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Educational Blockchain
Educational Blockchain
Just as a "Cryptocurrency" Blockchain is intended to build trust in digital financial transactions.  An "Educational" Blockchain is intended to build trust in digital educational transactions. Trust is needed since digital transactions are not reality; they just represent reality.  Trusting that the transaction represents what it suggests it represents is critical for educational valuation. It helps the learning answer the question, Will this learning help me? Updated Feb. 7, 2024

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February 7, 2024

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Learning Blockchain

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A “Cryptocurrency Blockchain” is intended to build trust in digital financial transactions.  An “Educational Blockchain” is intended to build trust in digital educational transactions.

Trust is needed since digital transactions are not reality; they just represent reality.  Trusting that the transaction really represents what it suggests it represents is critical for information valuation. 

A Blockchain is a “distributed” or “verifiable” history of a group of bits.  

The key terms are “distributed” and “verifiable.”


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Educational Blockchain Summary

At its most fundamental, education is an informational transaction between a learner and teacher (See Classes on Communication Theory for more info.)

In any transaction, there is a giver and a taker, a buyer and seller, a teacher and a learner. 

A transaction is enhanced to the extent that the parties involved in the transaction trust each other.

In the old days, when a seller sold or traded a goat, both the seller and buyer could inspect the goat, so there was trust in the transaction.  Buyer beware became the standard.

In the digital world, we don’t buy or trade goats anymore.  Instead, we buy and trade “bits.”  The challenge, then, is to find ways to build trust in digital transactions.

A Blockchain is intended to build trust in a 21st-century community by building trust in our digital transactions.

A thermostat, for example, tells a heater to turn on – a one-way informational transaction.  

In the past analog world, once the thermostat tells the heater to turn on, that transaction disappears.  With the invention of digital transactions, we learned to store that transaction.

Now, with Blockchains, we can not only store the transaction but also store it easily in multiple locations, and both the sender and receiver can agree that the transaction recorded is a correct copy of the intended transaction.  

It is this “Agreement” that sets a Blockchain apart from anything in the past.

The fact that, at the initial transaction level, there is agreement is a key that helps build trust in the transaction.  

Suppose we know that the original sender and receiver agree that the transaction is accurate, correct, precise, or any qualifier you want to use. In that case, we can more fully trust the transition, and we can then build on it.

Blockchains were introduced with Cryptocurrencies.  

Using a Blockchain for currency transactions is fairly straightforward because of the limited vocabulary used in currency transactions,  

In currency transactions, transactions follow set patterns of information.  Sue gives John 5 units of currency.  John agrees that Sue gave him 5 units of currency.  Then John gives 3 of those units of currency to Bill.  Bill agrees that John gave him 3 units.  Over time, one can build an extensive history of every transaction.  This history is the blockchain.

The challenge to applying a Blockchain to educational transactions is getting the sender and receiver to agree because the vocabulary is “Orders Of Magnitude” more variable.

A Blockchain does two things:

  1. It is distributed without central control
  2. It is verifiable.

One area where Educational Blockchains easily fit into the existing Educational eco-system is the Distributed nature of the Blockchain.  

This is similar to “libraries” in education.  

Educators are comfortable with individual and separate libraries holding duplicates of books.  The distribution of a Blockchain is the same as the distribution of a book.  The difference between a physical library and a digital library is the number of books in a physical library is limited by physical constraints.  

Meanwhile, there is virtually no limit to the number of Blockchains an individual library can hold.

Additionally, the advantage of Blockchains over books is the ability to add large numbers of searchable keywords.  Traditional educational libraries were limited to the Dewey Decimal system.

One more point: There exists a thing called SCORM.  SCORM is a primitive form of a Blockchain.

According to https://scorm.com/scorm-explained/

SCORM is a set of technical standards for e-learning software products. SCORM tells programmers how to write their code so that it can “play well” with other e-learning software. It is the de facto industry standard for e-learning interoperability. Specifically, SCORM governs how online learning content and Learning Management Systems (LMSs) communicate with each other. SCORM does not speak to instructional design or any other pedagogical concern — it is purely a technical standard.

Distributed Blockchains

The reason we want our databases distributed is we can then check to see if the information is the same everywhere.

If the same piece of information is stored in multiple locations, then it is easier to tell if one copy of the information changes.

If, on a particular day, Bob and Sal agree to sell 5 bitcoins.  They then distribute that transaction to multiple databases.  If, sometime in the future, Bob tries to commit fraud, he might try to go in and change the record.  But Bob would have to change all the records in all the databases to get away with the fraud.  And that would be difficult if there were millions of copies all over the world.

