Open BlockChain
Open BlockChain
Open BlockChain

Investigating the potential of blockchains

What are Blockchains?

Blockchain is most commonly known as the technology underpinning the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. But in recent years the open source code of the Bitcoin blockchain has been taken and extended by many groups to expand its capabilities. “Blockchain technology, which can be thought of as a public distributed ledger, promises to revolutionise the financial world. A World Economic Forum survey in 2015 found that those polled believe that there will be a tipping point for the government use of blockchain by 2023. Governments, large banks, software vendors and companies involved in stock exchanges (especially the Nasdaq stock exchange) are investing heavily in the area. For example, the UK Government recently announced that it is investing £10M into blockchain research and Santander have identified 20-25 internal use cases for the technology and predict a reduction of banks’ infrastructure costs by up to £12.8 billion a year.

The reach of blockchain technology will go beyond the financial sector however, through the use of ‘smart contracts’ which allow business and legal agreements to be stored and executed online. For example, the startup company Tallysticks aims to use blockchain based smart contracts to automate invoicing. In October, 2015 Visa and DocuSign showcased a proof of concept demonstrating how smart contracts could be used to greatly speed up the processes involved in car rental – rental cars can be driven out of the car park without any need to fill in or sign forms. The ability to run smart contracts led Forbes to recently run an article comparing the future impact of blockchains to that of the Web and Internet.” – (John Domingue – Director of KMi).

We believe the blockchain technology and smart contracts can also be used in education in many interesting and potentially revolutionary scenarios. On this website you can see some of the ways we see the future of education developing using the blockchain and what we are doing to progress towards our vision.

BlockChain Overview

Blockchain Overview“A blockchain is a publicly shared immutable ledger – an append only log of transactions which uses crypto-currency techniques to minimise any security risk. As can be seen in the figure above, transactions are contained in blocks which are linked together through a series of hash pointers. Any tampering of a block can be detected since the hash pointer to it would no longer be valid. As a ledger system it is very open. In addition to the source code being openly available a key feature of blockchains is that in principle every user has their own copy of the entire blockchain. In fact, there is no central or master copy simply the multiple copies held by the volunteers in the user community. Volunteers are rewarded for their effort through a number of algorithmic processes which can result in payment. Small payments can be attached to individual transactions. Consensus on what types of blocks and transactions can be part of the blockchain is automatically reached according to whether the majority of blockchain holders accept newly proposed blocks. This attribute leads to a system where consensus is hardwired into the software. Without the need for any central control or mediator blockchains allow for leaderless democracy — a new way of governing human behaviour online through ‘one computer one vote’. In this way, a blockchain can act as a provenance protocol for sharing data across disparate semi-trusting organizations.” – (John Domingue, Director of KMi)

Blockchains and higher education

About Blockchain “We envision a world in which the awarding and validation of qualifications no longer occur exclusively under the management of an education institution or an employer and individual students, teachers, and peers take more ownership of the learning experience and its outcomes without compromising on safety, security, and accessibility. The centralised model of the present is no longer sustainable: learning happens increasingly outside the brick-and-mortar lecture halls of schools, colleges, and universities on online platforms, within communities of like-minded individuals, or by contributing to projects and initiatives in the real-world. Learning is far more international than it used to be: key education players open campuses abroad, while students travel to different countries to improve their employability prospects. In the networked, digitally empowered world of the 21st century, education providers often do not have remit or in fact the means and capacity to cover the range of activities learners engage with, which attest their achievements, knowledge, and skills.” – (John Domingue, Director of KMi)

We believe that blockchain technologies may hold an answer to collating the outcomes of this new distributed learning reality and we intent to explore the possibilities that this infrastructure could provide.

