Published on 2018/09/10
The EvoLLLution | A Proposal for a Blockchain College System
Building a blockchain system designed for higher education creates opportunities for postsecondary institutions to reimagine and expand their role as the hub where learners and employers come together.
Modern institutions of higher education are finding it increasingly difficult to accomplish their primary mission. The quintessential mission of all institutions of higher learning, lest we forget, is to enhance lives through education—and, by extension, through employment. All institutions of higher learning are prudent in their focus on enhancing lives through education. For most of them, though, leading their students to a job at the right time and with the right skill set is difficult. The fundamental issue is their ability to connect with employers and understand employer skills needs in real time. With the speed of change in industry these days, it is hard to understand what employers need and be able to match that need with an appropriate skills-based curriculum.

The Solution: A Very Slow Distributed Ledger

Ryan and Donohue (2017) accurately noted that blockchain is just a new combination of existing and proven technologies. Ledgers, cryptography and distributed systems are all commonplace and ironclad staples of modern technology. Putting these technologies together in a democratized and immutable way allows commonplace technologies to change the world. Ever since Satoshi (Nakamoto, 2008) wrote the first white paper on Bitcoin, blockchain has been hailed as the solution to all of the world’s problems.

The problem that we find in higher education is that we are short on use cases that implement blockchain appropriately. Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) was the first community college in the world to implement blockchain diplomas for graduating students, joining MIT and a select few other four-year institutions in that practice. While this has been a great achievement for CNM, they are actively looking for the next step in their blockchain evolution.

The proposed next step in this evolution is a blockchain college. As Feng Hou (fellow blockchain evangelist and recent recipient of Oral Roberts University’s Blockchain for Education Vision Award) is fond of stating: “It is not the money but the brightest ideas that will prevail.” With this in mind, the blockchain college is a culmination of technologies that will allow students and employers to work together in a decentralized fashion. There is no reason for the college to play intermediary to the student-employer relationship. It only delays any communications and creates an artificial barrier to the efficient exchange of information.

Who Will Keep the System Running?

I am authoring a white paper on a new mining protocol called Proof of Academic Stake (PAS) (Bentov, Lee, Mizrahi, & Rosenfeld, 2014; Denning & Lewis, 2017), which explains what’s needed in order for this process to work. Mining is an activity that allows transactions on the blockchain to be validated and provides the engine that keeps the blockchain running smoothly. Without the mining process, the decentralized and democratic nature of blockchain would not exist. In this new protocol, students and instructors would mine in an asynchronous two-party system. The college, along with the instructors and students, would form a mining pool. Instructors and students would earn cryptocurrency based on contact hours by interacting with the college’s learning management system (LMS). In this fashion, there is no public mining in this blockchain college. The only miners would be those who are involved in the educational process.

How Do Employers Benefit?

How do employers fit in? Employers would be able to purchase tokens that would give them voting rights on degrees, certifications, and most importantly, soft skills that their future employees would ideally possess. These tokens would give them voting rights without being consumed in the process. Employers would then be able to use coins to sponsor promising students using built-in smart contracts in the blockchain. The system would essentially work like a dating site: Students would provide a profile with exemplars of their academic work (both validated exemplars like grades and teacher comments, and non-validated exemplars like work products, journals, or vision statements) and employers would be able to browse student work and find those that match their hiring criteria using a manual or automated process. Because this is higher education and we all need to adhere to FERPA regulations, students would be able to adjust all levels of their profile to be public, semi-public (specific to a single employer), or private.

The most exciting part of the system is that it would be given freely to any and every higher education institution that wants it. The entire value proposition revolves around building a community of institutions and employers that can all use the same cryptocurrency and tokens to drive value in the system. The larger the network, the more value we as institutions can pass on to our students. I am dedicated to ensuring that this system is built and that it is capable of bringing value to students, employers, and higher education institutions worldwide. For those with a visual mindset, I am including the basic user stories for employers, students and instructors.

For a visual explaining different stakeholder user stories for the blockchain in higher education, please click here.

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References

Bentov, I., Lee, C., Mizrahi, A., & Rosenfeld, M. (2014). Proof of Activity: Extending bitcoins’s proof of work via proof of stake. Performance Evaluation Review, 42(3), 34-37. https://doi.org/10.1145/2695533.2695545

Denning, P. J., & Lewis, T. G. (2017). Bitcoins maybe; blockchains likely. American Scientist, 105(6), 335-339.

Nakamoto, S. (2008). Bitcoin: A peer-to-peer electronic cash system. Retrieved from http://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf

Ryan, R., & Donohue, M. (2017). Securities on blockchain. Business Lawyer, 73(1), 85-108.

 

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