Education + Blockchain: Open Source University

Thank you everybody who provided feedback, shared or commented on my post from last week ‘Why Should We Care About Blockchain?’. This week my assignment has been to investigate a current application of Blockchain technology that is already up and running in the marketplace.

For this exercise I’ve chosen to go beyond cryptocurrencies and explore how blockchain might disrupt and reimagine one area I’m passionate about; education.

I started exploring three exciting projects (first recommended to me by Riley Batchelor); Acreditly, Open Source University and Blockcerts. Each of these projects (I believe) has the potential to dramatically disrupt the university model and (or) be examples for ways that universities might embrace Blockchain to reimagine themselves. I recommend checking all three out, but for this assignment I’m going to focus on one; Open Source University.

About OS University

Open Source University (OSU) is envisioned as both a distributed database for learning accreditation and an open marketplace (with its own currency) for the trade of education products. It is based on the Ethereum Blockchain, which is noted for its use of open source ‘smart contracts’ that securely verify ownership of assets (in this case OSU tokens and OSUi education accreditations).

‘Proof of Concept’ https://os.university

What’s not working for whom?

To understand what main problem OSU is seeking to solve for end users, I’ll start with a favourite question that I like to ask during the Inquire phase of the Design Thinking process; what’s not working for whom?

Amongst others, the main problem put forward by OSU in their white paper is that:

…the traditional model of a campus-based university where a student must attend in-person for 4-5 years before being accredited is outdated.

They argue that particularly in high growth professions like IT, students are having to unfairly choose between completing studies or relocating to grasp new work opportunities.

The geographical entrapment of a learner to a single learning institution in order to attain accreditation is not working for learners and businesses.

Why does OSU matter?

OSU recognises that as businesses and knowledge rapidly transform (as a result of technology and faster access to new information), there is a need for learners to acquire small “chunks” of the latest knowledge in a timely way that come be applied immediately in business. OSU therefore seeks to allow learners to cluster micro-credentials in a secure, credible way that is broadly recognised by businesses.

This offers an enormous opportunity as well as a challenge to universities. It will require universities to become more open to unpacking their courses into small “chunks” that can become micro-credentialled. It may also require universities to enter into agreements and partnerships with other (traditionally) competing universities to increasingly recognise these micro-credentials and apply them toward large, cross-institution qualifications.

While it is still early days for OSU, I see a big challenge to their success lying in the credibility of their partnerships. Successful relationships with trusted universities and businesses will enhance the reputation and credibility of their platform. However, I’m yet to see how the platform will make it possible for learning products to be truly democratised and credentialled on their merit, regardless of their institution of origin. Will it truly be an open-source University or just a more open platform for traditional institutions to partner? The latter outcome to me seems to be the antithesis of the Blockchain philosophy of decentralisation.

Where to from here?

As of March 2018, OSU has already launched an ‘initial coin offering’ (ICO) for early adopters to purchase their Ethereum-based cryptocurrency ‘EDU Tokens’, with one Ether equal to 1350 EDU Tokens. This ICO is intended to accelerate the development of the OSU platform, with later token sales taking place throughout 2018.

OSU Road Map from https://os.university

Along with the other players in this space that I mentioned earlier, OSU is not unique in offering a Blockchain solution to learning accreditation. Its model aims to bridge between the complexities of location-independent learners and demand-based knowledge with institution-backed credibility. Will it succeed or rise above its other competitors? Time will tell (the most common statement at the moment regarding anything Blockchain related!). Ironically, success in gaining institutional credibility may work against OSU’s credibility as an actual decentralised, democratic and open source platform.

Feature Image: ‘Kotoro’ by Semidome.

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