When I was 40, I had a dream job. I was directing innovation for an international organization. I ‘d been involved in some cutting-edge innovations like ‘moodle for Iphone’, providing continued medical development for health care workers in sub-Saharan settings, I even won a global award for mobile learning…. But there was one drawback with this job. Everyone in my team was earning more than me. Why? Well because, although I had a lot of responsibility, I only had a secondary school degree, and this meant my team was earning more than me. Why? Well the organization I worked for based our salary on the level of our academic qualification. So, at a certain point I wanted to get a degree so I could start earning more money.
Now I am a Belgian citizen. And research has shown that Belgium is a rather corrupt country. It is not like the mafia or similar, no it is corruption on a personal basis (country wide tax evasion). Being a Belgian, I was wondering whether I could buy my degree from a lesser known university. It would save time and effort. It honestly seemed like a good idea, because I did have skills and I was working at a master-degree level. So why not simply purchase a degree and move on?
Well, …. I did not have the guts to do it. So, I got a master’s degree while I was working. [Does it really matter?] But what would have happened if I had bought my degree instead of earning it? Who would notice? For let’s be honest, I knew what I was doing, I had expertise in my area. So, does ‘secure’ blockchain in education make a difference? Let’s see
Blockchain in education is about - certification. We want to show which skills and competencies someone has mastered. So, with InnoEnergy – a company that provides courses and training for people in the renewable and sustainable energy sector – we want to embed Blockchain in Education in one of our projects. Let me briefly share a bit of the project and then zoom in to blockchain again.
The skills engine we are working on uses Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and specifically Natural Language Processing. Natural language processing can distill key concepts from massive amount of data, in this case texts, and it can see correlations between the key topics of those documents.
There are 3 main steps in the skills engine: analyzing industry reports to see where the industry is heading analyzing CV’s and resumes of people to see which skills they have and which ones they are lacking to find the current skills gap directing learners to available courses and resources on the internet, so the learners can address their own skills gap.
In the last step of our Skills engine, we cluster courses and offer it to the learner. These courses can come from multiple institutions: eg. FutureLearn MOOCs, corporate academies, university courses, coaching courses, as well as relevant YouTube movies or TedTalks. If the learner chooses to learn from any or all of these courses, we want to provide them with a certificate. Now these cluster of courses are scraped of the internet by the AI engine who looks for courses that will address the skills gap of that particular learner. No matter how many courses the learner decides to take, they will want something to show for it, so they can add it to their CV. With blockchain in education, this becomes a possibility.
Another benefit is that blockchain in education can provide a solution for both formal as well as informal learning. We know that most of our expert learning is informal learning. But at present it is difficult to put a certificate on this informal learning. With blockchain in education we could add informal certificates as well (eg. Knowledge sharing between colleagues, having attended a conference).
We can include both hard skills (data science courses) as well as soft skills (strong communication skills) that surpass classic curriculum courses, which does not necessarily address a mix of these skills.
This room is filled with enormously intelligent people. We are all experts in our field. Yet, our obtained degrees (master, PhD, Bachelor…) are irrelevant as indicators for our current skills. We have acquired knowledge during our lifetime, we as experts constantly learn in a rapidly evolving world. But we have hardly anything to show for it. With blockchain, this becomes possible.
Massive Carbon Footprint: energy demand for servers is stupendous and non-climate conscious (= yearly energy consumption of 10.6 million people in Northern hemisphere) Blockchain technology consumes a mass amount of energy. In 2018 it consumed as much energy as Ireland consumed in one year. This is a danger for our earth’s sustainability.
A blockchain needs to start somewhere before the full, encrypted chain can start. This also means that the start of a blockchain is also its weakest point. If the starting block is based on a fraudulent identity, the whole chain will be flawed.
Currently different standards are being developed. This means we don’t know yet which standard will become thé standard (a bit like html versus flash), so it makes it hard to decide which system to adopt.
One of the reoccurring pro’s of blockchain creators is: it is safe, blockchain will provide a non-fraudulent proof of actual education. First of all, anything digital can be hacked. But let’s say it would be safe, is this actually a relevant argument? Let’s go back to my dilemma of either buying a degree or earning a degree? If someone bought their degree, surely our professional system is advanced enough to weed them out? For let’s be honest, if someone without the proper qualification can do a specialized job, surely that profession is not as specialized as we expected it to be? It also works the other way around. If someone has earned a master’s degree in linguistics, but became skilled in electric power, surely if they are skilled by experience, their master’s degree no longer matters? The validation of a skill lies in the action requiring this skill, not in a piece of paper/block. So then we can wonder: what is a degree? If you think about it, a degree is a validation of what has been taught at a university.
What is the quality of all these badges or blockchain certificates? We all know of the Essay Mills that turn out even master theses for money for all those who want to buy them. So fraudulent students might get their degree, without ever having written a thesis of their own.
Now wrapping up. We will be using blockchain in education for our skills engine, in fact we have chosen Badgr as our best current solution. But is it really necessary to have a so-called secure and high energy consuming tool in place which in essence only provides a minor contribution to actual skills enhancement a person has? Is not blockchain in education in its most strict form overshooting its own goal?
"Red & Green Flowing Paint" (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by markchadwickart
According to the bitcoin energy consumption tracker at Digiconomist, bitcoin currently consumes 66.7 terawatt-hours per year. That's comparable to the total energy consumption of the Czech Republic, a country of 10.6 million people.
Blockchain in education: let's not exaggerate!
Blockchain in Education?
Let’s not exaggerate!
• Inge de Waard 29 Nov ’19 #OEB19
InnoEnergy is supported by the EIT,
a body of the European Union
Inge de Waard
Skill Engine: https://www.techwolf.be/
Learning happens across
different campuses and
training organisations, based
upon prior expertise of learner
Learning happens in formal and
Soft skills (team work, good
communicator, …) are
validated by peers, in many
Professional learning is lifelong
=> need for a decentralized,
formal & informal learning in
the hands of the (professional)
Massive Carbon Footprint: energy
demand for servers is stupendous
and non-climate conscious (=
yearly energy consumption of
10.6 million people in Northern
Blockchain is only as trustworthy
as its first step (if that is falsified,
all the rest is untrue as well)
Classic blockchain is build on
distrust (oversized security
measures for undersized product
delivery). One location (not
distributed) risks disastrous
Insecurities: standards (= tech
durability), too complex to
become mainstream, nothing in
nature is purely linear, tampering
still possible, trusting the machine
versus trusting the human