Digital education with blockchains

Education with Blockchain: The first steps and what else is possible

The „blockchain“ technology, or „chain of blocks“, has been known for several years – especially since the success of Bitcoin. The education sector is also gradually becoming interested in this technology and is exploring the first application possibilities. A look at the first advances and other possible applications.

Blockchain is a chain of information. Depending on the industry in which Blockchain is used, the information is very different: In the financial sector, account numbers or purchases made are stored in the Blockchain, in the real estate sector it consists of rental contracts, rental payment confirmations or Bitcoin Superstar service charge statements. In the educational sector, for example, it is evaluations such as grades or the individual solution to a mathematics problem. But what are the advantages of a Blockchain? To answer this question, three characteristics of the Blockchain are important: its sequence, its network and its security.

Blockchain: The order is decisive

In the block chain, all information is linked chronologically in a chain. Each piece of information is stored as a block – as a link in the chain. An example: Two pieces of information about a pupil, mathematics exam on 21 March and censorship: 11 points, are linked together. The block chain provides both pieces of information with an encrypted check digit, a so-called hash, and a time stamp. This hash is now equal on block 1 – mathematics exam on 21 March – and block 2 – censorship: 11 points.

This means: block 1 and block 2 are inseparable, only block 2 can follow block 1. The order of the blocks is therefore exactly determined. If many blocks are chained in this way, a block chain is created. Using the example of the mathematics grades, it could look like this: „Certificate grade 1st half-year: 12 points – mathematics exam on 21 March – censorship: 11 points – exam on 14 May – censorship: 9 points – mathematics exam on 3 July – censorship: 13 points – certificate grade 2nd half-year: 11 points“.

Blockchain as a network

A block chain like this is part of a network. It needs a special program to enter the network with your own computer. Members of the network for the mathematics block chain from the above example are all persons who have a connection to the mathematics exams of this student, for example the mathematics teacher, the student, the mathematics examiner, the headmaster and others. Scenario: The pupil in the above example is dissatisfied with his censorship, 11 points in mathematics, because he is aiming for a course of study with a high numerus clausus. Shortly before the end of the grade, he sneaks into the teachers‘ room and forges his own mathematics grade in the grade book of his course: he gives himself 13 points. Such manipulation is not possible in the block chain. If someone tries to change the block chain, this is immediately registered by the block chain network. If only one block, for example a censorship, changes within the block chain, the hashs – the check digits – of the blocks lying next to each other no longer match.

The block chain as an educational network

Many teachers still use Moodle or Clix – programmes for organising learning content or administrative tasks. On such platforms, students often find tasks that their teachers have set and assigned to them in advance. It is the pupils‘ task to work through these. The problem with such platforms, however, is how isolated the work is in them: Each teacher sets up individual courses and tasks for his or her subjects and classes. There are no links between the pupils‘ learning outcomes across subjects and teachers. Existing platforms are not in a position to provide information on a pupil’s individual strengths and weaknesses.

The block chain makes exactly this possible: all actors in everyday school life are part of a school block chain network. The individual information in this network is, for example, learning tasks that different teachers set, the pupils‘ results and the corresponding assessments. Here, too, the following applies: Matching blocks are automatically linked – for example, a pupil is given such a chain: „French task – solution – evaluation of the solution by the subject teacher – feedback from this teacher“. In the course of a school year, this chain is continued for innumerable processed tasks from the most varied school subjects. In this way, a daily updated educational profile is created.