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Education Blockchain Challenge Concludes with Mixed Results

The two-year Blockchain Innovation Challenge is over, with participants convinced more than ever that blockchain can play a role in helping students take control of their individual educational records and learning pursuits. The challenge, paid for by the U.S. Department of Education and overseen by the American Council on Education (ACE), funded four projects within higher education, all designed to explore how blockchain — shared, distributed ledger technology with embedded encryption — could help people translate all of their various forms of learning and education into better employment opportunities.

Although the projects coincided with the upheaval of the pandemic, organizers continued their work, undeterred. A 102-page report summarized the programs and their outcomes and shared lessons learned. Among the major themes:

  • Achieving data interoperability — and even data access — will be a challenge, the report suggested, especially as standards are under development by "large commercial and government business models" with vested interests and data is siloed "within difficult-to-access data systems."
  • Also, project organizers advised that "user-friendly solutions" will be needed if blockchain is to find widespread adoption. That includes providing administrative training early on as well as focus groups and pilots with students, to "help identify possible troubleshooting needs."
  • And academic institutions themselves could provide obstacles to blockchain acceptance. As one project team concluded, even as schools "voice a desire for blockchain-enabled technology, they sometimes resist the intended outcome of student-owned data in the form of verifiable credentials."

"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, in a statement. "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."

Now the blockchain work will continue in a new format. ACE, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the higher education-oriented Presidents Forum have launched a new initiative. "Potential to Impact: Harnessing Blockchain to Empower Learners" will be a "virtual convening" that explores how to engage users of these innovations to further promote learner empowerment. To participate, e-mail [email protected].

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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