Technology has significantly impacted the education sector in the last few decades. When computers became more popular and easy to access, it changed how we present information in an educational setting. Students began typing presentations and essays, rather than writing them by hand. As information databases became more built out, we slowly transitioned to using online sources for information, rather than using encyclopedias or dictionaries.
This process of technological integration into our society and systems is still going through a huge process of adaptation today. Now we see learning systems that are managed and implemented solely online, without the need for a human instructor behind the scenes. There is no teacher creating and distributing content or lessons to their students (although there can be, and it is suggested currently), but rather lessons are input by educators, and the systems test the students to see what level is most appropriate for their educational needs and development. These systems are changing the way data is acquired, how lessons are prepared, how students are tested, and how we teach students in general.
Now don’t get me wrong here… In most schools today, teachers are still the primary means of instruction and assessment. Even with this online learning management systems, a teacher is still necessary for inputting information and forming the basis of instruction in these systems. We haven’t handed it all over to computers yet (unlike China who just tested AI teachers compared to real-life, human teachers)….
Online Learning Systems & Adaptive Diagnostics
Rather than going through with each student and conducting diagnostic assessments one-on-one and by hand, computer programs like i-Ready and Edulastic provide teachers with rich, defined information on a student’s skill sets, abilities, and conceptual understandings.
These systems can suggest specialized areas in which students need instruction, and ideas for helping students attain developmentally-appropriate goals. (Teachers today still complete diagnostic assessments, but it takes a lot of time and resources to do so for each individual student they have. These systems are making it easier on teachers.)
Yet these systems go beyond being a simple diagnostic assessment. These diagnostics adapt as students are taking them based on data from previous answers. As the system does this, it acquires specific data about different subject domains. These systems also offer many lessons in various subject areas and domains within those subjects based on a student’s level. It can provide routine assessments to check in with students development over the year, and then re-adapt lessons and data for teachers to meet the students needs.
These systems can provide critical data for teachers planning whole-group and small-group instruction, and it keeps that data updated throughout the year so teachers can adapt their instruction. They are even being integrated for use as an end-of-unit summative assessments in some areas. These assessment systems can also be a great tool for student’s getting individual practice in certain subject area skills.
Teachers already do all of this work, but these systems are making it more efficient and allow teachers greater time to cater instruction and work with their students on the needed skills and concepts they need to develop.
Student Data Collection & Proof of Learning
But here lies a fault in these systems. They are collecting huge amounts of student data, which can be used for very important situations regarding that student passing onto the next grade, or getting extra help in certain subjects, or being considered for special education or gifted education.
This data is then kept on a private company’s or a school’s counties centralized server. This imposes great risks and liabilities for security on the student’s behalf, the private companies who develop these systems, and the school systems using it.
What if the server gets shut down? What if the company must shut down, and therefore takes all that data and useful information with it? What if these servers are hacked? What if the school systems database is hacked?
In 2015, a New Jersey school systems entire computer network was compromised! Of course a ransom of bitcoin was being asked… But this instance, among many others, shows the vulnerabilities in our current systems. Important data was breached, and servers needed to be cleansed and restored. Luckily in this situation student data was not breached, but what if it were?
Plus, I don’t know about you, but I sure knew some high school punks who hacked into the school’s servers and changed some grades… If a teen can do some simple hacking, what can an expert do with even more important data and information?
If these systems are being used as a basis for a student graduating to the next grade or getting extra specialized services, why are we not in charge of this information? How does it follow a student and be a continuous means of support in getting them what they need from their educational services? If these copious amounts of data are being collected on individual children, then parents should have rights over that data, and grant access to schools and teachers. It can be critical to their educational life, but rather it is trusted with the companies who develop these systems. And school systems and states pay a lot of money for that trusted service too!
We cannot consider these systems as proof of learning, if we are trusting that data with a company, and it can be revoked when that company says so. Blockchains are a very credible solution to these problems. Technology has already tremendously impacted education and how we teach our students. Now it’s impression is increasing, and we need to provide these students with security while using these systems. Blockchain technology and education systems pairing together may be an answer.
It is Time to Step Up Our Tech Game in Education
Blockchains can provide a secured database that keeps a record of each student’s individual data, and in these systems, that data can be owned by the student or parent, with appropriate access for teachers and administrators.
It also can keep a detailed history of the students growth over the years, which can be very valuable to an educator, especially when a student is having a problem or has a possible disability. In this situation, educators often have to retrace steps to see if a student has had a long-term problem, or if it is more recent, so that they can narrow down the possibilities for a student’s struggles and pinpoint what is needed to help them succeed. Then teachers need to provide reasonable evidence of it. These online learning systems are already used as evidence for this purpose.
Blockchains also allow us to securely digitize other student information. We keep records of students from the beginning of their education, including immunization letters, behavioral reports, referrals, medical problems, learning deficits or disabilities, parent contact information, family histories in certain cases, proof of living within a district, and so much more.
Sony has actually patented a system for just this. It is a sort of data transmission system, which proves we have the means of achieving this and blockchains in education can work for K-12 too, not just colleges and universities. Today, blockchain in education is mainly focused in higher education, but the application for public schools and K-12 is just as necessary.
Why is this information held in file rooms still? We have an incredible ability to have a secured database of this information, which is much more readily distributable than it currently is, but in more secure means. It makes it easier for information to follow the student through their different schools. (Whether you are a parent or teacher, I’m sure there has been at least one situation in which you had a hard time, or had to wait a long time, to get critical student information to the appropriate person or place. Whether your child/student moved from a different state, or you had to put in an application of sorts to access info…)
Furthermore, blockchain-izing these systems provides the students with greater security and rights over their data. It allows school systems to be more accountable and less liable if something goes wrong with these companies platforms. Plus, it takes the data rights out of the hands of these companies providing us with helpful services, and although the systems are great, we should not be trusting them with such essential student data.
What do you think about blockchain technology and education systems? Reach out to Rachel to let her know! Rachel@blockchain.wtf
This article was written by Rachel Maib. She has a BS in Elementary Education. She’s followed the Ethereum project from the start, and has delved into blockchain technology in that process.
She’s passionate about social applications of the technology, and continuing to create a better future for all. With a well-rounded understanding of the blockchain space, Rachel is Blockchain WTF’s Editor. Rachel is now focusing her passion for education into blockchain education for all! You can hear more of Rachel’s views on blockchains in this short interview or check out some of her work here.