A distributed database is consensually shared and synchronized across multiple sites, institutions, or geographies, accessible by multiple people. It allows transactions to have public “witnesses.”

The participant at each node of the network can access the recordings shared across that network and can own an identical copy of it. Any changes or additions made to the ledger are reflected and copied to all participants in a matter of seconds or minutes.

Underlying our Educational Blockchain is the same technology that is used by cryptocurrencies and Github.

Distributed Ledger

Blockchain is a type of distributed ledger used by Bitcoin.

  • A distributed ledger is a database that is synchronized and accessible across different sites and geographies by multiple participants.
  • The need for a central authority to keep a check against manipulation is eliminated by the use of a distributed ledger.
  • A distributed ledger can be described as a ledger of any transactions or contracts maintained in a decentralized form across different locations and people.
  • Cyber attacks and financial fraud are reduced by the use of distributed ledgers.

Github

At a high level, GitHub is a website and cloud-based service that helps developers store and manage their code, as well as track and control changes to their code. To understand exactly what GitHub is, you need to know two connected principles:

  • Version control
  • Git

Version control

Version Control helps developers track and manage changes to a software project’s code. As a software project grows, version control becomes essential.

Take WordPress. At this point, WordPress is a pretty big project. If a core developer wanted to work on one specific part of the WordPress codebase, it wouldn’t be safe or efficient to have them directly edit the “official” source code.

Instead, version control lets developers safely work through branching and merging. With branching, a developer duplicates part of the source code (called the repository). The developer can then safely make changes to that part of the code without affecting the rest of the project. (An Educational Blockchain uses the word “library” instead of “repository.”  But it serves the same function.  It stores “bits” and “lends” those bits out to others.). Then, once the developer gets his or her part of the code working properly, he or she can merge that code back into the main source code to make it official.  All of these changes are then tracked and can be reverted if need be.

Git

Git is an open-source version control system created by Linus Torvalds in 2005.

Specifically, Git is a distributed version control system, which means that the entire codebase and history are available on every developer’s computer, which allows for easy branching and merging.

According to a Stack Overflow developer survey, over 87% of developers use Git.

Understanding Distributed Databases

Over the last couple of decades, computers have improved the process of record-keeping by adding great convenience and speed.

Today, with innovation, the information stored on computers is moving towards much higher forms, which are cryptographically secured, fast, and decentralized.

A distributed database can be described as a database of any transactions or contracts maintained in a decentralized form across different locations and people, eliminating the need for a central authority to keep a check against manipulation. In this manner, a central authority is not needed to authorize or validate any transactions.

A distributed database managing financial and legal transactions is called a “distributed ledger.”  A distributed database managing educational transactions is called a “distributed digital library.”  A distributed database managing the Internet addresses is called “DNS.”

All the information on the ledger is securely and accurately stored and can be accessed using keys and cryptographic signatures. Once the information is stored, it becomes an immutable database, which the rules of the network govern.

Advantages of Distributed Databases

While centralized databases are prone to cyber-attacks, distributed databases are inherently harder to attack because all of the distributed copies need to be attacked simultaneously for an attack to be successful. Furthermore, these records are resistant to malicious changes by a single party. By being difficult to manipulate and attack, distributed databases allow for extensive transparency.

Distributed databases also reduce operational inefficiencies, speed up the amount of time a transaction takes to complete, are automated, and therefore function 24/7, all of which reduce overall costs for the entities that use them.

Distributed databases also provide for an easy flow of information, which makes a learning path easy to follow for researchers and learners when they consume the information.

While distributed database technology has multiple advantages, it’s in a nascent stage and is still being explored in terms of how to adopt it in the best possible way. However, one thing is clear: the future format of centuries-old databases is to be decentralized.

References:

Educational Blockchain Table of Contents:

A Very, Very Simple Definition: What is the Blockchain?

The blockchain is often described as a digital ledger. And perhaps a very, very simple definition should just leave it at that. It is a ledger, a distributed, digital ledger.

A more wordy definition:

The blockchain is a distributed database that provides an unalterable (semi-)public record of digital transactions. Each block aggregates a timestamped batch of transactions to be included in the ledger – or rather, in the blockchain. Each block is identified by a cryptographic signature. These blocks are all back-linked; that is, they refer to the signature of the previous block in the chain, and that chain can be traced all the way back to the very first block created. As such, the blockchain contains an uneditable record of all the transactions made.

