Blockchain is at the steep end of higher education’s hype
cycle. Institutional leaders and pundits alike are intrigued by blockchain’s
potential but often know little about the technology beyond its central role in
stories about initial coin offerings or Bitcoin University.
So how does the advent of blockchain square with the
aspirations of higher education? And why might institutional leaders take note
of its potential? What should university leaders know about the technology’s
origins and application to real-world challenges and opportunities on campus?
What Is Blockchain and Why Does It Matter?
Blockchain is the underlying technological innovation
behind Bitcoin -- the rise of digital currency. The technology itself solves
one of the great problems of society: how to create a system where many people
keep verified, trusted information. Today, for example, the record of who owns
a plot of land is kept at the town hall. Imagine if every town hall was linked
so that every town hall had a copy of a land title?
As Andreessen Horowitz partner Chris Dixon recently wrote,
“In the same way people dismissed early smartphones because they traded off
computing power and screen size for portability and new sensors,” many will
view Bitcoin as a fad but ignore just how truly revolutionary blockchain will
be for every industry including higher education.
Think of blockchain as akin to online learning during the
early 2000s. Most college presidents pooh-poohed the quality and efficacy of
the digital revolution, while some entrepreneurial presidents like Michael Crow
at Arizona State University and Paul LeBlanc at Southern New Hampshire
University have built powerful online learning networks that catapult them to
the forefront of the higher education ecosystem.
Blockchain Is Driving Job Growth
It won’t be long before the blockchain “skills gap” jumps
the shark. Already, the single most in-demand skill for freelancers is
blockchain. LinkedIn postings for blockchain jobs are up 6,000 percent
year over year, and starting developer salaries are over $100,000, with hourly
billing rates frequently surpassing $100. There are more than 14 job postings
for every skilled developer.
If your university is not equipped to introduce courses and
concepts rooted in the application and potential of blockchain, now is the time
to start. Your students will expect it. Blockchain presents a rare opportunity
for differentiation, more than the latest fad. Every major financial services
company has announced a blockchain initiative, while whole countries like Malta
have initiated efforts to move their identification systems to the blockchain --
throw away that pesky driver’s license; your PGP key will suffice. There are,
as yet, no standout institutions in the era of blockchain. But early pioneers
are clamoring for the title. Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of
Technology is among a growing few, along with MIT’s recently unveiled course on
blockchain and money.
If you don’t have a blockchain course, begin with a
certificate and develop a degree program over time. It’s not just about the
technical skills, either -- an education in the basics of blockchain has
implications in product design and business strategy that will support students
across a range of careers.
Blockchain research is multidisciplinary by nature and
could touch on virtually every department of the university. Even classicists
will be pleased to note that the technology’s core innovation is frequently
called the Byzantine General’s problem.
Research dollars and opportunities will soon abound. Savvy
institutions will build capacity by launching blockchain working groups that
cut across departments like mathematics, political science, finance and others.
As you pull together your research team, think about
creating a specific center of excellence for your research -- blockchain will
revolutionize everything from currency trading to issues of digital identity,
and is likely too broad a field for even the largest university to cover every
Fundamental aspects of university life, like teaching and
learning or faculty governance, are unlikely to be transformed by blockchain in
the near term. But blockchain will have significant implications for other
facets and functions within higher education.
The federal government and private lenders could base the
payment of financial aid dollars on course completion, as opposed to seat time.
Universities may put student portfolios or other work on the blockchain to
enable discovery by employers or other partners.
The blockchain might enable micropayments or easier
identifications on college campuses that create the next set of radical
innovations in student identification and payment. Each university president
should start by exploring just a few areas (e.g., financial aid) where
blockchain can create new efficiencies or transform back-office functionality.
Beyond the Transcript
Blockchain is likely the death knell for the embossed
transcript. Records will be kept in distributed ledgers. Students will be able
to share much more granular information about their learning to future
employers, friends and partners.
Right now, the only way to know if someone graduated from
your university is to call the registrar. What if individual faculty or
programs could play the role of “authorized credential issuers,” time-stamping
accomplishments on the blockchain that can be validated instantaneously? In
short order, blockchain can help to solve one of higher education’s most vexing
challenges: making the case for a system where many people keep verified,
This isn’t the stuff of science fiction. Blockchain already
allows millions of computers to securely store the information of who graduated
from which university, rather than keeping those records within a single
registrar’s office. In addition to hosting the largest MOOC on digital
currency, the first such degree program in the world, the University of Nicosia
has announced a blockchain-enabled credential to give students a more secure
way of verifying their skills online, which is now employed at multiple
Technology innovation and disruption tends to come to
education late in the cycle. Newspapers found their business model disrupted by
the internet well before higher education did. With blockchain, it appears that
the venture capitalists and other financial intermediaries will be disrupted
first (there have been over $6 billion in initial coin offerings already
this year). However, it is only a matter of time before blockchain technology disrupts
the operations of virtually every university -- and institutional leaders
should be prepared.
A decade from now, which reader of this column will lay
claim to being the Michael Crow or Paul LeBlanc of the blockchain era?
here for the original article from Inside Higher Ed.