As new technologies emerge, the educational system has been quick to adapt and integrate them into their operations. For example, students and educators are already using technology for online courses, so it’s no surprise that technological advancements like blockchain may be the next step in keeping track of and sharing information within educational institutions.
How Blockchain Works
At its core, blockchain is a type of digital ledger that keeps track of information. The framework was originally created to support digital currency like Bitcoin—in the case of cryptocurrency, blockchain records transactions and ownership. In the case of education, it might record information such as test scores or certifications.
Once an action is taken, such as a completed course or updated academic record, a digital “block” of information is added to a chain—the blockchain. This information is permanent, making securing and transferring information much safer than a paper-based system.
Where blockchain can make a difference
Student records: As online education becomes more popular among younger students, blockchain can ensure those student records remain secure.
As completed courses, test scores or certifications are recorded, that information becomes a permanent data block. When updates or changes to records occur, a new block is formed, allowing administrators to easily see and audit where changes were made and when.
Closed-loop, multiple-user systems that track and update shared documents – like Google Drive, DropBox or other sites – already give users an idea of how this works. Blockchain takes the process a step further by encrypting the information.
It’s already happening: In 2017, Sony and IBM launched a blockchain-based educational platform that allows educators to share and monitor information on student progress, an ultrasecure and efficient way to keep track of complex data.
Applications: Blockchain can help reduce the need to individually process thousands of requests for record transfer or verification, saving countless hours of staff time and resources. It can facilitate college and post-graduate applications by making available transcripts, coursework, essays and other application materials without requiring sealed envelopes collected from multiple sources. Blockchain can provide permanently secured records that users can automatically verify without contacting admissions offices.
Certification: Using blockchain can simplify record-keeping and prevent fraud or loss that can occur with a paper system, particularly in fields where proper certification is absolutely vital, such as medicine and law.
Some universities, like MIT, the University of Nicosia and University College London, are already implementing blockchain to issue and store certifications, preventing fraud and allowing employers to verify credentials with a special decentralized clearing number (DCN) or QR code that graduates can include on resumes or online profiles.
These tamper-proof certifications also could be shared across partner educational institutions or other connected organizations such as government offices, trade groups and employers.
Accounting: As educational institutions adopt blockchain to keep track of data, it’s a natural progression to consider using it to keep track of financial records, including scholarship distribution, fees and other financial accounting. It can be used not only for calculating student tuition and processing financial aid, but also for teacher and instructor salaries as well as funding grants and other projects.
Data storage: Blockchain technology can reduce the cost of data storage for educational institutions through decentralized cloud storage, essentially fragmenting and encrypting information and storing it across a network. The information is protected with a private key that no one else can access. Additionally, because blockchain offers users more control and management of their own information, schools will see cost savings in terms of staff time, reduced paper storage and cost of even storing on the traditional cloud.
Identity protection: The news is filled with instances of data breaches, even among the largest companies and organizations with the best resources. Blockchain technology can add a layer of safe encryption to social security numbers, bank accounts, personal information on student applications. Additionally, because blockchain gives students and teachers more control over personal data, it adds another layer of personal security.
Bottom line: Blockchain technology is worth looking into for its immense potential in streamlining record-keeping, record-sharing and protection of data throughout the educational system—and that’s good for students, educators and administrators alike.
Brandon Jarman is a freelance writer and technology enthusiast. When he’s not writing, he enjoys spending time with his family, watching baseball, and playing the occasional video game.