Blockchain based ePortfolios, Feedback and Accreditation

Blockchain Scenario “In a typical education scenario students learn through a number of pedagogical activities and are assessed and receive feedback from teachers. Learning occurs either face-to-face, online, or a mixture of the two, all under the control of an educational institution providing quality, credibility, governance, and administrative functions. While the educational institution issues documentation that certify the achievement of major milestones in a degree (including transcripts), students are responsible for preserving and storing the work they had to carry out for their courses (e.g., essays, lab experiments, designs, software etc.) and the feedback given by the teachers for later use (e.g., to show to potential employers, apply for a study programme, internship, scholarship etc.). This creates a high overhead for the students, as they need to keep track, organize, and safely archive the relevant information, which often includes many individual pieces of work, stored as different media (e.g., emails, CAD files, pictures, sound, scans etc.), created over months or years of study. In the same time, the recipient of this information (a potential employer, the admissions team of educational institutions etc.) has very limited means to check the evidence submitted or to assess the candidate, as they have little to no context of the relevance of the work carried out to standard qualifications and skills frameworks. Blockchain based ePortfolios can address these challenges through the development of an open decentralized, peer-to-peer platform, in which control of and responsibility for this information flow is radically disintermediated, away from educational institutions to students and teachers. This will be achieved by using blockchain-based distributed ledgers, a technology that enables the secure and resilient management of distributed data in combination with data analytics techniques that add scale and flexibility to the way levels of qualifications are defined and granted.” – John Domingue, Director of KMi.

Twitter

What are Blockchains?

Blockchain is most commonly known as the technology underpinning the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. But in recent years the open source code of the Bitcoin blockchain has been taken and extended by many groups to expand its capabilities. “Blockchain technology, which can be thought of as a public distributed ledger, promises to revolutionise the financial world. A World Economic Forum survey in 2015 found that those polled believe that there will be a tipping point for the government use of blockchain by 2023. Governments, large banks, software vendors and companies involved in stock exchanges (especially the Nasdaq stock exchange) are investing heavily in the area. For example, the UK Government recently announced that it is investing £10M into blockchain research and Santander have identified 20-25 internal use cases for the technology and predict a reduction of banks’ infrastructure costs by up to £12.8 billion a year.

The reach of blockchain technology will go beyond the financial sector however, through the use of ‘smart contracts’ which allow business and legal agreements to be stored and executed online. For example, the startup company Tallysticks aims to use blockchain based smart contracts to automate invoicing. In October, 2015 Visa and DocuSign showcased a proof of concept demonstrating how smart contracts could be used to greatly speed up the processes involved in car rental – rental cars can be driven out of the car park without any need to fill in or sign forms. The ability to run smart contracts led Forbes to recently run an article comparing the future impact of blockchains to that of the Web and Internet.” – (John Domingue – Director of KMi).

We believe the blockchain technology and smart contracts can also be used in education in many interesting and potentially revolutionary scenarios. On this website you can see some of the ways we see the future of education developing using the blockchain and what we are doing to progress towards our vision.

BlockChain Overview

Blockchain Overview“A blockchain is a publicly shared immutable ledger – an append only log of transactions which uses crypto-currency techniques to minimise any security risk. As can be seen in the figure above, transactions are contained in blocks which are linked together through a series of hash pointers. Any tampering of a block can be detected since the hash pointer to it would no longer be valid. As a ledger system it is very open. In addition to the source code being openly available a key feature of blockchains is that in principle every user has their own copy of the entire blockchain. In fact, there is no central or master copy simply the multiple copies held by the volunteers in the user community. Volunteers are rewarded for their effort through a number of algorithmic processes which can result in payment. Small payments can be attached to individual transactions. Consensus on what types of blocks and transactions can be part of the blockchain is automatically reached according to whether the majority of blockchain holders accept newly proposed blocks. This attribute leads to a system where consensus is hardwired into the software. Without the need for any central control or mediator blockchains allow for leaderless democracy — a new way of governing human behaviour online through ‘one computer one vote’. In this way, a blockchain can act as a provenance protocol for sharing data across disparate semi-trusting organizations.” – (John Domingue, Director of KMi)

Twitter

Blockchains and higher education

About Blockchain “We envision a world in which the awarding and validation of qualifications no longer occur exclusively under the management of an education institution or an employer and individual students, teachers, and peers take more ownership of the learning experience and its outcomes without compromising on safety, security, and accessibility. The centralised model of the present is no longer sustainable: learning happens increasingly outside the brick-and-mortar lecture halls of schools, colleges, and universities on online platforms, within communities of like-minded individuals, or by contributing to projects and initiatives in the real-world. Learning is far more international than it used to be: key education players open campuses abroad, while students travel to different countries to improve their employability prospects. In the networked, digitally empowered world of the 21st century, education providers often do not have remit or in fact the means and capacity to cover the range of activities learners engage with, which attest their achievements, knowledge, and skills.” – (John Domingue, Director of KMi)

We believe that blockchain technologies may hold an answer to collating the outcomes of this new distributed learning reality and we intent to explore the possibilities that this infrastructure could provide.

