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What Is Blockchain and How Can It Support Student Success? #DLNchat

By Michael Sano     Feb 15, 2018

Blockchain

Higher education is joining the blockchain party, even if its entrance is, let’s say, incremental. On Tuesday, February 13 the #DLNchat community got together to discuss: What is Blockchain and How Can it Support Student Success? The questions that blockchain raises are large and widespread, and special guest Stephen diFilipo guided us through the potentials for higher education.

The chat started off by defining blockchain, the technology underlying cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Etherium. Some kept their definitions simple, such as “a distributed database,” from Trish Briere. Others were a bit more whimsical. Bryan Fendley called blockchain “something we can’t ignore,” and Paul Wilson, a “daisy chain digitalized.” Taylor Kendal brought in the technology’s grand possibilities: “A digitized, decentralized, public ledger that represents the next phase of human potential.” Other guests shared resources to provide more thorough definitions of the technology. For folks who need an introduction to blockchain we recommend starting with the video in this EdSurge article from our blockchain meetup in Berkeley. For those who want to continue down the rabbit hole, check out this comprehensive list Bethany Bovard put together for #DLNchat.

So why do proponents think blockchain can improve higher education? Answers may vary, but the technology’s potential to verify student learning was the focus of Tuesday’s conversation. There was agreement that student learning credentials could be issued via “blocks,” which could be added to the immutable blockchain. Sharon Leu posited that could build their own credentials from verified blocks of competencies. When students can verify competencies across institutions or from other organizations, such as employers, then, as Alex Kluge articulated, “smaller, verifiable, units of accomplishment student learning becomes more portable, and likely more of a life long effort.” Not only that but, as Ed Garay tweeted, blockchain credentialing could lead to “empowering students to have both higher ed and informal entities tag onto their learning transcripts.”

Matt Meador and many others were excited by this idea of decentralizing the traditional owners of learning validation, that being higher education institutions themselves. But special guest Stephen diFilipo recommended, “If you want quicker adoption of digital credentials then focus on certificates and non-credit systems.” He also added, “I wonder if the constraints on an accredited institution will slow down adoption.” Clay Forsberg furthered the thought: “Simply by acknowledging these "outlying" types of learning vehicles - we give them credibility. And once they acquire credibility - they proliferate ... hopefully resulting in a more learned society.”

But who, exactly, will get to authenticate credentials in the future? And should the data be validated through a public or private system? Taylor Kendal believes, “Blockchains are evolving into niche, specific use-case tech. There will be a need for private and public.” Kelvin Bentley also had some ideas: “Definitely takes a "village" of sorts but one that regularly discusses the competencies and needs to include industry. This work will be especially important for career pathways that are not overseen nationally by workforce groups.”

Student success then might look very different using a system like blockchain. As Bethany Bovard articulated, “We currently emphasize continual enrollment in one institution as a measure of "success,” and that we need to think about “how that might change with ability to track various learning -not just at the one university.” Trish Briere echoed this sentiment, “Student experience could become much more personalized. Measures of success may need to look differently.”

Also discussed was the technology’s ability to track sharing, which some guests said could build trust for faculty to share more intellectual property as open educational resources.

With so much potential, special guest Stephen diFilipo reminded us to ask, “What is being disrupted? Ownership of learner data/records? Speed of delivery of learning outcomes? Institutions?” Perhaps all of the above, but as Kelvin Bentley said, “I would hope that blockchain will create decentralization that matters. Our blackbox model for learning is not helpful to students in the long run. We need to help learners, faculty, administration, staff have better insight into the learning process.”

Join the Digital Learning Network to stay up to date on all events and the latest news for highered digital learning leaders! At our next #DLNchat, we’ll discuss What is the Role of Libraries in Digital Learning Innovation? with special guest Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian for Research & Instructional Services at Temple University's Paley Library. Add it your Google calendar forTuesday, February 27 at 1pm PT/ 4pm ET. #DLNchat is co-hosted by the Online Learning Consortium, WCET and Tyton Partners.

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