Verses Education
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Verses Education

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

7 Questions for Crypto EDU

Before latching onto the Answer of the future, please ask questions.

2021 has been a landmark year for crypto. In a period of months, things like NFTs have gone from oddities that few had ever heard of (and only a fraction of those understood at any deeper level), to entering popular culture and vying for Word-of-the-Year recognition. DAOs have grown from obscure white paper status to real life implementations with hundreds of million dollars in market value. And Web3 in general is sparking the idealism of enthusiasts who are true believers that they are part of communities that will change the world.

Web3 offers boundless potential to positively impact Teaching & Learning in ways that are still largely undiscovered.

The wide world of Web3 is having a moment. And bold, innovative, inspiring Educators are taking notice.

While I may not be deserving of any of these adjectives, I am an Educator, and I have been taking notice. Due to natural overlapping of trust networks and credentials with blockchain, it’s a space in which I’ve been able to experience some immersion the last several years. On this note, two disclosures:

  1. I’m not an expert. I’m not even close to an expert.
  2. While I’m not (yet?) party to any education initiatives related to Web3, I do have small investments and have been working on developing an NFT product for many much of 2021.

I offer the following questions for consideration because I’m a big believer in getting tough questions from critical friends. Their questions are usually good ones, and I figure if I don’t have good responses for my friends, then I’m probably going to get eaten alive by more adversarial critics.

Disagreement and critique help surface invisible challenges and make them visible.

While I can’t promise that any of these questions are good questions, they all strike me as important questions and are coming from a place of critical friendship.

Photo by Shubham Dhage on Unsplash

1. How are we aligning our crypto edu visions with our visions for the purposes of education?

From the No Child Left Behind legislation to the policies implemented under Secretary Duncan during President Obama’s time in office, a lot has changed in Public Education in the last 20 years. One refrain that has remained consistent in pushback against what many believe to be harmful (if well-intended) policy: Public Education is not a business.

The ideals surfacing in conversations about Web3, NFTs, and DAOs are often enlightening. Noticeably, they also often center capitalist (and anti-capitalist) themes, which is worth observation and reflection. Whatever the vision, if it is to be enacted upon Education, it will be helpful to ask: “Are we inadvertently promoting similar things to other efforts that we supposedly despise?”

2. What’s the problem being solved and how well do we actually understand it?

I’m a devotee of Human-Centered Design. In workshops, I’m a fan of efforts to present the concept and make it accessible through case studies that highlight the utility of the approach via counter examples of people building things their users didn’t need.

In HCD, we start with our users by empathizing with our users. We seek to deeply understand their itch as well as what they would look for in a scratch. Other fields describe this process as root cause analysis.

This work helps us avoid channeling the energies of our good intentions into doing things to users, instead guiding us in serving users by designing for them.

If crypto edu is *a* right answer, what other right answers exist, and why might crypto be a better solution?

Critical friends are going to ask if yours is a solution looking for a problem. There will be wisdom in sincerely considering the question and reflecting on your answer.

3. Why is crypto *the* answer?

In addition to validating that yours is not a sexy solution looking for a problem, putting in the work to vet multiple solutions can help you validate that yours isn’t just a answer, it’s what you believe to be the best answer.

This burgeoning moment of Web3 may be a convenient moment to apply our 20/20 hindsight to the early days of Web2.0 in Education:

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

As we began to understand the implications of new technologies on learning communities, many of us recognized that an emerging thing some described as Social Learning would be a driving force in the future of Teaching & Learning.

This raised new questions about how to respond to the future, and many smart, well-respected leaders convincingly declared that Facebook was the singular answer. The emergence of platforms like Edmodo and Schoology (and later, Google Classroom) proved that Facebook (and others like Google+) wasn’t the sole answer to the social learning question.

Just as stock market simulations can help educate learners about markets in lieu of risking real money (and other things like personally identifiable data) on real exchanges, we came to understand that social learning didn’t require an open social network to be effective.

If crypto edu is a right answer, what other right answers exist, and why might crypto be a better solution for your learners?

4. Where’s the critical partnership?

Speaking of critics, are all the seats at your crypto edu table occupied by enthusiastic champions, or are we making it a priority to avoid an echo chamber? Disagreement and critique help surface invisible challenges and make them visible.

If you are not getting pushback and disagreement from friends, you might not be effectively preparing for the pushback in disagreement that will eventually surface from stakeholders who are not supportive of your efforts.

5. What if we’re wrong?

Leaders in gatekeeping roles will hopefully ask this. In addition to idealistic brainstorming opportunities, create space to also imagine consequences. Like the overly confident proponents of deploying Facebook in classroom settings, how might your assumptions eventually land you on the wrong side of history?

For example: At the risk of over-simplifying, cryptography is all about increasingly sophisticated locks and keys that are difficult (but not impossible) to corrupt. As a respected cyperpunk shared at the 2019 Badge Summit: “Every single lock ever created has eventually been picked.”

As such, it seems imprudent to not at least probe our certainty about the future potential and consider the possibility, “What if we’re wrong?”

6. How well do we know what we’re talking about?

When it comes to conversations about the intersection of education and blockchain, it’s easier to hear people talking out of their depth than it is to find audience with passionate experts. Considering that crypto is a space extensively documented for being crowded with cons and criminals, advocates who can be targeted as marks will be targeted as marks. There are very real dangers to all of us, especially those who aren’t cautious.

Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash

I hope edu players will give themselves permission for honest self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses. I hope they surround themselves with domain expertise (and question their absence if they aren’t around!). I also hope that they can assure stakeholders that they know what they’re doing, because we’re talking about kids who will be impacted.

7. Do we understand the risks and still believe they are worth it?

I don’t know the answer to this and I ask it sincerely. I’ve often expressed relief that they didn’t have smart phones and social media documenting my entire youth. Adolescent me and others like me are fortunate to have limited records of our struggles to find out who we wanted to be.

Young people today already do have to contend with smart phones and social media. An immutable, public ledger further complicates the waters they must navigate.

Web3 offers boundless potential to positively impact Teaching & Learning in ways that are still largely undiscovered. It also has inherent consequences. Before Education spaces embrace the opportunities, I hope they seek to understand and consider the risks.

For example, should schools be facilitating the permanence of, say, a literal sophomore minting a receipt of their cruel sophomoric prank?

What if excitement for equitable communities actually leads to exclusivity, and puts education spaces at the forefront of supercharged inequitable communities suffering from a lack of inclusion and representation?

Could exuberant educators trying to prepare learners for successful futures inadvertently expose their kids, their organizations and themselves to the very expensive, very unforgiving world of copyright infringement litigation?

Might schools be party to disrupting the personal safety of stalking victims whose concealed physical movements are betrayed by Web3 transactions?

It may be that these and other risks are worth it; I just hope people in cahrge of deciding make intentional decisions that are informed just as much by the possible consequences as the potential opportunities.

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