ASU Pilots Creating Next Wave of Internet Using Blockchain

ASU is engaged in two pilot initiatives continuing over the next six months through EdPlus involving Blockchain. The first pilot will result in an Associate’s degree being granted to ASU students who transferred to the university from De Anza College (a community college in Northern California), but who didn’t complete before coming to ASU. This “reverse” Associate’s degree will automatically be conferred by De Anza once the student achieves sufficient credits at ASU. The second pilot will result in microcredentials for college and career readiness to Arab and Emirati youth in the UAE. 

Blockchain technology represents a new wave for the internet, one that removes the middlemen like Google, Apple and Facebook that are central repositories of data and creates a direct relationship between the information owner and the intended recipient.

The Blockchain is a decentralized, digital ledger system that serves as the foundation upon which Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies operate. Think about it like this – big online retailers have  done a great job of creating a relationship between the consumer and vendor with a sophisticated content-discovery layer. Easy and fast for the consumer, yet the price is that the online retailer dictates the rules of the transaction, and it owns all the consumer data accumulated. This is the way the internet has grown up. Now, Blockchain represents a shift in the trust dynamic. It’s a distributed ledger of information owned by the community, not one entity, that enables peer to peer trust. Every node on the Blockchain has a copy of the data. If it’s corrupted, the nodes know the record is invalidated. 

Through Blockchain, the consumer holds the secret key that unlocks a trail of verified facts contributed by the community. So, Instead of signing a privacy agreement, the individual can grant limited access to information he/she owns, perhaps for a fee. 

The Blockchain Research Lab @ ASU is housed at the Center for Assured and Scalable Data Engineering. The Lab’s mission is to advance the research and development of blockchain-based technologies for use in Business, Finance, Economics, Mathematics, Computer Science, and all other areas of potential impact. A team from the University Technology Office and EdPlus is focused on the details.

Once operational, the De Anza College pilot will function automatically so that the college will recognize when a former student has achieved enough credits at ASU to achieve an Associate’s degree from De Anza. This automatic reverse credential will serve students in a number of ways: The process of students dealing with the Registrar’s Office will be eliminated saving both students and the university time; students will have a credential they can use immediately to secure employment; earning an Associate’s degree will act as an important benchmark as the student reaches for a bachelor’s at ASU; and the credential will live in the Blockchain owned by the student for any future need. A second pilot will allow Arab and Emirati youth a verified mechanism to share their soft skill and work-readiness skills to universities and employers through Blockchain keys linking to verified URLs directly on their resumes removing the human verification process that would have to cross cultures and time zones to obtain verified records of their efforts. 

While the infrastructure and value proposition of the Blockchain continue to develop, the future applications for students and universities like ASU are significant. Admissions could become faster because the universities around the world will be part of the blockchain community making student records instantly available to the student who holds the key.  Moreover, the Blockchain could contain more-robust, granular student achievement portfolios creating a deeper understanding of learners and their ability to succeed through stackable credentials.