See below for more details about blockchain technology. See also: “What is Blockchain?” by W. Ian O’Byrne – that article has helpful graphics.

Educational Blockchain
Educational Blockchain

The History of the Blockchain

The blockchain was first defined in the original source code for Bitcoin.

While the recent interest in the blockchain often tries to separate it from that, it’s worth looking at this history.

Bitcoin is a virtual currency, invented in October 2008 with the publication of “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System,” a paper written by Satoshi Nakamoto (an alias. The real identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor(s?) of Bitcoin remains unknown, despite several well-publicized – and failed – attempts to “out” him). The code was released as open-source in January 2009. (The next section of this guide examines the technology of Bitcoin and the blockchain in more detail.)

Thus, the Bitcoin network began in 2009 when Satoshi Nakamoto “mined” the first Bitcoins. Satoshi Nakamoto disappeared from the public – that is, from Bitcoin forums, papers, and code contributions – in April 2011. But even in Satoshi Nakamoto’s absence, Bitcoin continued to be developed and marketized, with the community working to address various issues with the code (including, for example, a technical glitch in 2013 that caused a fork in the blockchain).

Bitcoin really took off in 2013, as more websites started accepting the currency, as investors started funding more Bitcoin-related startups (more on investment in a section below), and as the price surged, hitting a record high of $1108 per Bitcoin in November of that year. But as its popularity grew, Bitcoin also faced scrutiny from law enforcement. The Department of Homeland Security shut down the Bitcoin exchange (formerly a Magic the Gathering exchange) Mt. Gox in 2013, which was handling almost 70% of Bitcoin transactions at the time. Mt. Gox declared bankruptcy the following year amidst reports that some 744,000 bitcoins had been stolen from the site.

(Some of this history might seem a bit extraneous to a discussion about an educational blockchain, but I’d argue that it’s all-important to consider when we think about the security, the infallibility, and most importantly, the ideology of blockchain – the latter, the topic of a subsequent article in this research project.)

Other cryptocurrencies have been developed based on the Bitcoin technology – Litecoin and Dogecoin, for example – although their volatility has made some investors and pundits wary. That volatility – in the code and in the community – has, in recent months, led many well-known Bitcoin developers to call it a failure. In a widely-circulated blog post published in January of this year, Mike Hearn wrote that “In the span of only about eight months, Bitcoin has gone from being a transparent and open community to one that is dominated by rampant censorship and attacks on Bitcoiners by other bitcoins.” In its coverage of the fallout, The New York Times cautions that “The current dispute, though, is a reminder that the Bitcoin software – like all computer code – is an evolving product of the human mind, and its deployment is vulnerable to human frailties and divergent ideals.”

As interest (and trust) in Bitcoin has waned, the reverse seems to be true about the blockchain in general.

The Technology of the Blockchain

Let’s expand on the very, very simple definition of blockchain at the beginning of this lesson: the blockchain is a distributed digital ledger.

One of the key features of the blockchain is that it is a distributed database; that is to say, the database exists in multiple copies across multiple computers. These computers form a peer-to-peer network, meaning that there is no single centralized database or server. Still, rather the blockchain database exists across a decentralized network of machines, each acting as a node on that network.

Transactions on the blockchain are signed digitally using public-key cryptography. (And now a brief description of that technology: public-key cryptography uses two keys, which makes it harder to crack. There are public and private keys – related mathematically, but because of the complexity of that math, it is nearly impossible (or at least computationally infeasible) to guess. The public key can be used to sign and encrypt a message that’s being sent; the recipient – and only the designated recipient – can decrypt that transaction with their private key.

In addition to encrypting messages, public-key cryptography can be used to authenticate an identity as well as to verify that the message – or in the case of a transaction on the blockchain – has not been altered.)

Because of the distributed nature of the blockchain database, data about all new transactions must be propagated to all nodes on the network so that the blockchain stays in sync as one “worldwide ledger” and not as many conflicting ledgers. That means that in order to update the blockchain, these multiple distributed copies of it must be reconciled so that they all contain the same version. This happens in the blockchain via a consensus process: the majority of the nodes in the system must concur. (Note: there are other synchronization methods for distributed databases.) This consensus process is one of the key innovations of the blockchain: it is “emergent” rather than happening at a scheduled time or interval as each new transaction and block is verified computationally.

