Betting on blockchain

A conversation with chief digital transformation evangelist Feng Hou about blockchain and how it can change record-keeping

What is blockchain and why it is important in higher education? The technology can be considered a “gigantic [un-editable] spreadsheet” that contains groups of records (or blocks) that are linked to each other, says Feng Hou, chief digital transformation evangelist at Maryville University in Missouri. It can be used to provide a sharable and verifiable learning transcript that incorporates digital badges, certificates, awards and microcredentials alongside transcripts. The information can be aligned with learning objectives to ensure students are not left behind.

“This is the year people are talking about blockchain implementation,” says Hou. “Our students and our communities are ready to embrace the technology; it’s up to higher education to implement it.”

Blockchain can help automate and optimize business processes. Maryville has used it to review the adjunct faculty hiring process at its St. Louis campus, matching courses with the best-qualified instructors and maintaining essential records for accreditation agencies.

Also read: College transcripts transformed: Incorporating blockchain to verify academic credentials

The technology is modular, requires no complicated IT infrastructure and can be integrated into existing systems at a fraction of the cost of building software from scratch, enabling schools to start using blockchain immediately. The data can be shared across departments and institutions and transforms student learning into experience in a credential. Sharing data may lead to significant cost savings, Hou adds.

For the technology to be successful, schools must build in a process to ensure all of the information entered into the un-editable document is accurate but that is a small challenge. The biggest barrier, Hous says, is widespread acceptance in higher education.

“Higher education is not good about sharing resources; blockchain can help change that,” Hou says. “For that to happen, leaders have to accelerate their own learning about the transformative impact of the technology.”

Jodi Helmer is a North Carolina-based writer.

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