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Blockchain in education

In November 22 2917, I wrote a blogpost on Blockchain, based on the report by Grech, and Camilleri, (2017). Blockchain is an emerging technology, with almost daily announcements on its applicability to everyday life. It is perceived to provide significant opportunities to disrupt traditional products and services due to the distributed, decentralised nature of blockchains, and features such as the permanence of the blockchain record, and the ability to run smart contracts. Read the full report

This is a follow up post, and the future will tell us, from experiences it is know that edcuation is not very fast to move into new technologies and digital trasformations and changes, which I have argeid in many of my own blogposts recently. This post reflects some of the thoughts by  Kernohan, in Higher Education: Policies, people, and politics, 21 December 2017, and Watter (2016), and Clark (2016) in their Blogposts.

Kernohan argues that almost all articles and reports focus on the  how questions, and explains how blockchain and bitcoins function, instead of focusing on the why questions which is more important. He stated that there are at least three limitations:

1. What is important are the downsides – and the first is inefficiency. With so many powerful computers entering the competitions, a great deal of energy is used for literally no purpose whatsoever. How much energy? Think running a medium-sized developed country for a year – that’s how much energy it takes to run the bitcoin blockchain for a year. Other chains are more efficient (Litecoin and the Etheriums) because they run their encryption competition in a slightly different way. But inefficiency also means slow transactions – minutes rather than microseconds.

2. A big problem is irreversibility – once something is on a blockchain, it stays there. If – say – you accidentally pay for something twice, you can’t just void a transaction, you need to set up another transaction to refund. Again this has an energy and time cost, but it also re-introduces trust into a trustless system. You have to rely on the person you transacted with to repay you as there are no built-in safeguards.

3. Anohter problem is artificial limitations. Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are often limited as to the total possible number of coins that can exist. 

Audrey Watters wrote alraedy in 7 April 2016 about things to consider on Blockchains. The firs was of course:

What problems can blockchain solve in education? What problems – technologically, ideologically – might the blockchain's adoption in education create? Even if we understand how blockchain "works," there remain a lot of unanswered questions...

Blockchain-related projects in education are still very much in their experimental stages. Nevertheless, the blockchain itself is incredibly overhyped, with fairly wild claims about “revolution” and a radical decentralization of key institutions – in the case of education, of universities as well as their accrediting bodies, for example.  With that in mind, she raised a handful of the concerns withthe blockchain in education – some of these are technical, but most of them are not:

Is learning transactional? 

Who is trusted and mistrusted in education?

Is education (teachers, students, schools) prepared to handle the complexity of the blockchain?

What is the incentive to mine in an education-related blockchain project?

What happens to privacy in a “world ledger” of education transactions? Do we really want education records to be unalterable?: 

What problems can blockchain solve in education? What problems – technologically, ideologically – might the blockchain's adoption in education create? 

Donlad Clark wrote in his blog in 21 June 2016

... that blockchain is a technology that clearly has applications in the world of learning at the individual, institutional, group, national and international levels. It is relevant in all sorts of contexts: schools, colleges, universities, MOOCs, CPD, corporates, apprenticeships, and knowledge bases. Rather than the old hierarchical structures, the technology becomes the focus, with trust migrating towards the technology, not the institutions. It is really is a disintermediation technology. Traditionally institutions have been a source of trust: universities, for example, are trusted “brands”. In finance, where blockchain is nowadays a ubiquitous hot topic, banks exist to enact transactions, creating an environment in which blockchain’s advantages are readily obvious. In education, however, there needs to be trust beyond the technology. ... However, blockchain can play a role here, too, as one could imagine a sort of web of teachers and learners that deploys blockchain to cut out institutions. This, in my view, is not impossible, but it is unlikely. It must also be recgnized and conceded that blockchain is not without its problems. ... Education is a slow learner and a very slow adopter. Despite its obvious advantages, the learning world is likely to be slow in implementing this technology, as most of the funding and culture is centred around the individual institution. Bologna was dead the day it was signed as nobody really wanted to lose their students and suffer financially, but it nonetheless became the framework for European higher education. This indicates clearly that the stimulus for change will have to come from elsewhere. One thing I know for sure is that students have their eyes open and are looking for alternatives. Check out BEN, the Blockchain Educational Network, a grassroots student-organised movement. Perhaps, like Bitcoin, the blockchain revolution will ultimately come from left of field.


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