Blockchain By Kevin Roebuck
What is blockchain and how will it transform education and research? Let’s ask that question a different way: What is education and how will it change as a result of blockchain and other technologies?
Education is the collective pursuit of truth and the transfer of knowledge across generations. It’s based on trust in the authority of our institutions, in the veracity of the teachings and research they represent. And it’s a global community characterized by consensus, transparency, and permanence.
Blockchain, the distributed ledger technology, represents most of those things. It promotes consensus because it’s a record-keeping platform. It’s transparent because participants in the chain can download and validate individual ledgers. And it’s permanent because those ledgers can’t be altered. Like education, blockchain is intended to transfer not just content, but also the value inherent in that content.
It’s no surprise, then, that blockchain is the next technological chapter in a long trend of decentralization in the higher education sector.
It’s been only eight years since the emergence of the white paper that defined blockchain’s trusted, peer-to-peer, distributed-ledger network model, initially incarnated in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. It’s still early days for blockchain’s use in education and research, but there’s a lot of promising experimentation and innovation going on.
1. Student records and credentialing. Education is changing to a personalized model. What is each individual’s talents, competencies, and credentials? The reality is that a lot of learning takes place outside of the classroom as well as inside. People learn from many different sources throughout their lifetimes. Your academic record doesn’t nearly encapsulate that lifelong learning process—and it’s not owned by you.
Blockchain offers a model for the secure collection and sharing of all of your competency indicators, including academic records but also badges, certificates, citations, letters of recommendation, and the like. Think of it as an immutable, updatable and verifiable e-portfolio of your learning-oriented life experiences. For similar reasons, blockchain will be instrumental in avoiding fraud, providing a trusted means to establish that you are who you claim to be.
MIT is a leader in blockchain-based credentialing, having developed an open standard for verifiable digital records with a company called Learning Machine. Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque last year began issuing “student-owned digital credentials” on a blockchain platform that the college plans to make available to other educational institutions in the state.
2. Partnership platform. The City College of New York is one of a handful of universities assessing Bitcoin as a method of payment. But blockchain’s potential impact on academia’s financial side goes far beyond cryptocurrency.
As mentioned above, higher education has been evolving into a distributed model for some time now—consider California’s three-tiered college system or the SUNY system in New York. Recently, colleges and universities have been creating consortiums to collectively aggregate their resources. One such effort, the Internet 2 Net+ Initiative, provides a range of application, compute, and other cloud-based services that participating universities can access.
Blockchain’s peer-to-peer transaction-based model fits perfectly into such consortium efforts. Blockchain-based “smart contracts”—distributed, encrypted digital transactions among more than two parties—might be employed to ensure the speed and transparency.
3. Copyright and digital rights protection. Blockchain’s ability to manage, share, and protect digital content makes it ideal for helping researchers, faculty members, and other higher-ed principals create intellectual property, share it, and still control the way it’s used. Professors, for instance, could be rewarded based on the actual use, and reuse, of their teaching materials, similar to how they’re rewarded based on citations in research papers and journals.
Blockchain will also be critical in the evolution of “community content repositories”—what we now call libraries. San Jose State University is a leader in the Library 2.0 movement. It could be used in curating digital content and protecting digital rights, among other areas.
4. Course curricula. Add blockchain to the list of emerging technology skills that employers will covet over the coming years.
Classes that teach the requisite blockchain programming skills will no doubt be important, but the technology presents a unique educational challenge because it sits at the intersection of so many areas of business and technology, including policy, law, commerce, transactions, intellectual property rights, cryptography, and artificial intelligence. Thus, this education requires an interdisciplinary approach, such as the program developed by the Berkeley Center for Law and Business that combines business, law, economics, computer science, and engineering.
5. Innovation learning platform. Entrepreneurship is the lens through which many students view their educational opportunities. And many students see blockchain learning as preparation for the next generation of startups.
Carolina FinTech Hub, a community group representing businesses in North and South Carolina, recently wrapped up its Blockchain Generation Challenge (sponsored by Oracle). The group, which solicited student teams from local colleges to submit proposals for blockchain-based applications, received 31 proposals from 29 teams representing 68 participants. Judges from Bank of America, Wells Fargo, EY, Ally, and Oracle, among other companies, picked 10 finalist teams, which developed applications aimed at the energy, finance, education, and healthcare sectors. Don’t be surprised to see one or two of those applications implemented by Carolina businesses in the near future.
Students are also taking blockchain education into their own hands. Blockchain at Berkeley is a student-led 501C3 non-profit organization that offers blockchain-related education, consulting, and research to local businesses. Elsewhere, the mission statement of Cornell Blockchain is to “develop, consult, and support growing projects in blockchain and create a community of innovators.”
I’ve been in educational technology for 30 years. My father worked at Apple and brought home an Apple II computer early on. I met Steve Jobs and heard him talk about how the Apple II would transform education. Now other technologies and tech-based movements—blockchain prominent among them—promise to overhaul the educational experience. The Learn to Earn initiative at the Institute for the Future, for instance, describes a radical vision for a national learning economy.
Enter cloud computing. When blockchain becomes a cloud service, made easily accessible to educational institutions and their wide constituent groups, it will demonstrate results at a scale that will drive revolutionary change.
Kevin Roebuck is director of digital experience for education and research within Oracle’s Industry Solutions Group.
Oracle offers a comprehensive and fully integrated stack of cloud applications, platform services and engineered systems. With more than 420,000 customers in more than 145 countries, Oracle provides a complete technology stack both in the cloud and in the data center. Oracle’s industry-leading cloud-based and on-premises solutions give customers complete deployment flexibility and unmatched benefits including application integration, advanced security, high availability, scalability, energy efficiency, powerful performance, and low total cost of ownership. For more information about Oracle (NYSE:ORCL), visit oracle.com.