Blockchain based ePortfolios, Feedback and Accreditation

Blockchain Scenario “In a typical education scenario students learn through a number of pedagogical activities and are assessed and receive feedback from teachers. Learning occurs either face-to-face, online, or a mixture of the two, all under the control of an educational institution providing quality, credibility, governance, and administrative functions. While the educational institution issues documentation that certify the achievement of major milestones in a degree (including transcripts), students are responsible for preserving and storing the work they had to carry out for their courses (e.g., essays, lab experiments, designs, software etc.) and the feedback given by the teachers for later use (e.g., to show to potential employers, apply for a study programme, internship, scholarship etc.). This creates a high overhead for the students, as they need to keep track, organize, and safely archive the relevant information, which often includes many individual pieces of work, stored as different media (e.g., emails, CAD files, pictures, sound, scans etc.), created over months or years of study. In the same time, the recipient of this information (a potential employer, the admissions team of educational institutions etc.) has very limited means to check the evidence submitted or to assess the candidate, as they have little to no context of the relevance of the work carried out to standard qualifications and skills frameworks. Blockchain based ePortfolios can address these challenges through the development of an open decentralized, peer-to-peer platform, in which control of and responsibility for this information flow is radically disintermediated, away from educational institutions to students and teachers. This will be achieved by using blockchain-based distributed ledgers, a technology that enables the secure and resilient management of distributed data in combination with data analytics techniques that add scale and flexibility to the way levels of qualifications are defined and granted.” – John Domingue, Director of KMi.

Experiments with the Ethereum Blockchain

Ethereum is a platform for decentralised applications, built on top of a blockchain mechanism, which can be used for public data storage and computation. It acts as an immutable public ledger, which provides strong cryptographic guarantees for data integrity. One definitive feature of the Ethereum platform is the ability to execute Turing-complete Smart Contracts. A Smart Contract is a program on the blockchain. We have been investigating the possibilities that the Ethereum blockchain infrastructure affords.

Below you can see some screencasts of some of our early experiments with Ethereum:

Latest Experiment

 

IPFS File Encryption DemoIPFS File Encryption Demo

 

Recent Experiments

Contract Data EncryptionContract Data Encryption Demo

Simple ePortfolio DemoSimple ePortfolio Demo

OpenLearn Blockchain Badges DemoOpenLearn Blockchain Badges Demo

Peer Reputation DemoPeer Reputation Demo

Course Student DemoCourse Student Demo

Course Admin DemoCourse Admin Demo

Estate Agent DemoEstate Agent Demo

Land Registry DemoLand Registry Demo

Early Experiments

Open Badges on the Blockchain DemoOpen Badges on the Blockchain Demo

File Storer DemoFile Storer Demo

Messenger DemoMessenger Demo

File Hasher DemoFile Hasher Demo

String Hasher DemoString Hasher Demo

Conference DemoConference Demo

LightWallet DemoLightWallet Demo

Coming Soon…

ePortfolio with Views Demo

Course Demo Version 2 – with Course Work and Award Evidence

Publications

Third, A., Domingue, J., Bachler, M. and Quick, K. (2016) Blockchains and the Web Position Paper, A W3C Workshop on Distributed Ledgers on the Web, MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Sharples, M. and Domingue, J. (2016) The Blockchain and Kudos: a Distributed System for Educational Record, Reputation and Reward, 11th European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning, Lyon, France, Springer.

Herian, R. (2016) Trusteeship in a Post-Trust World: Property, Trusts Law and the Blockchain.

Media

How blockchain could be used to make trusts more transparent

“Amid the outcry over David Cameron’s tax affairs is the UK prime minister’s intervention in 2013 to block EU transparency rules regarding offshore trusts. It was decided that trusts should not be held to the same standards as companies when it came to…”

Credit: Robert Herian, The Conversation


Talks

Blockchains and Adult Education

Published October 9th, 2016


Blockchains a new platform for semantically enabled transactions public

Published May 29th, 2016


How Blockchain Technology Will Change Industries

“Hugh Halford-Thompson of BTL gave an introduction to blockchain technologies before talking in more detail about various use cases across different sectors including payments and settlement, reconciliation, and traceability. He also discussed how…”

This event took place on Tuesday 24 May 2016 at 13:00


Ethereum – A Blockchain Platform

“Blockchain technology has been in the news recently, mainly because it aims to provide an alternative model of network computing platform that is decentralised and trustless, the underlying properties that made Bitcoin popular.”

