In this ever digital world an increasing number of verticals are moving away from traditional means of documentation. One innovation that is a digital ledger of sorts is blockchain. First introduced by Satoshi Nakamoto, blockchain is “an open global ledger that records transactions on a distributed database.” While typically used for financial sectors with the ever increasingly valuable digital currency, Bitcoin, blockchain has uses in other verticals, including education.
To certify employment, a potential employee must demonstrate competency. This is usually done through educational documents such as transcripts, diplomas, certificates, or resumes. However, it is rare that an employer will be able to verify the authenticity and value of these documents from schools. Blockchain can solve this issue.
The main educational use of blockchain is for formal means of documentation. This could be formal statements from educational committees, smart contracts, or authentic records. A few universities have also jumped on this blockchain trend. The University of Nicosia offers diplomas via blockchain and also a Masters of Science degree in digital currency. Dr.Elias Iosif, Senior Researcher at the University of Nicosia explains the steps (shown below) of assuming a certificate and online verifier -- which can be done using this link: https://verify.unic.ac.cy/verify
1. Using a mobile web browser you can visit the online verifier and perform the steps described (i.e., upload the certificate and wait for the verification). In other words, the process and the underlying mechanism is device-agnostic.
2. A successful verification returns the transaction id which is associated with the certificate. One can use any Bitcoin Blockchain explorer for verifying this id and seeing the related info.
3. The ideal solution would be the incorporation of the verifier as a web service within the blockchain itself rather than as a separate layer. This is an open research question which remains open because, in general, the blockchains were not designed for such functionality. However, one may use the approach described in 2 above along with the certificate itself.
4 Overall, there are numerous research questions in this area, e.g., how such approaches can be applied in the area of e-government (e.g., e-identities of citizens, support of other credentials).
MIT also piloted a program where diplomas were distributed through a virtual wallet. Blockcerts Wallet allows for “students to quickly and easily get a verifiable, tamper-proof, version of their diploma that they can share with employers, schools, family, and friends.” As a perk, Blockcerts Wallet avoids the hassle of having users generate public and private keys which is needed on Bitcoin Blockchain. Instead, as soon as the app is downloaded, public and private keys are generated and the public key is sent to the school. The digital diploma then has the public key, while students can prove that it is their diploma through the private key on their app.
Blockcerts Wallet was created in tandem with Learning Machine, which “is the enterprise-grade service provider that works with universities to set up and manage the technology.” While Blockcerts Wallet currently only deals with educational records, “Learning Machine’s technology is not limited to just one type of document.” Chris Jagers, the founder and CEO of Learning Machine, explains, “it could be diplomas, drivers’ licenses, medical records.” Learning Machine’s partnership with MIT is just the start of a future of credentialing documents for various verticals.
Taking a note from Learning Machine’s drive for expansion, Blockchain also has the potential to prove the identities of many refugees. Documents such as birth certificates or employment history will be readily available and able to “provide a digital verification mechanism for people unable to prove their identity.”
As shown, blockchain is becoming increasingly important in education (and other areas) as it serves as a notary for documents. In addition, the documents are tamper-proof as you cannot change any entries into blockchain, as subsequent blocks would become impacted. Also the records will exist indefinitely and are transparent and accessible to anyone who needs it. However, there are some downfalls to blockchain serving as a hub for educational records. Most notably, blockchain is an open membership forum, making it more difficult to verify authenticity. There are some options for combating this including the formation of government teams that accredit, professional societies that accredit, or peer groups.
Blockchain is where the world is heading. Not only do we live in a digital world, but a world that is an innovation hub where more and more digital options are becoming available. Blockchain already has a future in finance and other verticals as well, but only time will tell if important educational documents have found a fit in blockchain.