Unless you’ve been living under a rock in recent years, you’ve heard the term blockchain spreading like wildfire. The use cases for blockchain outside of cryptocurrency range from the revolutionary to the ridiculous. But using blockchain in education is one real area that takes advantage of the record-keeping abilities inherent in any blockchain. Here are some uses of blockchain in education:
This idea may seem like just another popular buzzword among IT folks, but there is a real need for a unified approach for tracking educational credentials awarded by educational institutions, professional societies and trade associations, state examination boards, and corporations. A single database that is instantly accessible from anywhere on the globe allows these records to be stored and retrieved in a single data format.
So why use a blockchain instead of a centralized database? A blockchain provides two advantages. The first is immutability. Data stored on a blockchain is really stored by hundreds or even thousands of computers scattered across the globe. If one of those computers on the network attempts to tamper with the records stored on the network, these changes will be rejected by the rest of the network. Overpowering a blockchain with the goal of committing outright fraud is incredibly difficult.
The second advantage is uptime. Since a blockchain is really a network of thousands of computers, each storing an identical copy of the ledger, you can access the same ledger from any member of the network. If one computer on the network goes down, there are hundreds of others ready to supply you with the data you are requesting. A centralized institution cannot guarantee this same level of uptime.
Blockchains require a standardized language for record-keeping. Several organizations, notably The Open Badge initiative, are developing common standards for defining education records that are stored on a blockchain. Sony and IBM are also working to secure educational data on a blockchain and provide access to this network as a service. This allows instant verification of a person’s education records using the same public/private key cryptography methods with which cryptocurrency users are familiar. These records need not be confined to university degrees; any type of educational record could be stored in a digital ledger.
Educational institutions and school districts face unique challenges when managing the identities of their students. At a large university or school district, you might have thousands of students graduating each year, only to be replaced by a similar number of incoming students. This makes manual provisioning of access to information technology services and defining permission levels a nightmare.
Here is another use case for blockchain in education: a student’s identity information can be stored on a blockchain and instantly provisioned to their educational institution. The use of public/private key cryptography methods ensures that a user’s identity information remains confidential on the blockchain, and it can only be decrypted when a user provides an institution with their private key.
This solution can be integrated with the other use cases listed here. The software that supports a blockchain storing education credentials can access data from another blockchain storing identity information at the owner’s request. This streamlines a number of processes that would normally be executed manually. This also helps new platformsdeliver educational programs on a decentralized marketplace and track students’ achievements.
Transparent and Decentralized Records
If you have ever tried to get a copy of your transcript from a university, you’re familiar with the headache involved. You need to fill out forms, mail them to the registrar, write them a check, and wait a number of weeks just to find out if the institution still has your records. In the event of a disaster, your educational data is gone for good.
The great thing about storing large amounts of data on a blockchain is that the data is instantly accessible. Data that is stored on a blockchain can be accessed instantly by anyone with the correct distributed application (DApp). When education information is stored across a network of thousands of computers, there is no need to return to a single institution to access data.
Storing this data across thousands of computers also ensures that educational data cannot be modified without the proper permissions. Changes can only be applied to data when the owner of that data provides their cryptographic keys to the network. This ensures that data remains incorruptible and immutable.
Credentials Beyond University Degrees
Perhaps the greatest advantage of blockchain in education is that it facilitates inclusion. Anyone who has their educational data stored on a blockchain can instantly provide proof of their education credentials. But when we talk about inclusion, this need not be limited to degrees from major universities.
This uses of blockchain in education span beyond data storage for public or private educational institutions. These education records could include industry certifications, vocational and apprenticeship records, corporate training records, and certifications from professional societies.
One problem outside established educational institutions involves tracking continuing professional development (CPD) data. Unless this data is delivered by an established institution, it is difficult to track and verify. Current CPD management technologies like SCORM are outdated and do not offer the robust advantages of a blockchain as a decentralized ledger. Professional societies, vocational training providers, and large companies could use a single blockchain to track this data, making it instantly accessible and immutable.
One excellent example that illustrates how blockchain is already used to issue and verify education credentials can be found at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. In a pilot program, this Canadian polytechnic is offering blockchain-based certificates to graduates. A version of the Ethereum blockchain is used to track and verify certificates issued to students that complete courses. Encryption and two-factor authentication are used to create and store the certificate on the blockchain. This allows fake certificates to be easily identified and real certificates to be easily verified.
With all the excitement around blockchain, it becomes difficult to separate the hype from reality. Blockchains have enormous potential outside of digital assets if used wisely. Adopting blockchain in education has the potential to solve real problems and, hopefully, deliver better outcomes for students.