More than 70 efforts are underway around the world to use blockchain technology in education, and most set their sights on better connecting people with job opportunities, according to a new report published by the American Council on Education.
The report is part of the Education Blockchain Initiative, organized by the American Council on Education and supported by $2 million from the U.S. Department of Education. The initiative aims to study whether and how decentralized digital ledgers can give students and workers more control over their academic and job records and improve the flow of data among schools, colleges and employers, leaders told EdSurge in February.
Blockchain technology first appeared as part of cyber currencies like Bitcoin, but a range of industries are now experimenting with the approach, which involves making digital transactions public and permanent in a way that is very difficult to tamper with or counterfeit.
Although research for the new report was largely conducted before the spread of COVID-19, its authors note that the pandemic will likely make learners even “more mobile, moving in and out of formal education as their job, health, and family situations change.” That means blockchain efforts that provide “consistent ways to document their learning and bring their records with them” are more needed now than ever, the report argues.
Realizing the potential benefits of digital credential ledgers will require blockchain efforts to clear several barriers, the report authors say. These include:
- the costs of setting up ledger systems
- the up-til-now underwhelming use of digital credentials
- the fact that not everyone can access digital technology
- questions about data ownership and the downsides of permanent records
- the need to build “ecosystem” partnerships among colleges, workforce programs and employers
- establishing standards for education and personal identity data
Even so, several colleges and school districts are making progress with their blockchain experiments. The report highlights four:
Dallas Gives Students the GreenLight
A private blockchain built in the Hyperledger system helps students move among Dallas-area school districts, the University of North Texas at Dallas, the seven-institution Dallas Community College District and jobs. Called GreenLight, the ledger gives students access to their credential materials, such as transcripts and recommendation letters, and allows them to apply to multiple colleges and scholarship programs at once, making the process easier and more efficient. The tool is designed especially to help first-generation and low-income students, who may struggle with college enrollment.
Transferring With Trust in Arizona
Arizona State University and the Maricopa County Community College District are experimenting with a private, Hyperledger-based blockchain to help students track their progress toward an associate degree. Called the Trusted Learner Network, the tool facilitates the “reverse transfer” of credits from the university to the community college, so that people officially earn associate degrees even as they continue to pursue bachelor’s degrees. This strengthens their job prospects, regardless of whether they ultimately attain four-year diplomas.
Colleges Confer Digital Diplomas
Institutions including Central New Mexico Community College, Maryville University and Southern New Hampshire University are granting students digital diplomas and transcripts through the company Hyland Credentials (formerly Learning Machine). These proofs of achievement are hard to tamper with or counterfeit, and students can send their own records to employers or other education institutions.
San Jose State Puts Blockchain on the Books
How can libraries use ledgers? The San Jose State University School of Information is finding out. The institution has hosted a national forum and virtual conference and produced a MOOC and a book exploring the potential uses of blockchain technology in the field of information systems. Researchers there are seeking funding for a blockchain experiment in how to grant people access to resources at multiple libraries.