Some key words and concepts in the blockchain technology
Most experts of the blockchain use a specific vocabulary that is difficult for most people to understand, including distributed system (peer-to-peer, disintermediation), certification (or the common law notarization’s system, which is more about issuing certified copies), ledgers, proof of work, token, governance…
Each of these words reflects some key concepts of human inventions.
For example: one of the major human inventions is writing. And writing was invented 5000 years ago in order to record legal transactions. Ledgers and trusted third parties (authorized writers) were created -and still exist- to ensure legal certainty and avoid litigation. So too does the blockchain: each connected server possesses a copy of an immutable and secure ledger of legal transactions (distribution). Blockchain was conceived as an open source technology resource to ensure anyone could read the proof of transactions (transparency) in these records. This is still the case; almost every blockchain is open source.
Another example is the invention of currencies. The rise of human exchanges was -and still is- based on trust. Bitcoin was invented as an alternative currency following the financial crisis of 2008 that betrayed this trust, in order to propose a currency based on peer-to-peer decisions.
In blockchain technology, connected servers are in competition to resolve a complex mathematical problem (they are “mining”). The system is able to decide which server was successful, and therefore to certify the webpage (the block) containing a certain amount of transactions and to bind it to the previous page. The blockchain technology rewards this server with tokens for its successful contribution to a collaborative work (proof of work). No human intervention is required. This is a major informatics innovation.
Two major problems with blockchain technology identified by experts are the questions of sustainability, identity in connecting and using the technology and the faculty to allow citizen to erase the personal data they do not wish to appear in the ledger. However, many researchers and companies are already working on addressing these questions.
Application of these principles in Education
In Education, these attractive and complex concepts have led to the identification of blockchain technology as an interesting solution to a few problems:
– Distributed and open ledgers: retain shared records of all learning outcomes (diplomas, competences, diploma supplement, open badges…), in initial or lifelong learning, on a lifelong basis. Any world citizen having studied at some point would be able to find a certified copy of his or her diploma at any stage of his or her life.
– Disintermediation: empowers teachers to recognize and award their students directly with something other than the diploma (disintermediation): credentials or open badges. Whereas credentials can be seen as higher education credits that combined will constitute a diploma, open badges can be considered as a more flexible way to recognize any skills and competences, even acquired outside formal institutions.
– Identity, open licenses and reward of contributions in Open Educational Resources: ensures the traceability of remixed open educational resources and rewards the contributors thanks to the issuing of “credits” that could be used as proof of work for their carrier path.
The “Netflix” of Open Educational Resources (OER)?
The last use case has led the author of this article to conceive of a blockchain capable of certifying the intellectual property rights of teachers, researchers, and even students bound to their professional identity. The idea is to create a global platform comparable to a “Netflix” dedicated to Open Educational Resources and subject to open licenses.
It could be tested on the 30 000 French open education resources that are documented, available, and that can be found through a single search engine.
It would be free for anyone to use, with the possibility of payment for commercial uses, in order to explore a sustainable model for OER.
In a sense, it would mimic a plagiarism software, tracking the legal use and reuse of OER.
It would also allow visualizing a “family tree” of the uses and modifications of a resource, growing with the years.
Finally, application of blockchain technology would recognize and reward contributions to the OER movement. A sort of Open Badge / digital credit identifying the contributor and their contributions, easily embedded showable in curricula, and serving as official proof in support of career paths.
The European Blockchain Observatory-Forum and initiative for Education
The blockchain use case identified by most governments and institutions in Education aims to create the distributed ledgers of diploma and competences.
27 State members of the European Union and Norway have set up a partnership on blockchain. This partnership has also identified the use case on certification of diplomas as an innovative public service to citizens. 2019 will should be the year to set up a global project in this regard.
In 2017, the French Ministry for Education and Youth set up a working group on Blockchain & Education at the national level, based at the University of Lille. One of the objectives of this working group is to help test the sovereign and sustainable Blockchain developed within the IT system department of the European Commission.
Perrine de Coëtlogon
With the kind reading of Eric Bruillard, Paris V Descartes (France) and Rajiv Jhangiani, Kwantlen Polytechnic University (Canada)