Blockchain technology could turn out to be a double edged sword to universities. On the one hand, it has the potential to improve efficiency especially in record keeping and on the other, it could deprive the universities of their central role in higher education.
Elimination of Fake Degrees
Professor John Domingue, the director of Knowledge Media Institute at the Open University of UK, suggests that blockchain technology could be used to create a secure public ledger with academic qualifications to curb fake degrees. A university would verify only legitimate degrees on the blockchain, making it easier to catch those who fake their degrees. Although the UK already runs a similar service, the Higher Education Degree Datacheck service, it costs about £12 for a single enquiry and takes up to a week to get a response. With blockchain, this can be significantly cheaper and quicker as you would be able to check for yourself.
Secure Student Record Management
Universities are struggling with security and privacy of student’s digital data as demonstrated by recent incidences. Ohio State University, the University of California–Berkeley, Kirkwood Community College and the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee have had their data hacked. Yale University unintentionally published confidential information online, and Indiana University hosted confidential data on an unprotected website. The University of Miami and Stanford University stored data on laptops and data tapes that got stolen. Blockchain could solve this problem through a public key infrastructure where users get two keys, one for encryption and the other for decryption. A hacker cannot access the information.
In the traditional lecture method, learners are required to absorb information and reproduce it in tests. Although some lecturers have tried to diversify their teaching with class tutorials, much remains to be done. Blockchain technology could be used in collaborative learning based on the Consensus Systems (ConsenSys). ConsenSys, one of the earliest Ethereum software development companies, allows members to choose projects to work on. This achieves the balance between interdependence and independence. In a classroom setup, the first thing would be to identify what needs to be learnt, agree on the each student’s roles, responsibilities and rewards and have the rights codified in smart contracts. Already this is happening with ConsenSys Academy.
Diminishing the Role of Universities
Blockchain could make it possible to move beyond the current structure of the university. It can be possible for individual academics not attached to any university to verify on the blockchain that a student has passed a certain online module. Professor Domingue refers to this as a “university of one”. This could diminish the role of the university as the intermediary between the learner and the teacher. The roles of teaching and marking exams could even be performed by different academics.