BadgeChain Newsletter #9 – Education on Blockchain?

July 13th, 2017 | Carla Casilli

It had to happen, right? There’s so much hype around blockchain that colleges and universities have begun to take notice. Why? Well, historically, established educational institutions have been interested in teaching people (training them? Maybe that’s a discussion for another post…) about subjects organized by the institution’s vouched experts. Now, they are also interested in two other goals: remaining relevant in tremendously turbulent times and remaining solvent. Both of these last two goals are becoming increasingly important in a time of MOOCs, bootcamps, and the numerous, cheap or free learning experiences available on the web.

A quick review of post-secondary institutions now offering courses on blockchain reveals that a range of educational institutions worldwide are jumping into the game. Makes some sense given that certain aspects of blockchain are quite complex: some of the potentially related cryptography appears extremely daunting.

Does this education-related institutional focus point toward a sea change in software or even the web? As we have noted in previous newsletters, there are a number of individuals who have touted blockchain to be the new web. On the other hand, silos based on industry verticals have proven quite difficult to breech and disrupt—and that is almost exactly where blockchain technology appears to be finding its level. We’re still in early days.

All this said, huge organizations like IBM are in the midst of it: not only working on blockchain technologies, but also offering blockchain training, too. Relevance and money are not solely the provenance of the education industry. So, whether blockchain, in an ironic twist of fate, also ends up disrupting the traditional post-secondary education industry, too, is yet to be seen.

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Here are the articles that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of education and decentralized technologies.


BadgeChain Newsletter #8 – Who Owns Student Credential Data on Blockchain?

June 15th, 2017 | Carla Casilli and Kerri Lemoie

As blockchain becomes a more widely understood technology that is useful beyond just financial tech, increasing numbers of institutions are considering (and some already are) issuing credentials using blockchain. The Skills Blockchain project by Digital Assess aims to replace traditional paper certificates for vocational learners with a ledger of educational achievements. Ngee Ann Polytechnic recently issued their diplomas using blockchain. Learning Machine and MIT Media Lab have developed an open standard for blockchain-based certificates for a wide array of uses.

These initiatives will help to make credentials digitally verifiable and could possibly simplify the task of evaluating job candidates. But who decides what credential data belongs on public blockchains? What may that data contain and are they considering the long-term implications? These technological advancements also require that we ask fundamental questions about who owns and maintains this data. Are credentials considered personal data? What is responsible use?

It’s safe to say that the existing policies for student data ownership and governance are murky and outdated even for today’s learning environments. The COPPA and FERPA mandates in the U.S. for K-12 represent prime examples of nearly ineffective data collection policies when put into practical use. Beyond youth data, what about post-secondary and adult learning data? We question how private companies will use the data they collect from us. We should also question the capabilities and responsibilities of organizations who are storing educational histories using nearly permanently and immutable blockchain technologies.

Data on blockchain is securely stored using encryption and digital signatures. The data is accessed using keys that are distributed by the entity initiating the transaction. The decision about who has access also belongs to that entity. It’s critical that the organizations adopting blockchain technologies as well as their students understand the advantages and risks so that they may develop policies and agreements that make sense and consider privacy when privacy is required.

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Here are the articles that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of education and decentralized technologies.


BadgeChain Newsletter #7 – Can Blockchain Technology Save the Internet?

June 1st, 2017 | Carla Casilli

In the past few months, the drumbeat of distress about the state of the internet has grown louder. Increasing numbers of individuals are asserting that the internet, as it currently stands, is broken. They argue that the tool that was supposed to unite us is instead dividing us; that the data that was supposed to free us, now enslaves us.

Could blockchain technology be the internet’s savior? Is a technological panopticon a viable solution to the ails of the internet? More specifically, is it in any way a desirable solution? Possibly. One answer may come in the form of a new blockchain-based browser using a distributed ledger. This approach would involve a complete rethinking of identity, perhaps one of the internet’s most outstanding issues.

The technology is evolving extremely rapidly and on many fronts beyond cryptocurrencies: all of this breakneck innovation and exploration is tremendously exciting. Yet it is also leading to fears that 90% of firms building blockchain technology will fall into the “chasm of death” and disappear before the technology gains widespread adoption.

Clearly, both enthusiasm and caution are indicated in equal measure.

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Here are the articles that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of education and decentralized technologies.


BadgeChain Newsletter #6 – Blockchain, Bitcoin and Ransomware

May 18th, 2017 | Carla Casilli

This past week saw a massive and outrageous ransomware attack that hit the UK National Health Service and other organizations around the globe. The hackers behind the WannaCry virus did something somewhat unexpected: they didn’t ask one hostaged organization to pay a ridiculous sum of money. No, they asked many hostaged organizations and individuals to pay relatively small ransom amounts in bitcoin. Why bitcoin? With the current state of cryptocurrency wallets, it’s allegedly untraceable, so the thieves believed that they could get away clean.

