What’s it about?

By allowing digital information to be distributed but not copied, blockchain technology is creating the backbone of a new type of internet.

Imagine a future where a student’s record of learning is held in a form that travels with them throughout their life, in a form that they can manage and make accessible to others as required for, say, a job application or evidence of achievement towards a Master’s degree. This is not a new idea. Similar dreams have driven the development of e-portfolios in the past, however the limitations around privacy and longevity of such technologies have always been an issue. This is one example of where the blockchain may emerge as something to watch for into the future.

While the blockchain itself may not be as commonly known, it is the ‘engine’ that drives the ‘bitcoin’, a type of digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank. It is the use of these encryption techniques together with the way it operates as a distributed database that makes the blockchain a potential disruptor in education.

What’s driving this?

Across a range of areas in our education system, issues associated with the management of information, including identity and access management, security and sustainable access are areas of concern to policy makers, teachers, and school leaders alike.

For example, finding a solution that enables individual learners to manage their own learning and the accumulation of evidence that demonstrates achievement has become something of a ‘holy grail’ in education, as we have made the shift to the self-directed, personalised learning paradigm. The challenge of finding ways of verifying the authenticity of a student sitting an exam or completing an assessment task online is another example of where our current approaches are limited.

Because the blockchain exists in multiple copies across multiple computers that form a peer-to-peer network, it means that there is no single, centralised database or server. Rather, the blockchain database exists across a decentralised network of machines, each acting as a node on that network. A blockchain database preserves the history of every change ever made, is fault tolerant, encrypted, and immutable.

This is where it may become useful as a means of enabling individual students and educators to maintain records of their own learning. Because each transaction on the blockchain is signed digitally using public key cryptography, it is impossible to ‘crack’, thus ensuring both security and sustainable access.

What examples of this can I see?

In addition to the examples of support for personalised learning and validating assessments mentioned above, other ways the secure database provided by the blockchain may be of benefit to education include:

Student transcript/degree/test score/record validation and transfer

Student mobility between schools and institutions is an issue for schools in New Zealand, and can be compounded when considering international students interested in studying in New Zealand (or New Zealand students interested in studying abroad).

Teacher registration

This will be of significance to organisations such as the Education Council as they put in place processes to give effect to their teacher standards and teacher registration, including recognition of teachers coming to New Zealand from overseas.

Management and tracking of school assets

Keeping track of school assets has never been easy, but use of the blockchain creates opportunities to not only track assets but also look at managing things like the insurance of these things through smart contracts.

Identity management and parental access

Based on how identity is managed on the blockchain, it is conceivable that such a system could provide parents and students with much more fine-grained control of who and under what circumstances their information is shared.

Distribution and payment of student loans

This could include support for various repayment options.

How might we respond?

The use of the blockchain within education has the potential to significantly disrupt many of the things we currently do and the ways we currently do them in our schools and our education system generally. The best way to prepare ourselves for this change is to spend time thinking about which of these may be usefully impacted using the blockchain, and to pro-actively plan for how such a transition may occur when that time comes. Some questions to act as a stimulus with your colleagues include:

  1. What do I/we know about the blockchain? How would I/we explain it to a colleague? (The list of resources above provides a useful start point.)
  2. How do we currently address the challenge of identity, security, and access when it comes to student information? Where are the pinch-points? How do these limit our ability to provide a truly learner-centred approach to our educational provision?
  3. How do we currently cater for the needs of staff and students who may wish to have their information stored securely and remain available to them at some future date? Is this a valid need? Should it be the school’s responsibility?
  • Articles

    Articles Articles

    Ten ways Blockchain could be used in education

    In this article, Donald Clark describes what Blockchain is, and outlines how it can be used in education.

    MIT Media Lab releases code for digital certificates on the Blockchain

    The MIT Media Lab's Learning Initiative and Learning Machine have released the first version of an open-source project that builds an ecosystem for creating, sharing and verifying blockchain-based educational credentials. The project represents the first step in a broader undertaking that is focused on creating new technologies and collaborating to evolve standards that lift the entire ecosystem.

    Schools are using bitcoin technology to track students

    Recording and verifying candidates' credentials can be costly and time-consuming for academia and businesses alike. Now, some education facilities are turning to bitcoin technology for help. Blockchain was developed alongside bitcoin, and works like a decentralised ledger, storing information on a global network that is publicly available and should be safe from tampering.

    The Blockchain for education: an introduction

    This article explores the technology of the Blockchain, who is investing in this technology, and how this applies to education.

    Blockchain-based credentials may catapult credentialing movement

    Carnegie Mellon, MIT Media Lab, and Learning Machine host groundbreaking conversation about open standards for blockchain credentialing in higher education and beyond.

    What Blockchain means for higher education

    In this short EdSurge article, Kerri Lemoie explores the implications of Blockchain for higher education.

    How Blockchain will disrupt the higher education transcript

    Blockchain technology could offer a more learner-centred alternative to traditional credentialing.

    Getting serious about blockchain

    This article explores how an “internet of value” can redefine the very nature of transactions and transform the global economy.

    What next for Blockchain?

    An article published by McKinsey & Company, based on an interview with Liana Douillet Guzmán, who discusses what areas around Blockchain are ripe for development and how the story is changing.

  • Research

    Research Research

    Digital badging in the MOOC space

    Early adopter universities have a number of strategic aims for massive open online courses (MOOCs), including advancing education research, improving access to education, and demonstrating their merit. One area of education research of particular interest to the University of Notre Dame is that of digital badges.

  • Professional Learning

    Professional Learning Professional Learning
    CORE professional learning solutions: Collaboration across sites of learning

    Building a collaborative culture in and across your learning setting, with your community, represents a profound shift – from isolation and autonomy to de-privatised practice. We work with you, implementing structures and processes to support you as you build your collaborations and become a successful networked learning community.

  • Readings

    Readings Readings

    Connecting credentials: a beta credentials framework

    A development that focuses on the recognition of learning and achievement through a credentials framework – possibly the next stage in micro-credentialing.