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Unique biweekly insights and news review
from Ray Schroeder, Director of the National Council for Online Education

Emergence of Blockchain

Blockchain is evolving into a robust platform that may shake many aspects of higher ed.

We all have heard much about the potential for blockchain, particularly how it might serve as a distribution, validation and secure ledger of transcripts and associated certifications.  MIT did the early work on this.  Two years ago they began offering the distribution of diplomas via the Blockcerts Wallet app.  While that sounds geeky-cool, it represents much more than a technological advance.  Substantively, it shifts control of transcripts from the Registrar to the student.  No longer can an unpaid parking ticket delay the delivery of your transcript to a prospective employer. 

Chris Jagers, co-founder and CEO of Learning Machine. “MIT has issued official records in a format that can exist even if the institution goes away, even if we go away as a vendor,” Jagers says. “People can own and use their official records, which is a fundamental shift.” That is huge because it may ultimately be paired with non-university credentials such as internships, MOOCs, and an assortment of badged gigs representing short-term work in related fields.  The student will be able to assemble her/his own transcript of relevant materials that can more fully reflect experiences and masteries.

Sara Friedman from THE Journal recently wrote about one of the most valuable and enduring features of Blockchain is the use of blockcerts:

Blockcerts is a global open standard for anchoring any type of document to any blockchain as secure anchor of trust,” said Natalie Smolenski, senior vice president of business development at Learning Machine. “The blockchain basically serves as a kind of global notary for these academic records, so that even if the issuing institutions can’t be contacted anymore or the software vendor that was used to issue that record goes out of business or doesn’t support that product anymore, recipients still have their documents and they can verify them for life.”

In the 2019 annual Horizon Higher Education Edition report, now published by EDUCAUSEblockchain tops the list of important developments in educational technology for higher ed in the four to five year horizon. The technology is here and the number vendors is expanding, but higher ed and HR departments need a bit more time to get up to speed on the blockchain.

Despite US initiatives to drive the technology forward, China is taking the lead in this field.  Chinese firms have filed the most blockchain patents and, as the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton school has recognized, blockchain is an official national priority:

 “The Chinese State Council included its development in the nation’s 13th Five-Year Plan. And last year, President Xi Jinping said China seeks to lead in innovation worldwide, citing blockchain, AI, the Internet of Things and other technologies as the driving forces.”

In April of this year, nine universities announced their collaboration on blockchain to give students a digital record of academics, badges, certificates and more.  “The U.S. institutions involved in the project are Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of California System’s Berkeley and Irvine campuses. Such digital records would allow students to securely own and share their information instead of having to go back to the relevant institution each time they need proof of their accomplishments”, said Sanjay Sarma, MIT’s vice president for open learning, regarding the collaboration.

How do we plan and prepare to use this powerful new distribution, validation and secure network? New America has released the Blockchain Trust Accelerator Blueprint for Blockchain and Social Innovation. Calling it “a guide to blockchain technology for public sector and social impact leaders,” it delivers recommendations, case-studies and insights on many aspects of the future of blockchain.

The Blueprint includes a most useful eleven-point checklist for deploying a blockchain-powered solution. From defining your challenge through ethical considerations, assessing risks and assuming “unknown unknowns” the list is a great place to begin preparing for the blockchain.

Ray Schroeder 2016 Summit for Online Leadership

Ray Schroeder is Professor Emeritus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and Senior Fellow at UPCEA. Each year, Ray publishes and presents nationally on emerging topics in online and technology-enhanced learning. Ray’s social media publications daily reach more than 12,000 professionals. He is the inaugural recipient of the A. Frank Mayadas Online Leadership Award, recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame Award, and the American Journal of Distance Education/University of Wisconsin Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award 2016.

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