Each block of the blockchain is made up of a list of transactions. Each block also contains a block header. That header, in turn, contains (at least) three sets of metadata: 1) structured data about the transactions in the block; 2) the timestamp and data about the proof-of-work algorithm (this is how new blocks are mined and verified – more on this in a minute); 3) a reference to the parent block – that is, the previous block – via a “hash” (in order words, a cryptographic algorithm). This creates the “chain” part of the blockchain. Each block in the blockchain can be identified by a hash of its header.

New blocks are created by a process called “mining,” which validates new transactions and adds them to the chain. In Bitcoin, a new block is mined every 10 minutes (that rate is different for different cryptocurrencies’ blockchains). The miner (the machine) that mines the new block is rewarded financially – in the case of Bitcoin; the miner receives Bitcoin (currently 25 per block, but that figure will halve later this year), as well as a cut of the transaction fees for all transactions on the block.

To mine new blocks, miners on the network compete to solve a unique, difficult math puzzle. As noted above, the “proof of work” of that solution is included in the block header, which allows the block to be verified. Solving this math problem is nontrivial. Since Bitcoin’s creation, the difficulty of this problem has increased exponentially, as has, in turn, the computational power needed to solve it. Blockchain.info estimates that Bitcoin miners are now trying 450 thousand trillion solutions per second to solve these puzzles. As such, in 2015, O’Reilly Media estimated that it takes about $600 million a year to maintain the mining infrastructure of the Bitcoin system.

One of the benefits of the increasing complexity of the “proof of work” algorithm is that Bitcoin (purportedly at least) becomes ever more secure. But now, it is impossible to mine Bitcoin on a personal home computer; most mining operations are that, operations – vast farms of pooled computing resources. (I wrote “purportedly” in that last sentence because of fears that these mining pools make Bitcoin susceptible to a “51% attack,” whereby an entity that has majority control could alter the blockchain.)

While cryptocurrency might be virtual, all this mining and computational puzzle-solving obviously takes an enormous amount of energy. According to one Motherboard estimate, “each Bitcoin transaction uses roughly enough electricity to power 1.57 American households for a day.” Bitcoin currently handles about 360,000 transactions per day. You do the math.

And while much of the most recent excitement about the blockchain’s potential relevance to education does not involve Bitcoin, there has been (at least) one example of an education-oriented cryptocurrency: EduCoin. Initially inspired by a college student at a football game holding a “Hi Mom. Send Bitcoin” sign, EduCoin sought to become a new way to finance one’s education.

In 2014, EduCoin described itself this way: “We need a digital currency that can help students, educators, and third parties make secure transactions without fees, rates, or long approval times.

EduCoin aims to be the worldwide standard for student transactions in the learning economy.” (Several years later, this project appears to no longer be maintained or active.)

The popularity of Bitcoin and related cryptocurrencies has waned (arguably at least), and interest in the blockchain has remained, if not grown.

Blockchain-related startups now focus on things like identity management and “smart contracts.”

Some have explored the possible applications of the blockchain in education in more detail, but clearly these two elements – identity and contracts, particularly in the form of transcripts and assessments – have particular relevance in education.

One of the names that comes up with increasingly frequency here is Ethereum, developed by a Swiss non-profit the Ethereum Foundation. (Its founder, Vitalik Buterin, dropped out of Waterloo University and received a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship for his work on the project.)

Ethereum isn’t a startup per se, although it’s clearly what tech industry folks would call a “platform move”: it’s building a blockchain – an alternate blockchain, to be clear, that isn’t connected to Bitcoin – for others to build their own startups upon in turn.

Ethereum describes itself as moving beyond a “world ledger” – it’s a “world computer,” a “perfect machine.”

Ethereum was first proposed by Buterin in 2013, and the second version of the Ethereum platform, called Homestead, was released earlier this year. (Here is a more complete history of Ethereum via the Ethereum Foundation’s blog.) The organization now boasts the fifth largest crowdfunding campaign ever, having raised over $18 million for the project in 2014 by the sale of “ether,” Ethereum’s currency.

Ethereum seems to be the platform upon which many big companies, such as IBM and Microsoft, are starting to experiment with the blockchain.

And it’s probably worth noting that, to date, it’s been a big company rather than a little startup that’s made the first overtures towards blockchain-in-education. The company in question: Sony, which announced in February that it plans to develop a blockchain-based platform for assessment. Sony’s press release doesn’t give much indication of what this will look like – if it plans to use Ethereum, for example, or build its own blockchain.

To clarify the heading of this section, when we consider who is “investing” in the blockchain in education, we should look at venture capital funding, technological contributions, product adoption, and, of course, marketing.

