- Nine universities from around the world announced Tuesday that they are teaming up to explore how emerging technologies like blockchain can help them give students a digital version of their academic record, including badges, certifications, internships and traditional degrees.
- The U.S. institutions involved in the project are Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of California System's Berkeley and Irvine campuses.
- Such digital records would allow students to securely own and share their information instead of having to go back to the relevant institution each time they need proof of their accomplishments, said Sanjay Sarma, MIT's vice president for open learning, in the announcement.
The effort aims to provide students with a free service that lets them securely collect and easily share academic credentials from a variety of sources, said Gary Matkin, dean of continuing education at UC Irvine, in an interview with Education Dive.
"We want to try to create a wallet of these (credentials), where you can pull these things out like a credit card," he said.
The project will consist of two phases, Matkin said. In the first, the universities will improve the technology so it's user-friendly and secure. In the second phase, they will build an "infrastructure to support the technology" so institutions can be involved in administering the digital credentials, he said.
The collaboration builds on other efforts by the participating institutions to propel the use of digital credentials, including MIT's 2017 pilot to provide graduates with a digital version of their degree that is verified against the blockchain. Using an app, called the Blockcerts Wallet, the graduates can access and show employers their credentials.
Similar efforts are gaining traction at other institutions. Central New Mexico Community College began offering all of its students the option of a blockchain diploma in August 2018. At the end of last year, some 400 students had opted to use it, the college said, adding that it expects that number to grow.
Proponents of blockchain diplomas emphasize that they give students control of their records.
"The ultimate end goal is for these records not to be … locked up in any way but actually to belong to the student in a useful format that they can use for the rest of their life," said Learning Machine CEO Chris Jagers during the annual Educause conference last fall.
Colleges will also need to invest in educating employers about how blockchain works. That's the "next phase" for MIT, said Mary Callahan, the university's senior associate dean and registrar, at the event. She noted the pilot was more focused on getting the platform ready for students and less on working with "the community that might then benefit from the verification."
Yet such technology could have big implications for the workplace.
A recent report from the International Council for Open and Distance Education, which advocates for online education, contends that increased use of credentials will make traditional transcripts irrelevant.
Indeed, four out of five hiring managers found digital portfolios useful for evaluating recent graduates, compared to fewer than half (48%) who said the same about traditional academic transcripts, according to a report last year from the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Similarly, Matkin noted the ability of shorter-term credentials like badges to capture a student's skill levels. "We're trying to create a system ... that is actually useful in the workplace and is really designed to improve the workforce of local economies," he said.