Arizona State University is working with local community colleges on using blockchain to innovate data sharing for academic records. The development was reported by university news site Inside Higher Ed on July 9.
Arizona State aims to use blockchain to establish whether students who transfer from community colleges have already earned enough credits to be awarded an associate’s degree — an intermediary qualification between a high school diploma and a full-fledged bachelor’s. Tracking credits during this process — known as a reverse transfer — becomes complex and time-consuming to navigate: in addition to mere data exchange, colleges are required to interpret academic records that are not homogenous and establish whether the credentials are equivalent to their own.
In partnership with cloud software firm Salesforce and its central enterprise unit EdPlus, Arizona State is thus developing a blockchain-based student data network that would allow participating institutions to securely exchange and verify academic credentials. A key focus is reportedly to make the process of data exchange bi-directional — so that community colleges can continue to be updated on their former students’ progress at Arizona State. EdPlus CTO Donna Kidwell told reporters: “We want to optimize those pathways back and forth between us […] so that we can support students who are creating their own path towards a degree.” Kidwell reportedly added that such individualized — “DIY” — student choices may also feed back into universities’ understanding of how to develop and tailor their program opportunities. Kidwell said that the system aims to better evaluate and share data so as to avoid students missing out on full accreditation for their learning: “saying you have 86 credit hours towards a degree isn’t very meaningful on a résumé.”
Many of those involved believe that students awarded an associate’s degree are more likely to proceed to complete their bachelor’s after transfer, and that blockchain can provide a robust mechanism to manage complex individual routes through higher education. As one community college coordinator remarked: “Blockchain is going to be the future of academic records.The technology would certainly provide for greater fluidity. It will also allow students to own their own academic records.”
Nonetheless, another consultant emphasized that interoperability across institutions remains a significant hurdle for optimal blockchain adoption, noting that Arizona State would: “[…] have to do the very difficult political work to get others to buy into a shared chain. They’ll face questions about sustainability, management and ownership of the information and technology, as well as the challenge of mapping knowledge from different courses at different institutions.”
Meanwhile, many top-ranked universities globally are offering a host of blockchain and crypto-related courses and accelerators: a group of Oxford professors have even been seeking full-degree granting powers in the EU for what they dub the world’s first “blockchain university.”