The Potential of Blockchain Technology in Education

A Blockchain-Based Study Management System for Higher Education Institutions


Term Paper, 2018

18 Pages


Excerpt

Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. A short description of the Blockchain Technology

3. Possibilities of using Blockchain in education
3.1 Management of student records (ECTS)
3.2 Award of qualifications
3.3 Sovereignty over personal identity (Self-Sovereign Identity)

4. Possible complications of using blockchain in higher education

5. Imagining a “Blockchain University”

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

List of Figures

Fig. 1 Example of issuing ECTX to a student

Fig. 2 Structure of the EduCTX platform and its stakeholders

Fig. 3 The process of the verification of a student's educational achievements

Fig. 4 A sample certificate from the University of Nicosia

Fig. 5 The process of a certificate verification on Bitcoin blockchain

Fig. 6 How Blockcerts' certificate issuance and verification work

Fig. 7 Illustration of nodes on such a Blockchain

Fig. 8 Process of matriculation at the university until receiving ECTS credits through blockchain

Fig. 9 Relations between university nodes inside the Blockchain (smart contracts)

Fig. 10 The process of doing an exchange semester at a partner university

1. Introduction

Blockchain as one of the emerging recent technologies with its characteristics such as trust, transparency, immutability, self-sovereignty and provenance offers alternative solutions to different problems in different industries. One of them is certainly also the education industry. There are a lot of procedures and processes in the education industry (and especially in higher education) that can be digitized. One among them is the process of issuing ECTS credits or degrees to students or showing them to a third-party institution. At the time being it takes a lot of time and energy to get all the needed papers to prove that a student's achievements are original. The most common situations, which every student can visualize are doing an exchange semester abroad and showing one's achievements to an employer. In our example the partner university wants to have all possible papers regarding ECTS credits and courses that an applicant has taken in order to be able to take a decision regarding accepting or declining an application. Or if one wants to continue their study abroad, they need to prove their achievements beforehand. In order to do this, students need to contact their home university and ask for issuing such documents. In a lot of cases this takes some time and costs in consideration.

The second simple example is proving to an employer that the achievements are original. In such a case, the employer would need to contact the home university to ask whether the issued certificate is original and whether a student has taken the courses he declares to have.

This paper aims to show some possibilities to solve such problems through blockchain. The paper does not go into very technical details of building the appropriate blockchain, but rather seeks to theoretically conceptualize a platform, which could be used by universities, students and employers to manage ECTS credits and degree certificates. This means a platform, through which the university would issue ECTS credits to students as tokens after successfully passing an exam and consequently a degree certificate after getting the needed number of credits/tokens. Students would be able to show their achievements to their potential employers or to another university through showing their public key. A case study in this paper will be the EduCTX platform, which offers a relatively well thought solution to the above-mentioned problems. This platform will be described in detail and it will also get expanded with some new ideas to make it even more suitable for the stakeholders.

This paper will start with a very brief description of blockchain and its characteristics, to continue thereafter with the possible uses of blockchain in the education industry and especially higher education. The case study/ies will follow and will also be advanced and adopted to the situation. In the last part of this paper there will be a combination of the described solutions in one hypothetical case of five universities that offer a joint degree.

This research is conducted with qualitative research methods including literature review and use cases from different actors, such as companies, start-ups or universities.

2. Ashort description of the Blockchain Technology

The definition that most of authors agree upon is that blockchain is a digital distributed ledger. Key advantages of Blockchain Technology are the self-sovereignty, trust, transparency and provenance, immutability, disintermediation and collaboration.1

In other words, blockchain makes it possible to create a decentralized environment, where the transactions and data, which are cryptographically validated, are not under control of any third-party organization. Every transaction ever completed gets recorded in a ledger that is secure, immutable, verifiable, transparent and permanent, with a time stamp and other details.2

The first and most famous blockchain is the Bitcoin blockchain, which exists since 2009 and was created by the still unknown Satoshi Nakamoto. Now, almost a decade later, there are many more blockchains in the market, with Ethereum being one of the most used Blockchain.

