A blockchain-inspired design for a modern academic system
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When reminded of blockchains, the public’s attention tends to turn to finance because of the recent growth of Bitcoin and its impact on the economy; however, these cryptographic data structures also have value in several other disciplines. In this paper, I focus on education and theorize how blockchains can be used to allow non-traditional educators (in other words, non-universities) to enter into and build value in the academic market without being outcompeted by powerful academic institutions. Much of the inspiration for this research comes from the fact that in academia today, it is very difficult for employers to trust any other certificate of achievement other than a university degree. But for many learners, attending a university is not an option because of the financial burden of student loans and inaccessibility to higher education. For people who do not face these issues but still don’t prefer to attend college, the reason is usually personal goals; students do not want to be stuck in the same major for four years but rather want a diverse education studying what they want where they want for however long they want. In today’s Internet age, there are innumerable resources online for these people to access higher education, whether it be through private tutoring, Khan Academy, Coursera, or Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), just to name a few. But earning a certificate from these alternate educators is still not considered as valuable or as trustworthy as a traditional college degree. Further, the manner in which institutions are valued today is often subjective, volatile, and based on too many factors. In short it is rather arbitrary. To give these new educators and the learners using them a chance to build academic value in a fair and non-arbitrary manner, I propose a blockchain-inspired design for a modern academic system. The new system has two parts: 1) a new decentralized market structure and 2) a set of functions that stakeholders (educators, companies, and individuals) use to build value. The decentralized market structure contains two exchanges, behaving similarly to accreditor companies in today’s economy, called the educator and employer exchanges. They are funded by the money that companies spend on recruiting and that educators earn from tuition fees and donations. In exchange, these exchanges grant permissions to educators (such as hiring and querying the network for potential employees), educators (such as granting degrees), and individuals (such as querying the network for the most valuable educators). Calling each of these permissions is a transaction that gives a certain stakeholder value. Each transaction is recorded in the blockchain and is backed by dollars moving between exchanges, stakeholders, and miners. Miners are paid by the exchanges for hashing these transactions into blocks and as a result, the value of educators and individuals is permanently stored and traceable in a tamper-proof manner. This permanence means that value earned by stakeholders will be non-arbitrary and determined by the market operating over this blockchain. Over time, smaller institutions and new learners will accumulate value in the network. This allows employers to trust that the value of a certificate from a non-traditional educator is truthful and backed by a currency (dollars in this case). In effect, it allows employers to trust the value of these alternate sources of education just as much as college degrees.