How blockchain technology makes education easier for academic institutions
Education provides a foundation for a successful future, but technology ensures the relevance of it through the delivery of secure, digital communication and credentials. For academic institutions, technology can make the process of confirming and legitimizing one’s educational experience easier and more efficient.
Blockchain technology, considered to be part of the fourth industrial revolution (information technology) is particularly useful for this, providing a trusted source for verification and validation of records. While the benefits of blockchain in education are most often reviewed from the student perspective, the technology offers many benefits to institutional executives and administrators.
Blockchain technology makes education faster and less costly, secures academic records so that they can’t be tampered with or lost, improves record storage and transferability, and combats fraudulent claims by proving legitimacy of credentials. Ultimately, it’s a software that supports the mission of institutions by helping to prepare students for employment.
Blockchain technology reduces the need for paper credentials, and human error
Confirmation of authenticity and ease of transferability both present issues when it comes to education credentials. In our digital climate, students need to provide proof of transcript and diploma on demand, while being sure of how to validate the legitimacy of their academic experience.
Many schools today are still issuing paper certificates. Certainly these look handsome hanging on the wall of a graduate, but the process of issuing and storing a paper certificate is onerous for schools. Anyone who has attended a post-secondary institution understands the pain of dealing with the administrative system, where sourcing and retrieving records can take much longer than necessary because of a backlog and inevitable human error.
To assert the validity of a record, students may require their school to transfer their degree or diploma directly to a prospective employer or another academic institution. Because this process is human-driven, it can monopolize the time of administrators who want to support the student on the continuation of their journey. If the process was simpler and more reliable, administrators could be using that time to support current students — a better use of resources for the school.
Quick, global communication via the internet offered a solution to these issues, allowing schools to quickly deliver digital versions of academic records. But even digital versions don’t solve the issue of transferability because they could be deemed inauthentic without a legitimate way to trace and determine provenance.
Blockchain technology helps to save schools time and money, providing solutions to the issues of filing, storage, and transferability. The software relies on a decentralized network of computer nodes that confirm and validate data added to the chain. This process results in digital blocks of data being hashed and added to the chain via a cryptographic link. The technicality is important; because blockchain connects data in chronological blocks, it creates a timestamp for information. Saving an academic record to the blockchain, coupled with an authorized validation from the student’s academic institution, creates a valuable data story.
Blockchain-based records are reliably easy and quick to transfer, with students only needing to share a digital address to link future employers to their authenticated credentials. This can reduce or eliminate administrative delays experienced by registrar offices. Blockchain technology helps to streamline the credential process, protecting the viability and legitimacy of education records.
Blockchain-based records are secured, permanently
Immutability is an important factor in the safekeeping of education records. Both students and educators invest a considerable amount of time and money into the education process, and a lost or altered credential could undermine that commitment.
The data story created by blockchain’s software architecture is made immutable and tamper-proof by the chronological order that data is stored and the cryptography that secures and connects blocks. When a block is added to the chain, it is hashed using a secure hash algorithm. This means that the algorithm processes the data in the block, producing a string of random characters that represent it. This string, or hash, is then included in the hash of the next block so that the two are connected which creates a digital chain. If a block of data were to be tampered with, the data would change, thus breaking the hash that represents it. The network hosting the blockchain’s digital ledger would be alerted immediately, and the block wouldn’t be included in the chain.
In this way, the decentralized network operates with great efficiency and reliability. Because the network is globally distributed and not maintained by a central authority, it never shuts off. There are no office hours for blockchain-based data. Security for education credentials is maintained 24/7, and personal data is available to its owner at any time.
The decentralized network improves efficiency with autonomy
For schools who want to support their students from education to employment, there can be significant resources dedicated to the transition period. As previously mentioned, just helping students authenticate and deliver their academic records can require a dedicated office.
Both schools and students benefit from a process that puts control in the hands of the student.
Autonomy saves the school time and money, while the student has ownership over their records. The decentralized nature of blockchain technology makes this possible.
Unlike anything we’ve seen in traditional education systems, public blockchains, like the Ethereum chain, are completely decentralized. This means that there is no central authority who maintains control over, or supports, the network. Data is universally and securely shared across computer nodes that host the digital ledger. Authority is equally distributed amongst these nodes, allowing each to add blocks to the chain, or flag a security breach to the network, should a bad actor attempt to hack the chain.
When a decentralized ledger secures information, access to it is determined only by the ability to produce a private key. For students, this private key allows them to authenticate their ownership of their record. A blockchain-based degree can be shared by simply providing a digital address that directs the viewer to the hosted record, with the key unveiling the record. This simple process of verified ownership and transferability doesn’t require any assistance from a registrar’s office; the student completely controls it.
Chain of custody provides provenance and proves legitimacy
One of the issues plaguing academic institutions today is the fight against fraudulent credentials. Fake degrees and diplomas are a detriment to education and society, undercutting the value of the education experience as well as the knowledge required to earn a degree or diploma.
Academic institutions shouldn’t have to worry that outsiders may create a fake record of achievement for their school, nor should students have to compete with made-up credentials. Schools can combat this by issuing their degrees and diplomas on the blockchain, providing all legitimate records with a unique verification of authenticity.
In the same way that blockchain’s chronological architecture supports security, it supports determination of provenance. Blockchain technology inherently provides a chain of custody that validates the origins of data. This confirmation of provenance demonstrates the legitimacy of the degree or diploma. It provides students with the means to defend their education and significantly reduces or eliminates the time schools have to spend researching and discounting fake students.
The ODEM solution
ODEM, the on-demand education marketplace, provides a platform for the issuance of blockchain-based credentials. ODEM’s Platform leverages the Ethereum blockchain to secure and store education records so that they can be reliably accessed and transferred.
The process is simple, demonstrated by the success that a recent school had in their partnership with ODEM. Canada’s Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) worked with ODEM to make it possible for the 2019 graduating class to have their diplomas available on the blockchain.
In an interview after the graduation, SAIT’s Registrar, Neera Arora, said,
“the Office of the Registrar is responsible for accepting and reviewing applications and supporting documents from domestic and international students. As we deal with a more diverse student population, assessing credibility and authenticity of transcripts is vital to ensure the applicants meet the admission requirements of highly competitive programs.
We used blockchain technology to issue digital credentials to all our graduates this spring. This enables the graduates to have access to their credential at all times, and they can share the same with employers without having to request a copy from SAIT. This would put our graduates at an advantage and help them with their employment efforts.”
With a graduating class of 4,800 students, it was the largest ever number of students eligible to secure their credentials on the blockchain. As explained by Arora, those SAIT students now have “access to credible and timely information, so they’re more marketable.” They don’t have to rely on SAIT for their credentials,
“they have access to all of their records directly on the blockchain, available anywhere in the world. So blockchain technology saves time and resources for us and them. But most importantly, it’s about students owning their own credential. It’s theirs. We’re elevating the trust factor of that credentials authenticity.”
If you’re interested in finding out how to make academic life better for your students, sign up to receive our 6 part informational email series: ODEM Academy: Blockchain for HigherEd.
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