Blockchain in HE: Paradigm Challenges (2)

The Open University (2017) argues that student records are still paper-based. There are hundreds of thousands of known fraudulent credentials in circulation the United States. It is difficult to measure the quantity and economic impact of undiscovered fraudulent credentials. Matching paper certificates to individuals is also challenging.

The “unbundling” of education has both positive and negative effects. Positives include increased access and more specific learning options; negatives include ambiguity regarding the value of learning and low completion rates (in Europe, 10% of enrolled students fail to graduate; in the US, 50%). Employer dissatisfaction with graduate skill sets is a growing issue: skills are a higher priority than qualifications per se. More unbundling is required so that more attainable, employability-relevant units can be offered. With blockchain, HE institutions can issue official certificates digitally. These are tamperproof and verifiable. Blockchain liberates HE institutions from the burden of providing records. The education blockchain works like the bitcoin blockchain, with ledger content exactly reflective (see below):

Blockchain Ledger Items: A Comparison

People may erroneously assume that the blockchain system is simply a more secure version of an online, publicly available student record database. Blockchain systems provide transparency at the discretion of the owner. Records can be public or private (fully or partially), continuously visible or visible for a specified duration.

The website provides free code that allows individuals and organisations to immediately implement a blockchain system of certificate verification (the table below describes the certificate’s composition). The code can be used for both not-for-profit and commercial services, without limitation.

Three Layers of a Blockchain Certificate (Another Interpretation)

The Open University (2016): blockchain allows storage, validation, and trading of education. Blockchain offers a digital system that can store any kind of educational record, from a degree certificate to an entire thesis, or new media, such as audio or video recordings. The portfolio capability of blockchain makes the technology attractive to all parties. In addition to certificates and transcripts, digital badges can be used to accredit learning. This creates the possibility of presenting a more rounded picture of the learner.

Learners’ data could be mined, analysed, and traded (provided ethics and privacy guidelines are observed). There may also be added value in blockchain records, i.e. through the public display of credentials (should a user desire such) and the possibility of acquiring visible and provable reputational capital through a social media-like peer recognition process.

Blockchain could enable various innovative pedagogies, such as “crowd learning, rhizomatic learning, citizen inquiry, massive open social learning, and maker culture”. Creative workers may also use the blockchain to prove authorship while showcasing oeuvres. By demolishing traditional barriers to practice, such functionality would democratise opportunity.

Skiba (2017) claims that blockchain, by validating lifelong learning, will transform HE. Blockchain does not represent a new form of value in education, but can address important information management requirements of learners and providers, today and tomorrow. For example: blockchain can ensure that a MOOC student actually engaged and undertook assessment. Blockchain can allow students to pay fees through smart contracts. For expansionist institutions, blockchain has advantages: blockchain increases the possibility of “mega universities”. Teaching to millions (even billions) becomes feasible because administrative procedures are automated and data is absolutely reliable.