On October 09, 2017, the University of Melbourne became the first university in the Asia-Pacific region to issue recipient-owned credentials using blockchain. The University issued its Melbourne Teaching Certificate using the Learning Machine issuing system, an enterprise platform that makes it simple to anchor official records to the blockchain. The system allowed students to share verified copies of their education credentials with employers and other relevant third parties through a secure system. According to the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Teaching and Learning) Gregor Kennedy, the university was “very excited that its exploration of a new way of providing students with credentials was successful”. This could well be a milestone in the future of education.
What blockchain is
Blockchain is a type of distributed ledger technology (DLT), which essentially is a fixed and decentralized ledger containing all transactions that occur in a peer-to-peer network. As compared to a typical database, information is stored differently – in blocks linked together. DLT has the capability to revolutionize many sectors, and it could find useful application in education too.
Potential for blockchain in education
The education sector requires an organized and well-structured system, given the immense amounts of data it possesses and the criticality of the same. Data management systems must be intricate, more so with student-related information.
There are dissidents who feel other technologies can do the job better; however, the benefits compel a second look. According to Terri-Lynn Thayer, Vice President, Gartner, CIOs in higher education should continue to explore the potential of blockchain, advising that they should “focus on practical uses for blockchain in the near term, while keeping an eye on its long-term transformative potential. The more ambitious use cases have the potential to disrupt the entire education ecosystem.”
Maintaining records through blockchain could be just the tip of the iceberg here. Data would get immense security, and it can be protected even if a particular node is compromised. It could change how students and teachers interact, it could change the handling of academic documentation, and it could do a lot more with its powers of accountability and transparency.
Statistics bear this out. As per the Gartner 2019 CIO Survey,
• 2 percent of higher education respondents have already deployed blockchain
• 18 percent were planning to deploy blockchain within the next two years
Advantages of blockchain in education
Deploying blockchain in education could be advantageous on more than one front. Here are the advantages:
• Access to and verification of academic credentials: Certificates and degrees are immensely important for students, and digital notarization would help students to access them anytime and anywhere. For employers, verification of such credentials is critical, and the process can be fast-tracked and made more reliable with blockchain.
• Verifying academic history: Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (US) suggests that around 80 percent of college students change their major at least once. Decentralized record management would make it easier to verify the academic history of a student seeking a change or a transfer, an important change toward the future of education.
• Easing the process of education loans: Common among higher education students as well as other levels, student loans involve detailed verification through intensive paperwork, which is a very complex process. A blockchain-based system could enable a look at academic histories and help to predict the likelihood of repayment, thereby maintaining creditworthiness and reducing NPAs.
• Privacy of and rights to information: DLT enables the creation of a unified space for a lifetime of education. The hash-based approach ensures immutability of information, so students cannot alter past records, and movement between countries or states also becomes more convenient.
• Transparent transactions: Privacy and transparency can coexist easily, as the immutable ledger technology instantaneously records transactions chronologically. This allows quick verification of transcripts with a report.
• Convenience of student payments: 2014 saw King’s College in New York City become the first accredited US institution to accept payment in bitcoin, eliminating credit card transaction fees. Blockchain could be used to create and trade new digital assets, and could simplify the processing of student payments, with cryptocurrencies – possibly custom ones – becoming payment methods.