A new report from the American Council on Education (ACE) outlines the outcomes and best practices that have emerged from the Education Blockchain Initiative, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Education and included the Blockchain Innovation Challenge.
Blockchain is a technology best known as the underpinning of the first cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. It is a type of shared, distributed ledger technology that uses an agreed upon and encrypted process.
The $900,000 competition sought bold ideas to reorient education and employment around learners and ultimately funded four projects that explored how blockchain technology can empower learners with more control over their educational records and create more equitable opportunities for economic advancement.
“The past eighteen months has surfaced the critical need of exploring and developing emerging technologies to address systemic opportunity gaps in our country,” said Kristina Ishmael, deputy director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Education.
“This report highlights promising technologies like blockchain that grant learners agency to navigate their educational journey, including ownership over their credentials and the ability to share credentials between institutions freely.”
The four Phase I winners are:
• Pilot A: Guardianship & Consent for Nebraska Systems-Involved Students is a collaboration between Student1, the Nebraska Department of Education, and Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to replace a current manual paper process for guardians of systems-involved students to provide legal and verifiable consent for services for their minor child and associated data sharing required to effectively provide those services. This initiative sets the foundation for a comprehensive learner record for Nebraska K–12 students who are involved with multiple state educational, judicial, or behavioral services.
• Pilot B: The Lifelong Learner Project, Powered by Teachers, is an ecosystem-first approach led by RANDA Solutions, in partnership with the Utah Department of Education and others, to develop a digital wallet in which teachers can store and access their credentials, licenses, and exemplars of practice and securely share them with entities such as state licensing systems, human resource departments, and learning management systems.
• Pilot C: The UnBlockEd Project: Leveraging Blockchain in Higher Education is an effort led by the University of Arizona, in partnership with Georgia Institute of Technology, Fluree, and the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, to create an open transfer exchange system that will facilitate student progress toward graduation by making the transfer articulation process more transparent.
• Pilot D: North Texas Collaborative is a Texas Woman’s University-led collaboration with
Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District, North Central Texas College, Texas A&M University-Commerce, The University of Texas at Arlington, and GreenLight Credentials to narrow the college graduation and employment gap of underserved populations by increasing students’ free access and control of their academic records.
The report comes as national research continues to show how learners are often unable to translate all of their learning and skills into credentials of value that can help to boost their employability. This past year, Ithaka SR found that roughly 6.6 million students have “stranded credits” due to unpaid balances at their institution, which leaves them unable to count or transfer credits toward a certificate or degree. Research this summer found the issue disproportionately affects low-income learners and students of color.
“As the world of work continues to shift rapidly, higher education institutions have a critical role to play in ensuring that all learners can successfully transition between learning and work throughout their lives,” said Louis Soares, ACE’s chief learning and innovation officer. “Experimenting with new approaches such as blockchain, and scaling what works, is paramount to our collective efforts to unlock opportunity for more learners. This initiative has made clear that blockchain technology can help learners have agency over their educational experiences—in ways that can improve their chances of economic advancement.”
The Blockchain Innovation Challenge attracted applicants who collectively serve over 1.5 million postsecondary learners. The report identified best practices and opportunities based on the four winning projects, including an emphasis on interoperability and data alignment in order to make the technological infrastructure sustainable and durable. In addition, the report found that designers of these technologies must focus first on the needs of the end users, including learners, and make the technologies intuitive for those users.
As the Education Blockchain Initiative formally concludes, ACE, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Presidents Forum have launched a new partnership called Potential to Impact: Harnessing Blockchain to Empower Learners. The virtual convening series is exploring how to engage end users of these innovations to further promote learner empowerment. For more information and to participate in the series, email email@example.com.
For more information on the Blockchain Innovation Challenge and the Education Blockchain Initiative, please visit https://www.acenet.edu/Research-Insights/Pages/Education-Blockchain-Initiative.aspx.
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