Yet, even with the small asks of around $600 in bitcoin, it seems that not many folks paid up. Smart software backup and recovery practices played a role in limiting damages. But the reason for non-payment may have been a good deal simpler: bitcoins are confusing to the uninitiated. It can be difficult and time-consuming to set up a cryptocurrency account and select an exchange, let alone raise large amounts of bitcoin. Consequently, while this ransomware attack wreaked nasty havoc on its victims, it failed pretty hard financially. Future ransom requests may prove more effective, though, as it appears that some companies are now stockpiling bitcoin in preparation against ransom demands.

As the price of bitcoin shoots past $1800 (with some calling for it to hit $3000) the interest in exploitation rises—as does interest in control and governance. Consequently, this type of attack only serves to heighten the possibility of regulatory concerns and governmental oversight. Indeed, a report by the European Parliament provides recommendations for “anticipatory policymaking” regarding several aspects of this protean currency including eliminating the anonymity current wallets afford. Stay tuned!

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Here are the articles that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of education and decentralized technologies.


BadgeChain Newsletter #5 – Blockchain: can you trust it?

May 4th, 2017 | Carla Casilli

Trust: one of the primary reasons for the invention of blockchain. Or rather, lack of it. Blockchain’s revolutionary trustlessness, to coin a word, is peer-based. Interactions occur between peers without intervening persons or organizations. But trustlessness is both an awful word and only a rough approximation of the concept. Why? Because blockchain technologies actually reorient existing trust relationships into person-to-person exchanges. Most impressively, they do this at a global scale thanks to basic technical constructs that include decentralization, nodes, distributed ledgers, and immutability.

As previous BadgeChain newsletters have noted, along with financial tech (fintech), healthcare, media, credentialing, and law are fields in the throws of blockchain investigation. Some of this exploration may be driven in part by security concerns related to data breaches. This past year saw an unprecedented number of successful attacks on financial institutions, hospitals, and individuals, among others. Could blockchain be the way to secure data, finances, health records and media? Aspects of its structure can act as a repellent to network breaches: if any one block changes, the entire node structure knows. Data consensus can act a powerfully protective control mechanism.

Somewhat ironically, doubts about blockchain as an entirely trustworthy tool are also manifest. In the fintech world, the Dao disaster intensified fears about hard forks and algorithms that operate without human intervention. Bitfinex, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges is under suspicion of a Mt Gox debacle. And although bitcoins, the most prominent blockchain fintech, have reached an astounding $1400+ valuation, observers are unsettled about how much to trust the rules governing allegedly immutable data, particularly when the currencies can be drained unwittingly, traditional financial institutions are developing their own private chains, and ledgers appear to be at the whim of whoever technically “owns” a blockchain. These issues will need to be addressed if blockchain technologies are to continue to have a viable future.

Nevertheless, the evolution of peer-based trust is ongoing. Blockchain technology bolstered by the potentially radical ideas underpinning it are fomenting that change. According to one report, we may now be in the “third trust revolution.” An intriguing thought.

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Here are the articles that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of education and decentralized technologies.


BadgeChain Newsletter #4 – Digital Provenance – Decentralizing Authenticity

April 20th, 2017 | Carla Casilli and Kerri Lemoie

What springs to mind when someone mentions the word provenance? Art, antiquities, jewelry, and possibly wine. But if your mind doesn’t immediately jump to items from “Antiques Roadshow” you may also have considered digital assets such as music, videos, photos, online art, and writing.

Provenance, as it’s typically understood, tracks origin and history of ownership. In the digital world, provenance performs a few more neat tricks: in addition to making it possible to verify an asset’s origin and life stages, e.g., beginning state, evolution, remixes, and current state, it can be used to track physical assets, to enhance supply chain management, to support information sharing for media, and to address issues affecting content attribution and licensing.

With this much development potential, provenance is becoming a bit of a blockchain cottage industry. Everledger is using it to track high value assets including diamonds and wine. IBM, as part of Hyperledger, have created Fabric, a consortium-based blockchain framework exploring supply chain management. Mediachain provides peer-to-peer information sharing for a wide range of media. And finally, the Interplanetary Database (IPDB) in conjunction with the Interplanetary File System (IPFS) and Filecoin have founded community-driven COALA IP to focus on content attribution and licensing.

But where is all of this blockchain-based interest in provenance coming from? Simple. Decentralized technologies offer affordances that are a near perfect fit for complicated issues: permanent data storage, immutability, and computational structure that can track changes down to the pixel. It’s nearly impossible for siloed cloud-based services to supply this level of trust and control. What’s more, decentralized technologies free peer-to-peer interactions from central governing authorities.

All in all, we believe that provenance and decentralized technologies are worth tracking. 🙂

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Here are the articles that inspired and informed this newsletter. We recommend them to you as interesting data points in your consideration of education and decentralized technologies.