What is blockchain?
Simply put, a blockchain is a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of records. Each record, or block, contains data (e.g., transaction details) and is cryptographically linked to the preceding block. Each new block confirms the data in the preceding blocks, thus creating an immutable chain of information.
A blockchain can be private (permissioned), meaning that only certain individuals can access it, or public (permissionless), meaning that anyone can read or write to it.
Each entry in a blockchain is permanently time-stamped and linked to a specific location—making it easy to identify where information originated and when it happened. This provides the added benefit of being transparent and secure.
One of the most important reasons for blockchain technology is that it’s tamper-proof. If someone were to try to tamper with a block, it would be detected immediately, as every single record (and subsequent transaction) must match in order for the block to be valid. For example, I can tell you everything about my financial transactions from this morning, but if anyone changed any one of those records at any time in the past two hours, then those transactions would no longer be true or accurate. Since blockchains are distributed, they are also inherently resilient to cyberattacks. In fact, due to its decentralized nature, blockchain technology can help with cybersecurity.
Think of how many people would need to be in on a fraud for it to work (hint: it’s a lot). By comparison, the more people who have access to data on blockchain technology, the safer and more secure it is.
Blockchain is a decentralised ledger or database containing a “chain of blocks” to store information. The data can be related to transactions, date and time, participant details, and so on.
While electronic databases have been around for quite some time, blockchains have transformed data storage and management by giving secure access to all participants involved. A traditional (centralised) record is trickier to safeguard from theft and loss as all information is available at a single place. On the other hand, a distributed ledger keeps authentic and verified copies of the original files across multiple locations. This also makes the process of data-sharing and maintenance more transparent and democratic.
Blockchains can be categorised into the following categories:
- Public: Anyone can join and contribute to this authority-free network.
- Permissioned: Only invited and verified participants, such as members of an organisation, can join such blockchain networks.
- Private: This type of blockchain is similar to a permissioned network but is owned and managed by a single organisation.
“Smart contract” is another significant part of the blockchain vocabulary. It is a computer program that runs on the blockchain, enforcing the negotiation and performance of the contract. It contains the terms of agreement between the buyers and sellers. Today, technological advancements have made it possible for such contracts to be executed by educational institutions.
University administrators, teachers, and students can now engage in digital agreements for various purposes, including assignment submissions and loan payments. These blockchain applications are discussed in more detail in a separate section below.
Importance of Blockchain
Blockchain as a data storage opportunity can generate immense benefits for organisations in manufacturing, healthcare, and education. According to the 2019 Survey, 2% of higher education institutions had already deployed blockchain while 18% planned to do it in the next 24 months.
This industry acceptance speaks of the many advantages that blockchain brings to the table, including:
- Reduced costs;
- Speed and efficiency.
Universities, schools, startups, and nonprofits can adopt blockchain solutions to enhance the efficiency of student data management and create better ways to engage learners. Additionally, blockchain allows external stakeholders like employers to assess the validity of students’ skills. Let’s dive into the specifics.
Blockchain Applications in Education
1. Record keeping
Blockchain enables the administrative department of institutes to manage student records without unnecessary hassles. Since all credentials and certificates are stored on a distributed ledger, there is no need for intermediaries to verify the academic papers, degree, certificates, etc.
2. Courses and Certificates
Certification of course contents is one of the most commonly requested student records in the K-12 system as well as in higher education.
This information is critical in determining whether a student should move from one academic level to another. Transcripts also serve as a badge of achievement by showcasing students’ grades in various subjects. In the conventional education system, the records have to be manually stamped and signed multiple times to ensure accuracy. However, blockchain applications eliminate the need for such time-consuming and labour-intensive processes.
On a blockchain, one can obtain the complete, verified documentation of completed courses and academic achievements with just a few clicks.
Just like the course content and grades, diplomas and degrees can be saved on the blockchain. This way, hiring companies don’t need a paper copy certified and stamped by the university. Instead, they can access a verified digital copy using a link.
So, blockchain not only makes it easier for employers to verify qualifications but also prevents instances of fake degrees from being submitted.
Blockchain-stored diplomas have already entered the market with institutions like MIT taking the lead in issuing virtual academic credentials, back in 2017.
Another use case is accreditation. The concerned authorities can use blockchain applications to verify the quality of education offered by a learning institution.
4. Fraud Prevention
Consider the case where a person applies using fake academic papers and the interviewer hires him based on his qualifications. If the candidate is unskilled for the job, the organisation’s performance would suffer. With blockchain, it is possible to avert such scenarios.
Hacking is another potential risk in data management. Hackers can identify vulnerabilities in the education systems and further manipulate and delete user information. But if the institution implements a blockchain for storing all student information, no modifications can happen without permission to use the online ledger.
5. Skill Badges
Apart from the standard work experience, a person’s resume has additional information like technical knowledge, language skills, co-curricular activities, etc. These details are not simple to verify, but third-party experts can validate a candidate’s skills by granting a digital badge or certificate.
The digital skill badges can be stored on a blockchain for easy access. Open Badge Passport is a prime example of this type of portable and shareable application. Schools, vocational organisations, education companies, and associations are using this service to release micro-credentials in digital format.
6. Decentralized Online Learning
Learning institutions usually have unique specifications for their study programmes, which often results in inconsistent course content. Also, students rarely have a say in what they are taught and merely attend the recorded lectures as passive recipients.
When blockchain technology is introduced into the mix, there is a greater opportunity for real-time data exchange and interactions between students and teachers.
7. Plagiarism Check
Incidents of students presenting someone’s work as their own are all too common in the academic world. For example, when an undergraduate student submits a research proposal or final dissertation, and it is found to be copied from the internet. The consequence? The institute can revoke certificates and even suspend the person.
With blockchain technology, digital content creators can curtail the dispersal of copyright materials. Academic information is stored with advanced encryption on a secure chain, while the network is only accessible to permitted users. The owners can then track, access, verify, allow usage of their content in a safe way.
8. Better Online Platforms
Developing online learning platforms is one of the most popular projects among blockchain enthusiasts who want to transform the education space.
Here’s how the system would work:
- Schools deploy blockchain applications to connect students and teachers.
- Study materials are shared and on the online platform.
- Users can purchase internal tokens for doubt resolution and feedback from standby tutors.
- Education materials can be downloaded to facilitate self-paced learning.
- Students can earn more tokens by watching tutorials, interacting with the content, and inviting new users to the platform.
As you can see, blockchain makes education convenient, swift, and engaging for all parties involved.
9. New market for Digital Assets
Study institutions have to engage in several monetary transactions with students, parents, banks, and donors. These include charging fees, processing payments, granting scholarships, etc.