Education and the Educational Blockchain

And to be clear, most of what we’re hearing right now about the blockchain and education is precisely that: marketing. There are only very, very few organizations currently using the blockchain for educational purposes, although many claim they’re actively exploring the possibility.

The blockchain had a big marketing splash at SXSWedu this spring, for example, thanks to two think tanks, the Institute for the Future (IFTF) and the ACT Foundation.

They presented the idea of “the Ledger” as a new technology that could tie learning to earning.

Onsite in Austin, the promotion of the “Learning is Earning” initiative was framed as a “think like a futurist” game and intertwined with a keynote delivered by well-known game designer and writer Jane McGonigal, who is a research affiliate at the Palo Alto-based IFTF.

An excerpt from the “Learning is Earning” promotional video:

Welcome to the year 2026, where learning is earning. Your ledger account tracks everything you’ve ever learned in units called Edublocks. Each Edublock represents one hour of learning in a particular subject. But you can also earn them from individuals or informal groups, like a community center or an app. Anyone can grant Edublocks to anyone else. You can earn Edublocks from a formal institution, like a school or your workplace. The Ledger makes it possible for you to get credit for learning that happens anywhere, even when you’re just doing the things you love. Your profile displays all the Edublocks you’ve earned. Employers can use this information to offer you a job or a gig that matches your skills. We’ll keep track of all of the income your skills generate, and use that data to provide feedback on your courses. When choosing a subject to study in the future, you may wish to choose the subject whose students are earning the most income. You can also use the Ledger to find investors in your education. Since the ledger is already tracking income earned from each Edublock, you can offer investors a percentage of your future income in exchange for free learning hours. Our smart contracts make these agreements easy to manage and administer. The Ledger is built on blockchain, the same technology that powers bitcoin and other digital currencies. That means every Edublock that has ever been earned is a permanent part of the growing public record of our collective learning and working.

There’s a lot to unpack ideologically in this vision of the future of education and work (and as I noted above, I’m going to look more closely at the ideology of the blockchain in a follow-up article to this guide). But the video hits on many of the key themes that are echoed across various other education-related blockchain discussions – that is to say, the blockchain could be utilized to better manage assessments, credentials, and transcripts. (See, for example, OTLW or BadgeChain.)

These claims dovetail quite neatly with those made more broadly about the future of the blockchain – that it will be utilized for identity management and for “smart contracts.” They also dovetail quite neatly with areas in education that are already backed by funding and by policy (by money and politics). (From my list of last year’s “Top Ed-Tech Trends,” for example: “Standardized Testing” and “Credits and Credentialing” and, to borrow a phrase from George Siemens, “The Employability Narrative.”)

For their own part, a handful of schools have also started to experiment with the blockchain, primarily in creating cryptographically signed, verifiable certificates. These include MIT (the Media Lab, specifically), the University of Nicosia in Cyprus, and the (unaccredited) Holberton School, an alternative, teacher-less software engineering school in San Francisco.

(It’s probably worth noting here too that at the height of the Bitcoin frenzy, several universities, including the University of Nicosia, The King’s College in New York, and Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, also announced that they would accept the cryptocurrency for tuition payments.)

(You can find links to more articles on education and blockchain here.)

Things to Consider with An Educational Blockchain…

Let’s be honest: blockchain-related projects in education are still very much in their experimental stages. Nevertheless, the blockchain itself is incredibly overhyped, with fairly wild claims about “revolution” and a radical decentralization of key institutions – in the case of education, of universities, as well as their accrediting bodies, for example. If you believe the spin, all functions – economic, civic, scientific – will soon be blockchained.

Late last year, Gideon Greenspan, the CEO of the blockchain platform Coin Sciences, offered a list of eight conditions that should be met in order to avoid “pointless blockchain projects.” These include needing a database, having multiple people writing to that database, having some interactions between transactions, operating with an absence of trust, and not needing a trusted intermediary. Riffing on that article, BadgeChain team member Doug Belshaw recently wrote a follow-up about “Avoiding pointless (Open Badges-related) blockchain projects,” in which he used Greenspan’s list to argue that, indeed, Open Badges meets all the Coin Sciences’ requirements to move forward with the blockchain.

And maybe it does.

Or maybe we are layering one technology (and its correspondent ideology) onto another technology (and its correspondent ideology) and expecting (or hoping) institutions be disrupted. There are many underlying assumptions that are made about institutions and their practices when we talk about using the blockchain, and I think scrutinizing these assumptions, not simply checking off a list written by a blockchain company, is fundamental as we consider the applicability of the blockchain to education.

