The “blockchain” technology has been known for several years — especially since the success of Bitcoin. The education industry is also gradually becoming interested in this technology and exploring the first possible applications. A look at initial approaches and other possible applications.
Blockchain: A chain of information
Blockchain is a chain of information. Depending on the industry in which the blockchain is used, the information involved is very different: In the financial industry, account numbers or purchases made are stored in the blockchain, in the real estate industry, it consists of rental contracts, rental payment confirmations, or ancillary cost statements. In the education sector, for example, it is assessments such as grades or the individual solution to a math problem. But what are the advantages of a blockchain? To answer this question, three properties of the blockchain are important: its order, its network, and its security.
Blockchain: the order is crucial
In the blockchain, all information is chronologically linked in a chain. Each piece of information is stored as a block — as a link in the chain. An example: Two pieces of information about a student, the mathematics exam on March 21 and the censorship: 11 points, are linked together. The blockchain provides both pieces of information with an encrypted check digit, a so-called hash, and a timestamp. This hash is now the same on block 1 — mathematics exam on March 21 — and block 2 — censorship: 11 points.
That means: Block 1 and Block 2 are inextricably linked, only Block 2 can follow Block 1. The order of the blocks is therefore exactly determined. If many blocks are chained in this way, a blockchain is created. Using the math grades as an example, it could look like this: “Certificate grade 1st semester: 12 points — Math exam on March 21 — Censorship: 11 points — Exam on May 14 — Censorship: 9 points — Math exam on July 3 — Censorship: 13 points — Certificate grade 2nd semester: 11 points.”
Blockchain as a network
A blockchain like this is part of a network. You need a special program to enter the network with your own computer. Members of the network for the math blockchain from the example above are all persons who are related to this student’s math exams, for example, the math teacher, the student, the math examiner, the headmaster, and others. A scenario: The student from the example above is dissatisfied with his grade, 11 points in mathematics because he is aiming for a degree with a high numerus clausus. Shortly before the end of the grades, he sneaks into the staff room and forges his own math grade in the grade index of his course: He gives himself 13 points. Such manipulation is not possible in the blockchain. Is someone trying to change the blockchain this is immediately registered by the blockchain network. If only one block changes, for example, censorship, within the blockchain, the hashes — the check digits — of the adjacent blocks no longer match.
The blockchain as an educational network
Many teachers are currently still using Moodle or Clix — programs for organizing learning content or administrative matters. On such platforms, pupils often find tasks that their teachers have set for them and assigned to them in advance. It is the task of the pupils to work on them. The problem with such platforms, however, is how isolated the work takes place on them: Each teacher sets up their own courses and tasks for their subjects and their classes. There are no links between the learning outcomes of the students across subjects and teachers. Existing platforms are not able to provide information about individual strengths and weaknesses of a student.
The blockchain makes exactly that possible: all those involved in everyday school life are part of a school blockchain network. The individual information in this network is, for example, learning tasks that different teachers hire, the results of the students, and the associated assessments. Here, too, the following applies: Blocks that match each other are automatically linked — for a student, for example, there is a chain like this: “French task — solution — evaluation of the solution by the specialist teacher — feedback from this teacher.” Over the course of a school year, this chain is continued for countless completed tasks from a wide variety of school subjects. This creates an up-to-date education profile.
Blockchain as a qualification network
In the course of one’s own educational path, innumerable independent documents such as references and certificates accumulate. These documents are not forgery-proof.
In the blockchain education of the future, things will look different: Here all educational stages are documented in the blockchain. A student is part of a qualification blockchain network. This network also consists of different pieces of information. Corresponding information — a service performed and the qualification provided for it — are automatically combined. Whenever this student receives, for example, a certificate, a school leaving certificate or the certificate of a further training measure in the profession, this information is fed into his qualification blockchain. Once this student has reached adulthood, the tamper-proof blockchain reflects his or her personal educational path.
Blockchain in Education: Initial Concepts
Blockchain technology requires a digital infrastructure that does not yet exist across the board. Nevertheless, there are the first international initiatives that use blockchain networks in education.
Disciplina: The platform from Estonia aims to develop a network in which blockchains for a person’s personal educational career are created. Information about schools, training companies, and universities visited is contained in a blockchain. With this, the platform would like to develop individual educational profiles.
Odem: This is a network from Switzerland in which teachers from different contexts can offer their learning tasks, their material, or their teaching. Learners have access to it, can book courses or buy materials. All activities are stored in a blockchain.
Gilgamesh: The platform of the US company Skiral Incorporation wants to bring readers, authors, and publishers closer together. They all discuss, review, or comment on literature there. All activities are stored in the blockchain.
Blockchain as a cooperation network
Blockchain technology also has great potential in terms of cooperation. A blockchain can contain information from many individuals. In the educational context, this could be various information from teachers, learners, examiners and so on. The cooperation that exists between these people can benefit from the blockchain. So it is conceivable to build a cooperation blockchain network similar to a social network that bundles information and knowledge in blockchains.
An example: a tenth grade student is about to take the final exam — in German, a novel is relevant for the exam. In order to prepare for the upcoming exam, this student uses the cooperation blockchain network described. It makes the exchange, the discussion but also the review of the literature possible. The individual pieces of information within this network are all the contributions that its users have made to literary works. Blockchain technology registers the activity of all users and merges information about each person into their personal blockchain — their own usage history. For teachers, this means that the knowledge, skills and interests of many people can be bundled in such a cooperation blockchain network. Blockchain enables the exchange of teaching topics. It is also conceivable to use such a network in cooperative work phases.