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A Conversation with ODEM’s Steve Nam

Dec. 14, 2018 / in Blockchain News / by ODEM IO

 

Steven Nam has been an antitrust lawyer, a law school professor, and a chief strategy officer at a Silicon Valley startup. Now he’s joining ODEM as a strategic advisor. Steven recently spoke with ODEM’s Marketing Team about blockchain technology, his personal aspirations and the books shaping his thinking in real time.

How did you get involved with ODEM?

At the end of October, I was headed to the Malta Blockchain Summit where I was to moderate a panel on regulation in the blockchain space. ODEM reached out to me. I did some research and ODEM’s mission to reshape education resonated with me. I was approached by a good number of projects. But ODEM definitely resonated. It's something I've been thinking about on my own for a while and one thing led to another.

What’s your take on ODEM and the current state of education?

I like to think of higher education as a right rather than a privilege. In recent decades it has become more of a privilege. There are centralized power structures in education. They set the rules. They set the tuition. They set everything about education. And it’s almost a privilege to have an education, not just in the U.S., but in many parts of the world. Education itself has become this joyless process. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I've been in education. I've lectured at the University of California, Davis for a year. I taught five courses and I remember thinking, let's try to do this more my way. Let's not have these artificial kinds of restraints. But the problem is if you're an institution, there's protocol, right? You can’t really stray too far.

ODEM represents a new approach to education as it could actually get rid of all sorts of superfluous constraints and get back to the pure basics of teaching and learning. Why is the status quo so restrictive? Why can’t education provide more open access to benefit the student and instructor? ODEM is about breaking down barriers to education and removing needless intermediaries. It’s also about getting back to the pure basics of blockchain technology.

What are the greatest educational constraints?

There are a few big things. Just in terms of curriculum, if a professor isn’t super senior, he’s got to follow a set curriculum. As a teacher you have to stick to what's already come before regardless of whether it might be outdated or there’s a better way. I've felt the curricular restraint. You can only go so far toward being more creative.

Grading is another big thing. It should be designed as a kind of encouragement for a student. It's a feedback mechanism in a way. But for a lot of big institutions grading is more or less just a process of granting a seal of centralized approval. Sometimes it seems like grading systems are more for institutions than students.

Frankly, others issues are time and scheduling. Constraints such as when a class is conducted and the regularity things aren’t decided by students or the teacher. They’re determined by the school. In an ideal, or ODEM, world I’d been able to simply talk with my students and figure out class times for everyone, where everyone would be attending all the time. It would’ve been a lot more conducive to learning and teaching. It’s a world of “make do” in education. But we don’t have to settle for “good enough.” I’m so happy ODEM exists.

What do you hope to achieve at ODEM?

I’m really focused on accelerating mainstream adoption of the ODEM Platform. Depending on one’s geographic location, there are different ways you can view ODEM. My challenge is to understand different settings and to help people apply the most-relevant use cases. I can see how every single sector can use ODEM. There’s a use case for everyone.

How did you make the leap from law to blockchain technology?

It was more a leap from law to academia and then from academia to blockchain tech. After four or five years of being a corporate lawyer in New York, I decided “I’ve had my fill.” My true love is teaching. And I’d love to teach writing. So I decided to go back to grad school to get a masters in political science. And then I was a lecturer at UC Davis Law. I was supposed to teach an antitrust course. I ended up teaching five courses, including a few seminars on social impact. Afterwards, I spent a year at Stanford and just wrote papers. About that time, an old college friend from Yale told me about blockchain. So I did some research and my jaw dropped. I could see it as a game changer. Not immediately, but I could see the implications for the future. So I thought to myself, “I'm in.”
There were a few companies that I interviewed with as a consultant and I somehow became a chief strategy officer. For seven months I learned about what a blockchain startup ecosystem is like. And then Stanford University announced that its law school was creating a blockchain research group. They needed someone to lead an academic journal on blockchain law and policy. I volunteered. It became a job. That's the story.

Do you feel that blockchain technology and its possibility should be offered to high school students?

Yes. Why not? I think encouraging student agency or freedom of choice is a good idea. I don’t think there's really anything that would stop it from being offered. In a good way, it can offer an outlet for many high school students who are not attending more creative schools with creative curricula. Instead, they have to follow this rigid curriculum road, expectations, testing, and so forth.

What’s the biggest impact blockchain technology will have in ten years?

Wow. By then I expect we’ll have the blockchain equivalent of pioneering internet tools like the old America Online to make it easy to use for everyone. I would imagine more easy-to-use blockchain applications will emerge for different business sectors. Let's say education or music or micro funding. Hopefully at that point we will have something akin to this kind of a decentralized place where data is respected and there’s no kind of threat of mergers, mass layoffs,or disruption because everyone will be decentralized and progressing along with the platform. That's what I expect in ten years. I’m looking forward to it because it will be much easier for mainstream users to participate in the decentralized economy.

Which books are you reading or can recommend about blockchain and where the technology is going?

A must read in the blockchain legal space is Blockchain and the Law by Primavera de Filippi and Aaron Wright. Everyone who's in the blockchain legal space has read it. And it includes a lot about the rule of code versus the rule of law, the pluses, the risks, and dangers. It's a great read because it's easy to get carried away with the idealism, the promise, and the potential possibilities. But just like with any technology, it can be used for ill, even without intention. It's a sobering account of the future of governance.

What else?

This is going to sound like a wacko answer, but I've been reading Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore. Like many people, I was a big Murakami fan, I guess, around when I was in college. The reason why I like it so much is because it speaks to me against a backdrop of decentralization in Blockchain tech. It’s about the triumphs and chaos. The book is about someone who is following a very regular, normal, expected life path. And then, like in many Murakami novels, the main characters are completely shaped by circumstances out of their control. The main character realizes he doesn't need to rely on the older ways of thinking, of being controlled and told what to do. It involves a lot of self discovery. You feel alive as a reader.  

How do you believe blockchain or education actually empower, and provide visibility, encouragement, and the right path?

Blockchain requires an easy-to-use platform like ODEM. With most things in the blockchain space, you can’t easily go from point A to Z. All those steps are not going to magically resolve themselves, right? There has to be a platform that is decentralized to the extent that it enables students to easily make and gain the benefits of their choices.

How can a platform like ODEM leverage emerging trends in work opportunities?

The feedback mechanisms are going to be very important. Instead of just one centralized authority researching and deciding what the trends are, the feedback from students and instructors following courses is going to be very important in figuring out the trends and how to leverage them. For example, let's say there was a course and the student thought, “well, I had no idea that it was going to go this way and I learned so much. I didn't understand that this is what is the trend today. Awesome.” Or you could see an instructor saying “I taught this as I interacted with students. I realized, wow, that what I was teaching was kind of yesterday. And it helped me by opening my eyes to what is more relevant today.” The feedback mechanisms should not be simply, good job, great thumbs up, or a bad job, punishment. It shouldn't be these simple binaries -- it should be much more nuanced and kind of draw out real current needs. What's urgent? What's not? And what's interesting? And then we'll have our answers.

Steve, thank you.

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