3. Possibilities of using Blockchain in education

The fields in which Blockchain could be used by Higher Education Institutions, as from an EU study identified, are award of qualifications, licensing and accreditation, management of student records, intellectual property management and payments.3 This paper puts emphasis on two of these fields, namely on the management of student records and the award of qualifications. The possibility of permanently securing certificates in blockchains will also be further discussed together with the possibility of using verified sovereign identities for student identification within educational organizations.

These fields, where the blockchain technology can offer some innovative solutions together with the reasons for implementing blockchain-based solutions to existing situations will be discussed in the following parts of this chapter.

One thing is clear, these new solutions should offer something better for all of the included parties, otherwise it wouldn't make any sense to use them. That in mind, they should be first of all secure and trustworthy, they should be clear enough for everyone to understand and easy to use. Among other things these solutions should save costs of administration and other complications that come together. All the activities should take a shorter time to get done and should be effective on finishing their duties, with a very low chance to fail and a very high potential to improve personal data security of the involved parties. Last but not least, all these changes must be completely legal.

3.1 Management of student records (ECTS)

The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is in the European Union and beyond a widely recognized standard for measuring learning achievements of a student.4 However, there is no standardization regarding storing these credits or transferring them to another Higher Education Institution (HEI) in a fast and automated way. In this part, we will limit ourselves only to ECTS credits and how these could be issued through blockchain and be stored there.

Awarding ECTS credits by the universities is the act of officially recognizing the completion of a learning unit, which contributes to achieving the intended degree. The accumulation of a certain number of credits leads to obtaining the respective degree, be it a Bachelor, Master or a PhD.

As defined from the European Commission in the “ECTS Users' Guide”, the credit transfer should offer the possibility to students to have their cumulated credits in one institution recognized from another institution as contributing to the award of a degree. Universities and faculties are allowed to make agreements to guarantee automatic recognition of transfers of credits.5 At the time being the documentation of ECTS credits is offered by the supporting documents such as Course Catalogue, Learning Agreement, Transcript of Records and Work Placement Certificate.

Blockchain Technology offers a great possibility to avoid these procedures, which in a lot of cases present an obstacle for students and additional work for the university administration.

The Higher Education Institutions which already use ECTS could award and transfer credits on a permissioned blockchain, that is specifically created for this intention. There have already been some attempts to create such blockchains that make it possible to award ECTS credits in a blockchain. Among the analyzed platforms and projects, the most advanced and concrete idea is the EduCTX platform.6 This platform proposes a blockchain based higher education credit and grading platform. The platform should be used from students, universities and companies (as employers) as main stakeholders. It also proposes a so called ECTX token, which would be managed, processed and controlled by the above-mentioned platform on a distributed peer-to-peer (P2P) network, where the peers (nodes) would be the Higher Education Institutions. One ECTX token should be equal to one ECTS credit. Students would hold an EduCTX blockchain wallet, where they could collect ECTX tokens (in this case the ECTS credits) from their higher education institution after completing a course. Namely, after passing a course, students would get a transfer of ECTX tokens to their wallet equal to the number of ECTS that a course offers. According to the platform proposal after such a transaction the following data would be stored on blockchain: the sender (official name of the Higher Education Institution), the receiver - student (anonymously presented), token (credit value of a course) and course identification.

Such a transaction would look like the following example:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig. 1 Example of issuing ECTX to a student7

In this way a student as the receiver of ECTX tokens would be able to prove the completed courses by presenting their blockchain address. Due to security sensibility, the EduCTX platform proposes that students would be assigned a 2-2 multisignature address by their home university, so they would be able only to receive tokens, but not to transfer them to another address. The process of awarding ECTX to students and the possibility to prove their possession, according to the platform proposal, would be able through an EduCTX blockchain API client.

As mentioned above the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) would act as nodes, which means that while joining the network a new HEI would have to set up a network node. Since not every random institution can join the network, member HEIs decide whether to accept a new HEI as a node or not after reviewing its application. An advantage of the EduCTX platform proposal is that there is no need to mine transactions and thus no computing power is needed. The proposed consensus protocol is delegated-proof-of-stake (DPoS), which gives the right to a node (HEI) to confirm transactions and seal blocs after being voted by other nodes as a delegate. So, the community will vote for a delegate and give the right to seal new blocks.8 The forging reward should be lowered to zero in order to keep the platform and the community democratic and non-profit.

