My thoughts from the Department of Education's Blockchain Summit 2020.
I had the privilege of representing ODEM.IO in this year’s US Department of Education Blockchain Summit in Washington, DC. Here are my thoughts on the event and where I think Blockchain in Education is heading for success.
1. Interoperability is the Word of the Day
And probably the year. The consensus among all players in the education blockchain space is key, however, if we wait until there’s agreement on the technical tools to get us there, we may stay stuck. Technically, we can now digitize credentials on the blockchain, and can even get students and institutions to trust this model. What comes next will be critical in ensuring that all parties can now work together. Interoperability with different blockchains will be a (if not the) key in 2020 to making sure that what we are building are not just siloed blockchain versions of the old centralized model.
2. My Diploma is on the Blockchain! Now What?
The last two years have been about proving that we can create a legitimate digital verified certificate from the legacy paper copy. Now that this is happening, what’s next? This was a big theme of the conference and one that begs the answer, how can students benefit from this mobility and verification? The short answer appears to be by using it for verified consideration for employment and to extend education beyond the four-year degree. Students need jobs, and the gap between what they are learning in traditional higher ed and the skills necessary for today’s employment is growing. Additionally, students obtaining an education outside the four-year degree format has been a challenge and a new opportunity with a growing number of jobs based on professional certifications rather than a four-year degree such as cloud computing specialists, cybersecurity, application development and media management. Ethical hacker certification is one of the most in-demand certifications sought by high-tech recruiters today, and it does not involve a four-year degree.
3. Who Owns My Data? Well, it’s Not Just You
With deep discussions around FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) regulation and as the education community continues to revisit the topic of ‘how to stay out of FERPA jail,’ blockchain has brought to the surface the larger question of who owns student credentials. While a student will sometimes pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to receive a degree, and while it seems to make sense that the student should be the verified owner of the credential, imagine instead the university is actually like the Federal Reserve issuing currency. Even though the student can take a copy of their verified credential (whether it’s digital or paper) and share it in whatever way they want, it’s ultimately up to the verifier of this credential to confirm its validity with the issuer, a.k.a. the institution.
This is a very subtle but important point that we in the blockchain education community need to deeply understand and one that will need to be made more clear as real use cases come online.
4. It’s only Legit if I am Legit
One of the big themes of this year‘s conference was the discussion around self-sovereign identity or SSI. One of the unique features of using blockchain is the ability to share and re-use SSI once it has been verified. The big question that continues to be raised again and again is how is SSI important in moving credentials to a digital decentralized-ledger format. While we’re finding innovation in the technology, ultimately, identity still needs a verified and legitimate source at its starting point. Credentials generated from governments can be a primary source of SSI, however, educational institutions can also serve as legitimate SSI issuers for identity verification.
5. Consensus is Good, but Action is Better
It feels as though we have come to a crossroads in the development, implementation and adoption of blockchain in education. Organizations like the Sovrin Foundation are doing amazing work to develop standards in the industry. And while a big theme of the summit was seeing whether there can be a consensus among the ecosystem’s key players as to the standards of technology and framework chosen to move forward, there’s also an urgency to keep the momentum and real pilots and projects moving forward without losing ground while such decisions are being made. We must trust that consensus and a common protocol will evolve on their own mostly from the buy-in of actual use, as is always the case with innovation. It’s exciting to see so much advancement and technical implementation, and how that advancement is inspiring close collaboration and adoptive use of blockchain in education to solve real-world problems. Here’s to blockchain becoming part of better, more accessible education and employment opportunities for everyone, worldwide.