immutable ledger technology of blockchain effectively creates a chronological list of events. All of which transpire in real-time. This is quite useful when it comes to validating transcripts, presenting a complete report card and preserving the honesty of the students’ progress. A student submitting their homework through the blockchain ensures that they cannot “lose” their it. Furthermore, they cannot make the claim that the teacher lost it.

‘Smart contracts’ are a type of self-executing contract with the terms of agreement residing in the lines of code. Teachers, university administrators, and students alike will one day have the ability to engage in smart contracts. For instance, students and teachers could partake in a digital agreement that spells out an assignment’s parameters, due date, and deadline. The deployment of smart contracts can also be for student loan payments.  

Tokenization is gradually becoming the backbone of blockchain. In the future, academic institutions will have the ability to effectively motivate students to pay student loans on time. Likewise, teachers will be able to incentivize students by awarding cryptocurrency to those with high performances. On top of that, those who complete a certain major will also receive this reward. The gamification aspect of education that tokenization is responsible for creating is proving to be extremely beneficial.

Real-world cases on implementation

Of course, blockchain in education technology is still at an early stage. However, many are already praising it as “the right technology” to revamp the system. Specifically, a system that is largely seen as obsolete. Below are nine notable examples of the implementation of blockchain into education.

1 – Blockcerts

To reiterate an earlier point, Learning Machine has a partnership with MIT. With the Media Lab, they would go on to create Blockcerts. This is an open standard platform for the creation, issuance, and verification of certificates that are blockchain-backed. Creating records (ex. academic transcripts and credentials) on a blockchain means that the company can review the credibility of documents. Moreover, they are able to recognize false information.

One can store academic achievements like grades, transcripts and even diplomas on a Blockcerts blockchain. This provides immutable insight into the individual’s academic history.

In 2018, over 600 MIT graduates made the choice to receive a digital version of their diplomas on Blockcerts’ blockchain. As a result, the students’ academic records are in permanent storage and future employers are able to immediately corroborate them.

2 – APPII

APPII utilizes blockchain as a method of verifying credentials. The company combines blockchain, smart contracts, and machine learning to validate potential students’ and professors’ academic credentials. APPII users are able to create a profile and fill out their academic CVs. This includes such information as education history and transcripts. APPII then uses blockchain as a means to verify a user’s background and lock their information into its blockchain.

APPII is in partnership with The Open University so that they can build a qualification and accreditation platform. With this, they can oversee incoming students as well as create immutable academic records for alumni.

3 – Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh is a platform that draws from Ethereum smart contracts and is primarily for sharing knowledge. Similar to social media sites, book readers, students, and authors alike are able to discuss a piece of writing. The key difference is that they receive a reward in the form of GIL Tokens (aka. ‘incentivized’) for engaging with content. This type of engagement is mainly sharing, discussing, and writing. The tokens can then go towards buying academic eBooks.

The Gilgamesh app (only available for iOS) has an array of features. These include book suggestions, social media feeds, and a wallet for storing GIL tokens deriving from knowledge seeker interactions.

4 – ODEM

ODEM is a decentralized marketplace for products and services in education. The blockchain allows educators, students, and professionals to connect with pertinent courses and resources.

Professors and students use smart contracts to agree on specific courses. Ones that will assist in furthering the students’ education and reinforce professional backgrounds. The ODEM ledger recognizes each course a student once took or a professor once taught. Doing so boosts the reputations of both parties on ODEM’s platform. Students can also utilize ODEM tokens as a method of course payment.

ODEM has “skill badges” for educators and students alike. Their purpose is to show their skills in certain areas. The intent behind this is so that more ODEM students will want to take a course. Specifically, a course that a professor whose ODEM badges demonstrates active growth teaches. Additionally, more professors will want to work with students who show an interest in expanding their abilities. 

5 – Sony Global Education

Sony Global Education, collaborating with IBM, created a special blockchain platform. It allows multiple institutions to include individual academic achievements and other pertinent student information on a ledger. Doing so leads to the maintenance of indisputable records on students who are transferring or advancing their education.

The blockchain aids educational institutions in keeping a coherent digital transcript, record ledger, and payments for each student. With it, Sony was able to distribute participation certificates to contestants in its 2018 Global Math Challenge. Those certificates act as a permanent score report. This can assist participants with any educational or professional applications in the future.

6 – BEN (Blockchain Education Network)

The BEN is a companion of students and alumni worldwide that focuses on blockchain and cryptocurrency initiatives. It got its start thanks to MIT and University of Michigan students. BEN has over 4,000 members; all of whom share blockchain ideas, construct prototypes, and launch their creations.

Jeremy Gardner, a co-founder of BEN, states that cohort-developed companies have a worth that exceeds $11 billion. His personal company, Augur, is a decentralized platform consisting of algorithms specifically for predicting company success and politics, as well as weather.

7 – Disciplina

The platform of Disciplina utilizes blockchain as a way to maintain a cooperative register of academic achievements and university qualifications. The company’s decentralized algorithm appoints a score to someone, drawing from their achievements and qualifications. Universities are able to use those scores in order to determine individualized learning plans. They do so by basing it off of what the student knows or has yet to learn about and achieve.

Disciplina would eventually release the Alpha version of its blockchain platform. This way, universities and students can familiarize themselves with the app. The company’s ‘Student App’ allows students to view their educational history. Likewise, the ‘Educator App’ supplies professor profiles, styles of teaching, and course offerings.

8 – Parchment

Parchment provides students, academic institutions, and employers with digital credential services. Educators of all grades use the company’s blockchain for uploading important developmental progress. Higher educational institutions utilize the platform as a way to review academic merit, process applications, and issue immutable diplomas. Moreover, students have access to all educational information on a full-time basis. They can also share academic achievements with future employers.

Parchment recently entered a partnership with the tracking and reporting platform, x2VOL. The company builds immutable documents that consist of a service hour log and students’ reflections on their learning experience. This effectively gives future universities and employers a comprehensive look at the academic and personal journey of a student.

9 – BitDegree

BitDegree integrates blockchain ledgers with tokenization on its online education platform, which focuses primarily on technology. The company offers various online courses, such as “Cryptocurrency for Dummies: Ethereum vs Bitcoin and Much More.” These courses assist in teaching people who are learning about distributed ledger technology. It will help them when they later enter a career that concentrates on blockchain technology.

The platform offers the motivation for learning in the form of tokenized scholarships. Students earn this after successfully completing a course or reaching a specific achievement. The online platform provides both free and paid classes on a variety of subjects. These range from blockchain implementation to digital currencies to gamified coding.

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