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Blockchain and Educational Credentials

In "Credentials, Reputation, and the Blockchain" by J. Philipp Schmidt, the use of blockchain in one educational context is examined. I first wrote about this blockchain synergy of technoloy and education earlier this year. This EDUCAUSE article looks at using blockchain and strong cryptography to create certifications and digital degrees with more control. Recipients can share a digital degree with an employer while providing trustworthy proof that the degree was in fact issued to the person presenting it. This raises interesting questions about the nature of recognizing and accrediting achievements.

                        Read the article at educause.edu/articles/2017/4/credentials-reputation-and-the-blockchain  

Blockchain on Campus

blockchainBlockchain is sometimes described as a secure public ledger. I wrote last year about blockchain and its possible uses on campus, but I have not seen evidence of its application on the campuses I have visited. Of course, it is possible it is being used behind the scenes since this is a technology that would not be evident to end-users.

I read an article about Oral Roberts University's recent conference intended to educate and persuade schools to learn about the technology,test it out and collaborate. Their CIO, Michael Mathews, believes blockchain will be as important to transforming education as the Internet was and early adopters will benefit the most.

The first blockchain was theorized by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 and applied the following year as a key component of the digital currency Bitcoin. That connection to the alternative currency that has a still unclear reputation may have influenced some to associate blockchain with had some negative of that rep rub off on it. In fact, it is a technology that adds levels of trust, authentication and recordkeeping. As a public ledger of transactions, it uses a peer-to-peer network (another idea that picked up a bad rep through pirating software and music) to build a decentralized, distributed database. (A more detailed definition here.) Block chain offers an unalterable (for now, at least), public record (that can be made only semi-public) of digital transactions.

Though financial transaction are blockchain's main uses, for a school, the immediate applications would likely be student application processing, transcript evaluations and articulation agreements. 

The conference program may be correct that blockchain is not only the future business model of supply chain, but may be applied to a large education value chain.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn

Is a Blockchain Coming to Campus?

blocks
updatedBlockchain is the backbone of Bitcoin. It's a technology that adds levels of trust, authentication and recordkeeping. I suspect many of you reading this have not heard about it. Those of you that have learned about it probably don't see an immediate connection to education. 
I see it defined as a public ledger of transactions. It is comprised of a peer-to-peer network, and a decentralized, distributed database. It requires a more complicated definition than I want to get into here but  that distributed database provides an unalterable, (semi-)public record of digital transactions. That is the part that makes Bitcoin work and it would obviously be very attractive to financial users. 
The "block" aggregates a time-stamped batch of transactions to be included in the chain/ledger. Each block has a cryptographic signature. These blocks are also all back-linked. They reference the signature of all the previous blocks in the chain. The claim is that the blockchain contains an uneditable record of all the transactions made.
Another author writing about the financial sector says that "Blockchains are new technology layers that rewire the Internet and threaten to side-step older legacy constructs and centrally served businesses. At its core, a blockchain injects trust into the network, cutting off some intermediaries from serving that function and creatively disrupting how they operate. Metaphorically, blockchains are the ultimate non-stop computers. Once launched, they never go down, and offer an incredible amount of resiliency, making them dependable and attractive for running a new generation of decentralized services and software applications."
Some education writers, like Audrey Watters, have connected it to education. The most obvious connections are in recordkeeping for courses, credits, tuition and personal information. Authenticating the individual and the learning is important, but imagine using it globally across many school and non-academic providers. This is digital badging but at a much more secure and sophisticated level. MIT Media Lab announced last year that it was developing software to issue digital certificates on the Bitcoin Blockchain. One developer of this technology for secure sharing of academic records is Sony Global Education.
This is not pedagogy. It won't change how you teach a course. It will change what happens to the students in your classes and so may change the kind of student you have in your classes.  
"Learning Is Earning" was presented by Jane McGonigal at SXSW 2016. She introduced "Edublocks” which would be units of hours of learning written to a blockchain and like Bitcoins can be used to pay for the next learning opportunity. Not all of us are enamored of the credit hour, but I like the authentication aspect. Mentor someone, get paid and use that to pay down your student loan. Acquire new skills and that goes on your learning chain.
Probably, we are going to see blockchain used in places like the financial and healthcare sector and even sharing economy businesses, like Airbnb, before it is in your school's administration offices.
For further reading, check out the book Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott. Don also has a series of videos on blockchain online too.

