Where’s the disruption in Blockcerts?
I’ve been engaged in some discussions around blockcerts as a implementation of blockchain (or distributed ledger) technologies in the field of education. Distributed ledger technologies (DLT) – as a term that’s removed from discussions of currencies and financial instruments associated with blockchain as bitcoin – are seen as a trust based technology that will drive various innovations. Blockcerts use DLT as a means of ensuring trust in the certification of education attainment. DLT assure other educational institutions, employers, recruiters etc. that a certificate was genuinely issued to someone – the record is “rendered immutable, transparent, auditable yet resistant to censorship and manipulation due to the technology’s cryptographic and distributed foundations (Maull et al, 2017, p.484). So blockcerts do not generate an additional layer verifying that learning occurred or that the marks reflect the skills, knowledge or competences of the certificate holder. Rather, they simply verify that institution X issued certificate Y to person A. As Doug Belshaw argues, blockcerts appear to fit best with high stakes credentials.
Maull et al identify DLT as a new unique technology that is based on transparency. However, unlike the example of Bitcoin, this transparency is, at best, partial as I note above in terms of learning or competence or skills or abilities. This technology also enables different solutions and new ways of thinking creating a disrupted future. But solutions to what ‘problem’ and what new thinking may arise? Blockcerts would drive the reduction in costs of issuing certificates assuming paper certificates are no longer issued and, assuming other assessment and credentialing costs remind the same, would make more feasible the issuing of certificates for micro-credits – could certify individual courses/ modules and/ or learning outcomes at no extra cost in terms of issuing certificates (printing, postage and later administrative costs associated with the verification of certificates). Blockcerts could also reduce costs of, e.g., employers as certificate verification would no longer be required. But this is hardly a disrupted future and all I can see here is an incremental efficiency gain as the value of the certificate comes from the trust stakeholder may have in the issuing institution. Yet, is there a possibility in DLT being a key component in enabling the realisation of credit accumulation and transfer by reducing transaction costs?