Blockchain in Education — The New Edtech

Anh Le

Tamper-Proof Education Credentials on the Blockchain

Now that crypto is returning to its previous bullish sentiment. Blockchain projects are also getting enormous traction. The revolution in edtech will be disruptive with blockchain technology to provide tamper-proof credentials that allow student ownership and sharing of academic records.

Digital Transformation of Education

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With education being democratized with new companies like Applyboard, verified credentials become more prevalent when global education becomes flatter. When I was in Vietnam, moving to Canada as an international student for more opportunities was extremely difficult. I had to prove every I have, sometimes double and triple prove it. I had to make proof of records more because of the lack of trust in third-world countries' education systems and paperwork procedures. But that IS the major pain point. People from third-world countries like me want and need international education the most to prove the validity of our capabilities better.

In addition, we have people posting whatever they want on LinkedIn without it being verifiable yet. We are giving a lot of trust to the people out there. With Coursera, Chegg, and Codeacademy, people can easily get courses and answers, but can you say that the person is well educated because they have an online certificate from a course? It is hard to prove how capable they are. Credible universities like the University of Waterloo, where I went through extensive vetting of the students, proctoring exams, scanning for plagiarism to make sure the graduates are legitimate and have actually learned what was taught. Is there a way for us to adopt that same process of verification and legitimacy via the internet?

Yes, we can! It is called education credentials in the blockchain. It will help students prove their skillsets more efficiently and easily. Companies can vet new grads and interns faster and better. It is a win-win situation for all.

Decentralization of Education

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Students can share their official records directly without anyone and have them be trusted as authentic. When I got my work permit, I needed to pay UWaterloo $10 to verify and package my transcripts in a sealed document. Then I have to walk from school to the border to give the officers—lots of admin work in between. The records no longer need to go through third parties, a fundamental break from the typical vendor-controlled ecosystems where rents must be paid to store/ transmit official records.

A few companies have already worked on this technology: Sony/IBM, SAP/TrueRec and Salesforce/UTx, Accredible, and Credly. They have proprietary systems that use a blockchain to create verifiable records. The main value adds the “immutability” and “ownership”. But as to whether these promises are being delivered, it is too early to tell.

Recipient ownership and vendor independence

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Blockchain provides a self-sovereign identity state that allows people to own and operate in a world without dependence on brokers and/or centralized authorities (governments, universities, hospitals). So to translate this into the education world, students can attain their own academic achievement, prove those achievements without all the admin middle man things, saving costs, time, and inconveniences from legacy proprietary infrastructure.

But we actually don't have any products yet or at least none that has customer adoption. We have to consider using open standards or public blockchains. We have to be careful in recreating the old vendor de[tendency model that precludes true ownership of records and interoperability across vendor systems. Big tech has an instinct to take control of new possibilities of controlling and creating proprietary tech. As AOL Instant Messenger, Blackberry was massive at one point, but eventually, they were forced to adapt to new open standards.

Standards build upon and connect with each other, creating the soil that allows for a variety of future products to flourish.

Creating new tech like this independent from the existing standards is extremely hard, which leads it to be exclusionary and short-lived. The worst case is that important records need to last a lifetime.

Value system

Products in blockchain are emerging, laying the groundwork of open standards that will allow a new generation of records and products that interoperate. SO we must condemn a generation of students to proprietary silos that arent useful outside of vendors' walls and will disappear in a few years.

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The top right quadrant is what we hope for in a truly decentralized system to empower individuals. Although we need to recognize, people take comfort in using big brand names (Facebook, Google, Amazon), and the other quadrants are old models in new clothes.

The current education blockchain projects

Sony/IBM

Sony has decided to use Hyperledger Fabric to create a custom blockchain hosted on IBM’s cloud to provide network infrastructure for issuing and verifying educational records.

But if the hyper ledger blockchain is open source, even if they can build a large enough network to guarantee security, the resulting credentials might not be truly interoperable outside of this Sony ecosystem. If a student gets locked out of the Sony verse, it is no difference in the existing system where they have to go to the vendors to get their credentials.

SalesForce/UTx

The University of Texas works with Salesforce to create an ecosystem to issue, receive, and verify academic achievements using MultiChain on private blockchain. The main goal is the ease of use.

This project has a nice user interface, but it doesn't have a private blockchain network, with no standards for the foundational layer. The entire system depends on schools that join a private network, operate as a node, and accept a particular institution's data models and workflows, which isn't viable for most institutions.

SAP/TrueRec

SAP is creating command-line libraries that use Ethereum public blockchain to issue records of academic achievement. The codebase utilizes the Open Badge Specification for credentials, so some effort has been made to connect the system to other functional standards.

SAP has developed a free iOS app for users to verify their credentials. The app is not open source nor positioned as a resource for others to use. It’s the sole repository for these credentials, so it can’t be improved upon or improved upon by others.

Credly

Credly is a provider of open badges with added features for anchoring these badges to a blockchain. Credly has not published or open-sourced how their technology is working, which threatens the interoperability of these records. The company is running pilots with several prominent partners.

Accredible

Accredible is a provider of digital certificates that has also claimed to have records that are blockchain verifiable. They are using Tierion to timestamp records, which is intended to show that records have not been tampered with since a particular point in time. Timestamping alone adds very little value or security to records.

Initial Coin Offering

A growing number of offerings are being marketed as addressing the nuances of a specific market. These offerings are usually vendor-dependent and attempt to reinvent the wheel unnecessarily. The real damage of these initiatives is typically their marketing, which spreads untruths to raise money for their ICO.

Blockcerts

Summary: In 2016, when Learning Machine and MIT launched a system for issuing blockchain-based verifiable records to students (Blockcerts). Blockcerts is an open-source codebase for issuing, receiving, and verifying official records anchored on a blockchain (even private chains). The Blockcerts mobile app for recipients is on both iOS and Android, both open source and available for any vendor to improve upon.

Blockcerts is an open source, a standards-based resource that others can utilize and serve as a technical foundation for future innovation. Learning Machine is the first company to build a commercial product using this standard to issue credentials in a format that anyone can verify without vendor dependence.

For a great example of how to empower learners with blockchain credentials, check out the MIT Registrar’s case study on MIT News.

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Conclusion

Blockchain is the size and security of the decentralized network that creates value. The power to credential always resides with the issuer, so it’s time for open standards to be developed. He says major vendors and universities must support open standards so that educational records can operate outside of walled gardens.

Time will tell whether we can successfully transition to an education verification record system with a fully decentralized world. But I will be excited for that day to come.

Reference

https://www.hylandcredentials.com/blockchain-in-education/

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As an Asian female immigrant, I want to break out of the stereotypes and believe in myself to make a difference in the world. And to make a difference, I want to understand how the world works through the lens of research, insights, and data. Having had a natural talent for science and arts since I was little, I joined science competitions to hackathons from school to university. I am currently a data scientist with a keen interest in developing insights. I love learning about how the world works. I believe a great data scientist must have the speech of a diplomat, the curiosity of a scientist, and a business mindset of an entrepreneur. With a background in Biotech, Engineering, and Finance from the University of Waterloo (both a Bachelor and a Master), my insatiable curiosity and a strong desire to make an impact beyond myself have allowed me to step outside my comfort zones. My blog on finance, data science, and blockchain on Medium @thisisanhle (also on other socials) has over 10,000 views a month. Follow me on Medium for my insights.

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