updatedEDUCAUSE has published "The Blockchain Revolution and Higher Education" by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott (3/13/17)

"Why not be leaders for a new paradigm? The blockchain provides a rich, secure, and transparent platform on which to create a global network for higher learning. We believe that higher education works best when it works for all types of teaching and learning, and we believe that this new platform is an engine of inclusion. Let’s use the emerging Internet of value and the blockchain revolution to recapture our identities and endow them with our detailed and real-time records of learning. Perhaps then we can finally reinvent the past model of pedagogy and transform the architecture of higher education for the future generation of lifelong learners."

This Business of Predicting: EdTech in 2019

crystal ballAs the year comes to an end, you see many end-of-year summary articles and also a glut of predictions for the upcoming year. I'm not in the business of predicting what will happen in education and technology, but I do read those predictions - with several grains of salt. 

“A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.” wrote sci-fi author Frederik Pohl.

Many of the education and technology predictions I see predict things rather than the impact those things will have. Here are some that I am seeing repeated, so that you don't have to read them all, but can still have an informed conversation at the holiday party at work or that first department meeting in January.

If you look at what the folks at higheredexperts.com are planning for 2019 just in the area of higher ed analytics.

Is "augmented analytics" coming to your school? This uses machine learning (a form of artificial intelligence) to augment how we develop, consume and share data. 

And IT analyst firm Gartner is known for their top trends reports. For 2019, one that made the list is "immersive user experience." This concept concerns what happens when human capabilities mix with augmented and virtual realities. Looking at the impact of how that changes the ways we perceive the real and digital world is what interests me.

We are still at the early stages of using this outside schools (which are almost always behind the world in general). You can point to devices like the Amazon Alexa being used in homes to turn on music, lights, appliances or tell us a joke, This is entry-level usage. But vocal interaction is an important change. A few years ago it was touch screen interactions. A few decades before it was the mouse and before that the keyboard. A Gartner video points at companies using remote assistance for applications such as an engineer working with someone in a remote factory to get a piece of equipment back online.

Will faculty be able to do augmented analytics using an immersive user experience? Imagine you can talk to the LMS you use to teach your course and you can ask, using a natural language interface, and ask " Which students in this new semester are most likely to have problems with writing assignments?" The system scans the appropriate data sets, examines different what-if scenarios and generates insights. Yes, predictive analytics is already here, but it will be changing.

But are IT trends also educational technology trends? There is some crossover.

Perhaps, a more important trend to watch for as educators for next year is changing our thinking from individual devices (and the already too many user interfaces we encounter) to a multimodal and multichannel experience.

Multimodal connects us to many of the edge devices around them. It is your phone, your car, your appliances, your watch, the thermostat, your video doorbell, the gate in a parking lot and devices you encounter at work or in stores.

Multichannel mixes your human senses with computer senses. This is when both are monitoring things in your environment that you already recognize, like heat and humidity, but also things we don't sense like Bluetooth, RF or radar. This ambient experience means the environment will become the computer.

One broad category is "autonomous things" some of are around us and using AI. There are autonomous vehicles. You hear a lot about autonomous cars and truck, but you may be more likely to encounter an autonomous drones. Will learning become autonomous? That won't be happening in 2019.

AI-driven development is its own trend. Automated testing tools and model generation is here and AI-driven automated code generation is coming.

Of course, there is more - from things I have never heard of (digital twins) to things that I keep hearing are coming (edge computing) and things that have come and seem to already have mixed reviews (blockchain).

