Applications and Use Cases

5 Ways Blockchain Will Transform Higher Education in the Next Decade


November 27, 2018
By Special Guest
Keith Rajecki, Vice President of Public Sector, Education, and Research Industry Solutions Group, Oracle -

Blockchain is arguably one of the most talked about newcomers on the tech scene.  While followers espoused its merits early for areas such as financial services, until recently, few discussed the widespread applicability of the technology across industries.  Education certainly has not been at the top of the list.  

In fact, a range of analyst firms now project the global market for blockchain hardware, software and services spending to be somewhere between $7.6 billion and $60.7 billion by 2024, and they consider education will be a key opportunity.  

Why?  Well, think about what blockchain is: A decentralized ledger for keeping secure track of digital records.  There can be public or private logs, each with varying levels of identity and access requirements.  The beauty of it is that it enables any authorized person to view student or faculty records with a very high degree of confidence of authenticity.

This ability to not only make important records more widely available and transparent, but to also assign value to them, suggests blockchain will play an important role in higher education’s evolution toward becoming more diversified, democratized, decentralized and disintermediated.

Indeed, within the next decade, blockchain could transform all levels of education as we know them – from K-12 to university – in at least five areas:  credentialing, payments, digital rights protection, course curriculum, and entrepreneurship.

Credentialing

With so much education now occurring in multiple places – the classroom, online, trade schools, seminars and so forth – it’s often difficult (or even impossible) to find a single “golden record” of a student’s learning journey.  This presents challenges when students look to enroll in new schools or try to provide a single view of their accomplishments to potential employers.

Because of its roots in encryption, blockchain offers a trusted model for the secure collection and sharing of competency indicators, such as academic records, badges, certificates, citations, grades, assessment scores and letters of recommendation.

Institutions can also utilize blockchain to house and share certifications they issue to or on behalf of students.  For instance, Holberton School in San Francisco is using blockchain to store and deliver academic certificates it issues, making it possible for  employers to verify whether a candidate truly graduated from the school. Using any free blockchain explorer available online, such as Merkle, employers can get this information in seconds. Similarly, Sony Global Education is providing a blockchain-based platform to house academic proficiency and progress records.

Payments

Before long, many institutions could begin using blockchain-based cryptocurrencies to facilitate payments involving grants and other types of funding as well as students paying their tuition.  In fact, King’s College in New York and a few other schools already allow students to use bitcoin to fund their education.

But blockchain’s applicability to education payments extends beyond cryptocurrency.  Education has been moving toward a decentralized model for some time now and, recently, colleges and institutions have been forming consortiums to pool their digital resources.  For instance, the Internet2 Net+ initiative provides a range of applications, computer and other cloud services that schools can access.

Blockchain’s distributed, peer-to-peer model is a perfect complement to such efforts, enabling scenarios like digital “smart contracts” that could be used to securely expedite transactions between parties.

Digital Rights Protection

Beyond its financial benefits, blockchain can also be used to manage, share and protect digital intellectual property (IP).  This makes it ideal for researchers looking to create systems for schools, government organizations and companies to expose important information in a controlled manner.

For example, researchers at North Carolina State University recently proposed creating a public, open-source network that would use blockchain technology to share verifiable manufacturing data.  It’s thought this public network would help potential clients find manufacturers with relevant expertise and equipment more efficiently while assigning digital rights to protect any IP.

Course Curriculum

If educators have heard anything from the private sector during the past several years, it is there is a significant gap in the number of students with skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).  Yet, with such strong corporate interest in blockchain, there is a clear need for well-versed graduates interested in taking blockchain to the next level.

Classes that teach essential blockchain programming skills will be in high demand, and they are starting to emerge in scattered universities around the world.  But, as the technology builds momentum, interdisciplinary approaches will necessarily arise, touching on blockchain’s implications for business, technology, law, commerce, intellectual property rights, cryptography and artificial intelligence. 

Entrepreneurship

In addition to creating educational programs revolving around blockchain, many institutions of higher learning are likely to step up their efforts to serve as incubators of entrepreneurship tied to it.

It’s already happening in a few innovative locations.  For example, Carolina FinTech Hub, a community group representing businesses in North and South Carolina, recently completed its Blockchain Generation Challenge (sponsored by Oracle).  Dozens of student teams from local colleges submitted proposals for blockchain-based applications that were judged by the likes of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Ernst & Young, Ally and Oracle, among other companies.  The field of competition has been whittled down to 10 teams, whose submissions could eventually find their way into education, energy, finance and healthcare settings.

Similar efforts are likely to increase in frequency and intensity, with venture capitalists collaborating with universities to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship around blockchain.

We have barely scratched the surface of blockchain’s potential to transform education.  These five hot spots are currently among the most apparent implications for the technology.  But in the next decade, there will undoubtedly be many more applications that surprise us all and take the world by storm.

About the author:  Keith Rajecki is vice president of Oracle's solutions for the global public sector, education, and research industries.  He is responsible for driving Oracle's strategy and industry solutions, working with customers and partners to drive strategic initiatives.  With more than 20 years in industry solutions, he has developed and implemented technology solutions for every aspect of information technology to solve complex business problems.  Prior to his career in the IT industry, he held IT leadership positions in higher education.  Because of his deep technical background and his expertise in government, education, and health, Rajecki is often invited to speak about technology trends and solutions. He also serves as a trusted advisor to institutions and ministries around the world and has published several papers on technology solutions.  Rajecki obtained both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer information systems at Golden Gate University.




Edited by Erik Linask

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