[MTC Global] Blockchain and Academic Credentialing in HigherEd - An introduction

Among the many technologies and innovations that are touted to be the next big thing in higher education and edtech; one particular technology seems to have surprisingly found a place. Any guesses? Everyone must be thinking about Artificial Intelligence or Virtual Reality or gaming. But it's none of those and the technology I am talking about is 'Blockchain and Academic Credentialing'. Yes, something linked primarily with banking and financial transactions has a key role to play in the future of higher education as well. Before we actually go into detail, a quick introduction to blockchain in simple words.

A blockchain is a data structure. Each block contains some content, some technical information about the block itself and a link to its immediate predecessor. It is this link that is used to build the chain. Every subsequent new block has a link to the previous block and linked back, thus creating a connected blockchain. The blockchain is replicated across a peer-to-peer network with copies on each connected computer and once it is updated, every computer connected to the system receives the updates simultaneously. The evolution of Blockchain technology has led to the creation of bitcoin cryptocurrency and has a growing role to play in the digital banking system. The key benefits of blockchain are:

Disintermediation & trust less exchange
Empowered users
High quality data
Durability, reliability, and longevity
Process integrity
Transparency and immutability
Ecosystem simplification
Faster transactions
Lower transaction costs

Blockchain in Higher Education

In universities or large schools, we are talking of numerous student records as well as data of teaching and non-academic staff. We have regularly heard of hacking of university databases with student and teacher data being sold for a price or just posted into the public domain as a prank. This is a critical issue, security and confidentiality of individual identity in both the real and digital world are extremely important. The blockchain can be programmed to record virtually everything of value and importance, starting with birth certificates and moving on to educational transcripts, AADHAR and PAN data, educational loans, internship information; and anything else that can be expressed in code.

By bringing in blockchain and credentialing, institutions as well as individuals can ensure that only relevant people get to access student/user-data and information is encrypted and stored securely. We are sure to see blockchain technology enter into institution of higher education across the world as more universities head to virtual learning environments and digital learning solutions.

For the vast majority of learners today their academic transcripts are managed and controlled by various educational institutions. The learner gets a piece of paper but if anybody wants to verify that credential they have to go back to the educational institution that issued the piece of paper in the first instance. Some researchers see the potential of the blockchain as a way of reaffirming the learner's ownership of their own record. As a result, most of the research currently being undertaken is around credentialing and open badges. Some interesting research happening around blockchain in higher-ed is listed below:

Teachur is an open-source platform for building educational objectives, assessments, lessons, courses and degrees tied to the blockchain.

Sony is exploring blockchain based applications for learning by using the technology to send academic records between two parties.

As part of its Master of Science degree in Digital Currency, The University of Nicosia offers a free introductory MOOC titled DFIN-511 Introduction to Digital Currencies. Students who successfully complete the course are issued with an academic certificate the authenticity of which can be verified through the bitcoin blockchain. Moreover, the University also accepts bitcoin for payment of tuition and other fees.

OpenLearn has been trialing a private blockchain for storing educational records. In particular, students register for courses and receive badges which can be viewed in a student Learning Passport with all transactions being timestamped and cryptographically signed on the blockchain. Moreover, OpenLearn have also experimented with using the blockchain to certify the authenticity and validity of student work contained in ePortfolios.

​Author: Venu Prasad Menon
CEO @ Ingegno Transmedia

Prof. Bholanath Dutta
Founder &  President 
MTC Global: A Global Think Tank in 
Higher Education, ISO 9001: 2008
Partner: UN Global Compact I UN Academic Impact
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