This event took place on 24th February 2016 at 2:00pm

Events

ePIC 2016

26-28 October 2016, Bologna, Italy

The 14th conference on ePortfolios, Open Badges, Personal Ledgers, Identities, Trust, Blockchains…Find out more about this event

International Blockchain Week

19-24 September 2016, Hyatt on the Bund, Shanghai

Ethereum Foundation and Wanxiang Blockchain Labs announce a blockbuster event combining Devcon2 and the 2nd Global Blockchain Summit in Shanghai…Find out more about this event

Blockchains and the Web

29-30 June 2016, MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, Massachusetts

What timelines make sense for looking at standardization for Web-centric aspects of blockchain technologies? Who are the key stakeholders (individuals, organizations, and industries) involved to make sense of the blockchain landscape? What are the next steps?…Find out more about this event

DSI4EU: Shaping the Future of Digital Social Innovation in Europe

29 June 2016, Brussels, Belgium

Digital Social Innovation has been put on the map through the focus on Collective Awareness Programs. In this light we are organizing a policy workshop concerning Digital Social Innovation for Europe. We want to bring together innovators throughout Europe and leaders from CAPS projects with…Find out more about this event

Blockchains for Social Good

21 June 2016, Brussels, Belgium

This one day policy workshop will bring together experts, practitioners, politicians, civil servants and citizens interested to discuss what role the European Institutions and in particular the Horizon 2020 public funds for research should be playing as Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) begin to encroach on areas far removed from…Find out more about this event

Team

Michelle Bachler
Project Officer

Michelle Bachler

I am a Project Officer in KMi working primarily on collective intelligence and knowledge mapping softwares and was the lead developer for Compendium and am currently the lead developer for, Cohere, Evidence Hub, Debate Hub and LiteMap. At present, I am experimenting with the Ethereum blockchain to see how it might be used in a number of Educational scenarios.

John Domingue
KMi Director (Project Champion)

John Domingue

I’m KMi’s Director and I’m interested in how blockchains can be used within higher education and corporate training and also the relationship between semantics, big data and blockchains. Within the learning area I see a number of scenarios where radical improvements may occur including: embedding micro certification within blockchains; the development of educational currencies to support the crowdsourced accreditation of ‘soft skills’ such as collaboration, communication and leadership by peers; and new disruptive models for teaching and learning where intermediary layers are removed resulting in dramatically reduced costs and increased openness. Interoperability between blockchains and the automation of a number of tasks associated with the development of blockchain applications (DApps) through semantic technologies is a second focus.

Robert Herian
Lecturer in Law

Robert Herian

Robert researches equity, trusts, fiduciary and property law, and is particularly interested in how post-trust paradigms facilitated by the blockchain will impact legally, economically and politically upon these different areas of private law. Publications include: “How blockchain can be used to make trusts more transparent”, The Conversation, April 8th 2016; “Trusteeship in a post-trust world: Property, Trusts Law and the Blockchain” Strategic Change (forthcoming).

Kevin Quick
Communications Project Manager

Kevin Quick

I am Communications Projects Manager working in the Knowledge Media Institute (KMi). Currently I am investigating innovative ways in which the blockchain can be employed within the field of education. I am the lead developer of the Stadium Live, interactive webcasting system which provides a system for live broadcasting, at scale, allowing the  remote audience to paticipate live with the event through a range of widgets and text chat etc. Previous projects have included Flashmeeting, Hexagon and FlashVlog.

Keerthi Thomas
Research Associate

Keerthi Thomas

I am exploring the use of Blockchain to enable ‘trustless transparency’ of data in order to support privacy in Internet of Things (IoT) systems.
I am also investigating Blockchain for the purposes of providing ‘certified provenance’ for open and linked data.

Stefan Rueger
Professor of Knowledge Media

Stefan Rueger

My research is focused on automated analysis of images and video within the wider area of Data Science. With respect to blockchains, I am interested in their theoretical foundations and in their applications for smart contracts, in particular, how to keep records of and verify assured elements of contracts.

Chris Valentine
Research Associate
Chris Valentine

I am a project officer in KMi with a long history of European collaborative projects where micro-accreditation would have been a welcome addition. My web application development thus far has been in PHP with Javascript libraries and APIs, supported by mySQL databases.

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