With that in mind, here are a handful of the concerns I have about an educational blockchain in education – some of these are technical, but most of them are not:

Is learning transactional?: The blockchain is a ledger, and we most often think of ledgers as containing financial transactions. As the blockchain moves beyond financial technology to other sectors, it’s still used to record transactions of some sort. What are those transactions in education? Completing an assignment or a course? Publishing a blog post or a book? Chatting, favoriting, retweeting, liking? What is gained and what is lost as we increasingly record (and assess) these transactions or activities? (See Amy Collier on “Not-yetness and learnification.”)

Who is trusted and mistrusted in education?: “The spread of blockchains is bad for anyone in the ‘trust business’ – the centralized institutions and bureaucracies, such as banks, clearing houses and government authorities that are deemed sufficiently trustworthy to handle transactions,” The Economist argued back in 2015. A “decentralized trust” would, proponents argue, then serve as a challenge to the centralized authority that, say, accrediting and accredited bodies have in issuing degrees. But this strikes me as a very shallow analysis of how trust and prestige operate in educational signals like degrees.

Furthermore, discussions about “trust” and the educational blockchain often frame students (and/or potential employees) as being untrustworthy – as lying about their degrees or their skills. (And a lot of ed-tech certainly views students as cheaters.) The educational blockchain would purportedly verify those credentials. But it’s worth asking, too, if institutions are trustworthy. Which students and institutions are and are not trusted? Why? By whom? What is actually the source of “trust” in our current credentialing system? (Spoiler alert: it’s not necessarily accreditation.) How would the trustworthiness of blockchained credential-issuing institutions be measured or verified? If it’s by the number of transactions (e.g. badges issued), doesn’t that encourage diploma milling?

The blockchain is based on a computational sort of trust; we’re told – but why trust “code” and not, say, democracy?

Is education (teachers, students, schools) prepared to handle the complexity of the blockchain?: It’s 2016, and “123456” remains the most popular password. Is education ready for public key cryptography? Can it afford the necessary computational power to run blockchain nodes? Can it handle the complexity of working with blockchain technology? Can individuals? Does any of this improve upon existing practices? If so, how? I’d note here that this is one of the rhetorical sleights-of-hand of the word “decentralization” in technology circles: knowledge and wealth continue to be concentrated in the hands of the technological elite.

What is the incentive to mine in an education-related blockchain project?: As I explained in the technology section of this guide, mining is the process in which new blocks in the blockchain are created and validated. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin award coins to those who solve the necessary cryptographic puzzle to create a new block. This is the incentive for throwing a massive amount of computational power at the problem. Will education-related projects follow this model? Will they utilize third-party platforms, like Ethereum, to build their projects? What does it mean to build financial incentives into these new educational models? And what are the implications of relying on third-party platforms for what some are arguing is going to be “the future” of identity management and legal paperwork?

What happens to privacy in a “world ledger” of education transactions? Do we really want education records to be unalterable?: When Sony announced its plans for a blockchain-based assessment platform, Sony Global Education President Masaaki Isozu told Education Week “We want to keep life-long learning records … securely in the cloud forever. While these records are usually held privately, we want to make it possible for students and educators to securely share verified, trustworthy information with others. Trading these records securely would be an all-new service in the education sector.” “This will go down on your permanent record.” We recognize the threat, I’d wager, but we quickly recognize that there are many ways in which it’s an empty one. However, the blockchain would create a permanent record where data cannot be changed or removed. This raises all sorts of problems for education, particularly if we view learning as a process of growth and change.

The question of who owns education data remains unresolved – indeed, the US Department of Education says that schools do, although they need to act as good stewards on behalf of students. So, would students have control of the privacy of their data on the blockchain? Or would this be something that schools would negotiate access to with their vendors? What happens if the data on the blockchain is wrong? What happens if the data is prejudicial, re-inscribing the prejudices that data collection and school practices already enact?

What happens if a student wants or needs a “fresh start”? (What happens, for example, if they transition or seek gender confirmation surgery? What happens if they have a stalker or need to obscure their identity because of an abuser?) How might we design education technologies (including those that would use the blockchain) so that they protect privacy by design?

How might a demand for transparency about data be a question of power and privilege?

What problems can blockchain solve in education? What problems – technologically, ideologically – might the blockchain’s adoption in education create? Even if we understand how blockchain “works,” there remain a lot of unanswered questions…

Educational Blockchains are Catching On(Opens in a new browser tab)