An overview of the EduCTX platform is presented in the following graphic:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig. 2 Structure of the EduCTXplatform and its stakeholders9

The process of a student's credit verification by an organization, be it a university or a potential employer (a company) is clearly described and it does not include any risk of data misuse from not authorized parties. As the authors of the EduCTX platform explain, when an organization needs to verify the educational achievements of a student, the student must first send his/her blockchain address, his 2­2 multisignature and his/her redeem script to the verifying organization (university or company). They would then check it by using a blockchain web API to access the data (in this case the ECTS credits and the related courses). In order to ensure that the student is really using his/her blockchain address, the 9 verifying organization sends a private message to the student, which he/she should sign with their private key.10 The following BPMN process gives more details to this plan:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig. 3 The process of the verification of a student’s educational achievements11

EduCTX platform is of course not the only platform that deals with storing and securing of educational data on blockchains but is one of the main platforms that deals precisely with the issue of granting, storing a proving possession of ECTS credits. Another platform for storing and tracking of educational records has been presented by Sony Global Education,10 11 12 but it neither deals precisely with higher education nor with the ECTS credits.

Based on the information provided in this section one can say that EduCTX presents a realistic approach to the issue of awarding ECTS to students by Higher Education Institutions. The implementation of this idea seems to be completely possible as presented from the authors of the platform, who already created a prototype implementation. However, in the next sections we will check the poss ibilities to expand the idea of the EduCTX platform with additional services, like generating blockchain-based degrees and securing these in blockchain.

[...]


1 Grech, A. and Camilleri, A. F. (2017) Blockchain in Education. Inamorato dos Santos, A. (ed.) EUR 28778 EN; doi:10.2760/60649, p. 8.

2 Holotescu, Carmen (2018) Understanding Blockchain Technology and how to get used to it. Retrieved from www.researchgate.net

3 Grech, A. and Camilleri, A. F. (2017)

4 A list of 48 countries that already use ECTS can be found under the following link: http://www.ehea.info (Last visit on 28.11.2018)

5 ECTS Users‘ Guide. Page 12. Downloaded from: https://publications.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/- /publication/da7467e6-8450-11e5-b8b7-01aa75ed71a1

6 Turkanovic, Muhamed & Hölbl, Marko & Kosic, Kristjan & Hericko, Marjan & Kamisalic, Aida. (2017). EduCTX: A blockchain-based higher education credit platform. IEEE Access. PP. 10.1109/ACCESS.2018.2789929.

7 Researchgate: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Professor-assigning-credits-using-the-ECTX-client- wallet fig4 320707539 (Last visit on 29.11.2018)

8 Turkanovic, Muhamed & Hölbl, Marko & Kosic, Kristjan & Hericko, Maijan & Kamisalic, Aida. (2017). EduCTX: A blockchain-based higher education credit platform. IEEE Access. PP. 10.1109/ACCESS.2018.2789929. Page 5116.

9 ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/A-high-level-depiction-of-the-proposed-EduCTX- platform fig1 320707539 (Last visit on 29.11.2018)

10 Turkanovic, Muhamed & Hölbl, Marko & Kosic, Kristjan & Hericko, Marjan & Kamisalic, Aida. (2017). EduCTX: A blockchain-based higher education credit platform. IEEE Access. PP. 10.1109/ACCESS.2018.2789929. Page 5119.

11 ResearchGate website

12 Sony Global Education https://blockchain.sonyged.com/ (Last visit on 29.11.2019)

Excerpt out of 18 pages

Details

Title
The Potential of Blockchain Technology in Education
Subtitle
A Blockchain-Based Study Management System for Higher Education Institutions
College
Bielefeld University
Author
Year
2018
Pages
18
Catalog Number
V538896
ISBN (eBook)
9783346250223
Language
English
Tags
blockchain, technology, education, blockchain-based, study, management, higher education, university
Quote paper
Tahir Lushi (Author), 2018, The Potential of Blockchain Technology in Education, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/538896

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