Mention blockchain and most minds automatically turn to the cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum that have taken another of their famous market plunges in recent weeks. However, as anyone who attended UBC’s mini conference on the future of the technology will be aware, the highly secure, efficient and fraud-resistant nature of blockchain makes it a versatile tool that can deliver benefits across a range of industries.
The education sector is no exception. While the headlines might be dominated by stories of one student after another finding the right crypto trading platform to supplement his or her finances, the truth is that blockchain is set to change university life in a host of ways.
Maintaining and sharing records
Storing records in a way that is secure, maintains confidentiality, yet provides easy access to those who need them is something of a holy grail in the education sector. Blockchain’s distributed ledger technology (DLT) could provide an elegant solution. Sony and IBM have teamed up to develop just such a platform called Sony Global Education, and say it will provide a living, constantly updated academic record for students – after all, these days, we never stop learning. Keeping this kind of data in one easily accessible place would be a giant step, but the possibilities do not stop there. Specific skills and qualifications can be stored on a blockchain-based open badge passport that gives prospective employers an instant overview.
For an increasing number of students, learning takes place in an online environment, and face to face interactions are becoming less common. A number of blockchain-based applications have been developed, including uPort and Blockstack, which provide a straightforward and reliable means for users to prove their identity in cyberspace.
Campus security is a high-profile topic that everyone needs to take seriously. In the digital age, however, it goes beyond patrols and cameras. Universities are at constant risk of hacking and digital breaches. The inherent security of blockchain makes it a perfect tool for sharing confidential data across networks, and companies like Xage are creating bespoke solutions aimed squarely at the academic market.
Universities and their students use, create and store vast amounts of data. Cloud-based solutions are clearly the most cost-efficient and demand far less physical infrastructure. Innovative projects like Filecoin are finding new ways to leverage DLT to store all that data securely, and allow enterprising souls to make a little money at the same time. Some are calling it the Airbnb of file storage.
Improving library facilities
Most universities are justifiably proud of their libraries. However, the need for these to evolve is even stronger than in other sectors. DLT could have a major impact in helping libraries to expand their services, for example by building enhanced archives, developing protocols for community-based collections, and managing digital rights more effectively.
Blockchain is transforming technology and technology is transforming education. We are on the crest of a wave, and the university sector needs to be prepared to evolve in ways it can scarcely contemplate to remain relevant throughout the 21st century.