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Improving Education with a Little Help from Blockchain

February 2, 2018

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably heard about Bitcoin, the rise of digital currencies, and maybe even whispers of a thing called blockchain. But even for those of us non-rock dwellers who’ve been hearing of these developments, there’s probably still a lot of confusion about how Bitcoin works, what blockchain actually does, and how this could possibly affect you or me.

What’s all the fuss?

No one’s sure exactly who invented Bitcoin or the blockchain (although credit is given to the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto), but one thing is clear: blockchain is already changing the way we verify records and transactions via digital channels.

When verifying a transaction between users on the web, an intermediary body such as a bank or government is currently needed to authenticate (prove identity) and authorise (prove user permissions). With blockchain, everyone in a node network can update a digital ledger which is neither owned by any single entity, nor is it alterable or hackable. The network self-audits every 10 minutes, reconciling every transaction with no room for human or machine error.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”-Don & Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution, 2016

To corrupt the information on a blockchain would require a hacker to override an entire network with immense computing power. The database isn’t stored in a single location, so the ledger is entirely public with no single point of failure.

Fish, Photography, and the Future

Initially developed for secure Bitcoin transactions, blockchain technology is being used to create security and transparency in other sectors.

Marc Zaalberg, 2017

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has partnered with ConsenSys, TraSeable, and Sea Quest Fiji to stop illegal and unsustainable tuna fishing practices. By attaching radio-frequency ID tags and QR codes to the fish, they’re able to trace the entire journey from ocean to packaged tin. The information is stored on a digital ledger which is transparent, traceable, and unalterable. Blockchain is helping an industry with a historical struggle with illegal and harmful practices become an open, honest business.

Even Kodak has opened up to the idea of blockchain by developing its own cryptocurrency, KodakCoin, which endeavours to protect digital ownership. Photographers can use a blockchain platform to license and sell their work securely and confidently. And for creative industries where image ownership is often undermined by duplication and illegal distribution, giving credit where it’s due is long overdue.

Kodak stock has soared since the announcement of KodakCoin

But what about education?

Blockchain is nascent, but it’s already being used by educators like MIT and the University of Melbourne. With so many ways the technology could improve the education industry, the potential for widespread use in the coming years is enough to get us excited about the future of learning.

Digital Certificates

Instead of being issued a paper record to verify your qualifications, a digital ledger would give students access and ownership to their education, which they could share with whomever they choose.

Last year Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) issued 100 students with digital certificates via the Blockcerts Wallet app, giving them a valid, unalterable record which will exist even if their institution ceases. In the same year the University of Melbourne carried out a similar test, trialling Blockcerts to create a trustworthy credential ecosystem.

Blockcerts provides secure academic credentialing

Sony has teamed up with IBM to develop a suite of products which would in part allow students and teachers to verify information on an education network, and distribute the information on a system built on blockchain technology.

Professional Development

For Australian RTOs, providing evidence of PD for trainers and assessors is a compliance mandate. But for many, recording evidence of this can be poorly tracked.

Imagine if every conference, event, and session which contributes to PD is recorded, securely verified, and accessible to anyone who needs to see the evidence. Anyone could track their corporate learning and take the record with them when changing jobs. New employers can see a trustworthy ledger which outlines all learnings.

Employer Security

Say goodbye to fake doctors and unqualified imposters with qualifications made visible, unalterable, and verified.

By using a blockchain to store education information, employers can be confident when hiring that their candidate actually completed the qualification they claim they have.

Go Global

Whether you move institution, job, state, or even country, you’ll always have access to your learning record. Imagine the security this could give to refugees, or anyone who has lost access to paper certificates. Blockchain offers safety in a centralised database.

While blockchain is still emerging, the potential is there for its use in improving many industries. Education is an ever-changing field, but it’s known for being slow to adapt. It will undoubtedly be years before we see any widespread use of blockchain, but when it does, it will be sure to change education for the better — for students, trainers, and employers alike.

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