“Gradually, decentralized trust will be accepted as a new and effective trust model. We have seen this evolution of understanding before – on the internet.”
– Andreas Antonopoulos, blockchain visionary.
If you’ve paid attention to the cryptocurrency/blockchain community during 2018, one of the great buzzwords throughout the year was “decentralization.” Cries of “decentralize everything!” were shouted from conference stages by the greats in the community. But what does decentralization mean? It’s about making processes more efficient by removing intermediaries. This takes a system that allows universal access to critical resources and information while fostering accountability.
The first significant application of blockchain is in finance where cryptocurrencies have helped streamline transactions, making them immutable while allowing transparency. Companies like ODEM are already working to build open, decentralized markets that link students and instructors, with transactions between each party encoded on a blockchain. This goes a long way towards improving access to education.
Accessibility does not guarantee accountability. True accountability can only be enforced once instructor performance and student outcomes are encoded in an immutable record. Data placed on a blockchain can be easily accessed, facilitating audits by anyone with access to a decentralized application (DApp). Companies like Sony and IBM are working to build a blockchain protocol that secures educational data. Given the changes in something as fundamental in our daily lives as finance, how can blockchain change something as fundamental as student outcomes and instructor accountability?
Access to Educational Assessment Data
Assessing the quality of education delivered in the classroom is difficult. Students considering enrolling in a class find it challenging to get a full view of the quality of the coursework, the experience and expertise of the instructor, and the overall experience. Most institutions ask students to assess their experience and instructor once they finish a course, but this data is rarely made public.
As a result, students are forced to choose institutions based on marketing messages and promises of future job opportunities by simply weighing costs or the institution’s name rather than the quality of instruction or real outcomes. Students may find that they overpaid for courses that they didn’t need or the outcomes promised by an institution never materialized. Some students end up with mountains of debt or without the knowledge they need to reach their career goals.
One of the advantages of decentralization in education is that quality assessment data can be placed on a blockchain. This data is then publicly accessible through a DApp. Placing quality information on a blockchain allows prospective students to get a full view of the institutions they are considering before they enroll. They can evaluate whether the education they will receive is worth the cost.
The quality of instructors and programs at an institution is only part of the picture. Outcomes for students are just as important, but this data is not accessible. When data on outcomes for past students is readily available, students can evaluate whether they have a chance to reach their career goals. A decentralized education system with assessment data placed on a blockchain allows students to assess whether institutions are authentic.
Going Further: Improving Instructional Quality
Decentralized education assessment data has the potential to improve outcomes for students beyond just selecting the best institution to meet their needs. Instructors will use feedback from assessments to improve their course content, modify their teaching style, and better tailor their assessments to reflect the course content.
One would naturally expect that instructor assessment data will show marked changes when an instructor listens to feedback from students and makes concerted efforts to improve the quality of instruction. Some institutions track this data internally and use it to evaluate instructors periodically. Educational data that is critical to improving the quality of education becomes inaccessible to the students who need it most.
Placing this data on a blockchain helps students evaluate whether their input on the education process is taken seriously. Developers can easily build DApps that can access and compile this data for prospective students in a user-friendly interface. Students could then compare instructors within and across institutions side-by-side.
Institutions that are considering instructors for open positions can also use an instructor’s assessment data to evaluate the candidate. This makes the hiring process more competitive and helps institutions choose the best candidates. Institutions won’t have to resort to arbitrary metrics or credentials to select the best candidates to fill teaching positions.
Data on student outcomes and instruction quality are critical for informing policymakers. Currently, this data is gathered manually long after courses have ended. This makes the data stale, causing policymakers to make decisions that do not improve outcomes for students or the quality of instruction. When this data is available on a blockchain, analysts can efficiently synthesize data across the system, and policymakers can implement meaningful change.
Making data accessible with a decentralized blockchain can help enforce transparency and accountability. This has the potential to improve outcomes and the educational experience for students.