EducationDive.com has its own four edtech predictions for colleges: 

Digital credentials gain credibility - I hope that's true, but I don't see that happening in 2019.  

Data governance grows  - that should be true if their survey has accurately found that 35% of responding institutions said they don't even have a data governance policy - a common set of rules for collecting, accessing and managing data.

Finding the ROI for AI and VR may be what is necessary to overcome the cost barrier to full-scale implementation of virtual and augmented reality. AI has made more inroads in education than VR. An example is Georgia State University's Pounce chatbot.

Their fourth prediction is institutions learning how to use the blockchain. The potential is definitely there, but implementation is challenging. 

Predictions. I wrote elsewhere about Isaac Newton's 1704 prediction of the end of the world. He's not the first or last to predict the end. Most have been proven wrong. Newton - certainly a well respected scientist - set the end at or after 2060 - but not before that. So we have at least 41 years to go.

Using some strange mathematical calculations and the Bible's Book of Revelation, this mathematician, astronomer, physicist came to believe that his really important work would be deciphering ancient scriptures. 

I'm predicting that Newton was wrong on this prediction. He shouldn't feel to bad though because I guesstimate that the majority of predictions are wrong. But just in case you believe Isaac, you can visualize the end in this document from 1486.

What Is on the Horizon in Higher Education

horizonThe annual EDUCAUSE Horizon Report for Higher Education is always interesting to read. The report for 2019 is online now. It is 44 pages, so it would be a full lunchtime read, but as a cheater's guide or preview I offer the two parts that I always look at first.  

One is the section on "Key Trends Accelerating Higher Education Technology Adoption."  If you look back at past reports you will see that some trends come back for several years. That is partly intentional as the report predicts ones that should be considered "Short-Term" meaning in the next one or two years, as well as ones for 3-5 years and long-term trends that are probably 5+ years away.

Of course, there are also trends and tech developments that are almost perennial. We always seem to be rethinking online learning, learning spaces and assessment. And some tech, such as blockchain and rethinking degrees, have been "on the horizon" for a chunk of years and still don't seem to be really making a big difference.

In the short-term, the report lists "Redesigning Learning Spaces" and "Blended Learning Designs."

For Mid-Term Adoption in the next 3-5 years, they list "Advancing Cultures of Innovation" and a "Growing Focus on Measuring Learning." I think the latter should be moved up as a perennial topic.

In the 5+ years category is the rather broad "Rethinking How Institutions Work" and the returning "Modularized and Disaggregated Degrees."

The other section I always jump to is called "Important Developments in Technology for Higher Education." Again, there are predicted "Time-to-Adoption Horizons" given for each. 

The report also considers the challenges in adopting any of these technologies or trends. For example, one that I have been challenged by since I started in higher education tech in 2000 is what they term "The Evolving Roles of Faculty with Ed Tech Strategies."

The report says about that (and I generally agree) that:

"At institutions of any type or size, involving faculty in the selection and implementation of educational technologies can be difficult. Whether an institution is implementing a new courseware platform for the purpose of personalizing learning or building a completely new program by applying a pedagogical approach such as competency-based learning, such efforts face a range of challenges. Identifying learning outcomes and engagement strategies before identifying educational technology solutions creates an advantage by establishing faculty buy-in at the earliest stages of a strategic initiative.

The role of full-time faculty and adjuncts alike includes being key stakeholders in the adoption and scaling of digital solutions; as such, faculty need to be included in the evaluation, planning, and implementation of any teaching and learning initiative. Institutions that address the needs of all faculty through flexible strategic planning and multimodal faculty support are better situated to overcome the barriers to adoption that can impede scale.

...in order for faculty to fully engage in educational technology, training and professional development should be provided to facilitate incorporation of technology... adjunct faculty also need to be considered in professional development...workshops that include both faculty and students could enable learning for both groups of stakeholders."

But I do always bristle when the business of education overrides pedagogy, such as the statement that "frameworks for tech implementation and prioritizing tech that offers high ROI should be a guiding principle for institutional tech adoption for faculty use."