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    David Eedle
    By
    July 11, 2018

    Practical applications for Blockchain in education

    What can this buzzed about technology actually do for schools? A lot.

    Blockchain is a technology on the rise, and is set to play an important role in almost all domains; finance, politics, health, business - and education.

    What is Blockchain?

    Most of the information in our world is centralised and owned by specific organisations. This can create monopolies and increase risks. Data can be lost or tampered in a centralised system.

    That’s where Blockchain comes in.

    Blockchain is a decentralised system where each member maintains a copy of the overall information and validates any update of the information. That information could be transactions, contracts, assets, identities, or anything else that can be stored in digital form.

    Members can view transaction histories in their entirety. Each update is a new “block” added to the end of the “chain” of information. 

    The blocks are well encrypted so that information leakage is a rarity.

    blockchain

    Blockchain in education

    Here’s only a handful of ways we envision Blockchain being practically applied in education:

    Digital certificates based on Blockchain

    What is it?

    Educational organisations that issue digital certifications will use a public Blockchain to store the digital signatures associated with those digital certifications. Unique signed digital certifications are given directly to the users. Thus, verification of the authenticity of a certificate only requires comparison with the digital signature/hash stored on the Blockchain.

    Advantages

    The proofs of the certificates will be stored completely, securely and permanently on a Blockchain. So even if the institutions that issued the certificates were to close down, or if the entire system of education collapses in the case of a crisis or humanitarian emergency, e.g. the situation in Syria), those certificates are still verifiable against the records stored in a Blockchain.

    Once institutions issue a certificate, they don’t need to spend more resources to confirm the validity of that certificate to third parties, since those parties will be able to verify the certificates directly themselves on a Blockchain.

    Using a Blockchain as a lifelong learning passport

    What is it?

    Learners would store their own evidence of learning received from any source – whether formal, non-formal or informal – and when shared, a Blockchain would be used for instant verification of the authenticity of these documents.

    Advantages

    The advantage of this scenario is that every student would have an automatically verifiable CV containing a record and evidence of all learning and employment they had received – significantly reducing CV fraud, as well as, depending on the form of implementation, significantly reducing workload for organisations and individuals that have an interest in verifying that CV.

    Receiving payments from students via Blockchains

    What is it?

    Under this scenario, students would provide payments for studies via Blockchain-based cryptocurrencies.

    Advantages

    Students don't always have access to bank accounts or credit cards, depending on the country they are from, their age, employment status etc. This may be an additional barrier to access education. Cryptocurrency payments utilising Blockchain allows students to pay for eduction even if they can't access these things. 

    Using Verified Sovereign Identities for Student Identification 

    What is it?

    After students share their personal data with an admissions office, they would receive a Blockchain certification of their identity.

    Using biometric identification on a smartphone, coupled with this certificate, students would be able to identify themselves to any other part of the organisation that required credentialing, such as the library, gymnasium, canteen, student dormitories, student associations, etc.

    Each of these services would be able to identify the student without the need to ask for or store any personal data again.

    Advantages

    By using verified sovereign self-identities, only the persons responsible for verifying the student’s identity in the first instance require access to the data. Other than that, the only person who holds the data is the student themselves. This means that the organisation no longer needs to manage the complex systems for access rights, and only needs to secure the device or network where the verifications initial verification is taking place.

    This could save significant resources spent hardening the network against data-breaches, staff training on data-protection and in managing complicated access rights and permissions.

    Read more: What will future schools look like?

    Blockchain is already changing education

    A number of universities have begun to incorporate Blockchain into their daily administration and management. But for K-12 schools, Blockchain remains relatively untested.

    Blockchain’s most widely applied implementation to date is Digital Certificates. A great example of this is Blockcerts, introduced by MIT. The university has developed a uniform standard called Blockcerts for building apps that issue and verify Blockchain-based official records. These may include certificates for academic credentials, as well as civic records, professional licenses and workforce development. 

    The University of Nicosia (UNIC) has claimed a number of ‘world firsts’ in their commitment to maximising the potential of the blockchain in education. UNIC claims it is the first university to:

    • accept Bitcoin for tuition for any degree program at the university (October 2013);
    • teach a university-level course on cryptocurrency, delivered as a MOOC called ‘Introduction to Digital Currencies’ (January 2014);
    • offer an accredited academic degree program – a Master of Science in Digital Currency – taught online in English (March 2014 with first students graduated in June 2016);
    • issue academic certificates onto the Bitcoin Blockchain, using its own in-house software platform (September 2014).

    Locally, the University of Melbourne - in an Australian first - is testing Blockchain technology to record student credentials, allowing people to share verified copies of their qualifications with employers and other third parties in a tamper-proof system. 

    The university is among the first in the world to pilot the technology, which will also be used by academics to improve their teaching skills.

    As K-12 schools move toward greater digital transformation and technology consolidation, it's likely Blockchain will play a strong role in their future. At EdSmart we're exploring Blockchain applications to serve our customers. If you're interested in learning more, contact us for a conversation.

    Guide: How to future-proof your school IT Investment

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