22 SES 07 C, Students' Support
A combination of economic, social and political factors, have impacted on universities’ core activities, their mission, identity and relationship with students, staff and stakeholders. The expectation is that universities should operate in a Triple Helix system of knowledge production characterized by dynamic trans-disciplinary links between academia, government and industry (Etzkowitz, et al, 2000), reiterated in a number of recent UK policies culminating in the Higher Education Research Act 2017, while also having social and civic impact (Goddard and Vallance, 2011).
Along these lines, universities play an important role in realising the Lisbon Agenda’s (European Parliament, 2000) goal of developing a competitive knowledge-economy fuelled by an educated and skilled workforce. Likewise, in the UK the White Paper Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice (UK Parliament, 2016) paved the way to the Higher Education Research Act (2017) and its major legislative changes to how the quality of teaching and knowledge exchanges are measured, and how universities will be regulated within a fully marketised system (Barber, 2017).
Cast between achieving ‘value for money’ as cost efficiency and ‘value for students’ and society, universities in the UK and Europe are struggling to achieve at times contradictory goals. At the institutional level, they are called to prepare students for employment and enhance their experience, while, simultaneously, coping with major structural changes, reduced funding, decrease in student recruitment, and widening access and participation to mature students and others without formal qualifications. Amidst all such turbulence, universities also have to cope with the fast-developing technology and the need to prove their impact through new and more comprehensive measurement systems resulting in a plethora of ranking and highly controversial ranking systems (Hazelkorn, 2015; Lynch, 2015).
It is therefore in the interest of learners, universities and employers to have a reliable, permanent and yet flexible way to acknowledge learning and its impact. Such an innovative accountability system will help all learners, but particularly those for whom access to university is barred by requirements for formal qualifications, and by a system which does not value informal learning gained through work experience. It will also help universities to maintain an accurate testimony of the value they add to their students, particularly in the case of work-based placements, and by affording students other learning opportunities such as volunteering.
In addressing the need for a new and more nuanced accountability system, this paper is a response to the European Commission’s Science for Policy Report by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) Blockchain in Education (Grech et al, 2017) and to the 3Os Strategy Open innovation, Open science, Open to the world
(EC, 2015) and the work of the Business Innovation Observatory (Probst et al, 2016) on the applications of Blockchain. It does so by drawing from the Whitepaper 5.0 Blockchain Educational Passport: the Decentralised Learning Ledger (DLL) to suggest ways in which universities, employers and learners can gain from each other’s contribution. By using Blockchain as an immutable ledger of learning gains, the whitepaper contributes to the University of Northampton’s Future Focused revised strategic goal of ‘working closely with technology industry leaders … [to] implement innovative sector leading solutions’ (UoN, 2017). It also contributes to the ‘Learning and Skills for the Digital Era’ agenda (EC, 2005) and responds to the JRC’s recommendations of ‘taking advantage of the technology’ (2017: 10) to ‘ensure development of open blockchain implementations’ (2017:9).
The Educational Passport and the Distributed Learning Ledger (DLL) are the outcome of the multidisciplinary collaboration between academics in Computer Studies, Education and Business at the University of Northampton, Principals in Further Education colleges, and the not-for-profit Centre for Citizenship and Governance (CCGE), a spin-off of the University of Northampton. Located within the need to find innovative, practical, and comprehensive ways to account for both the tangible and intangible value of university impact, the DLL is a development from previous work carried out on intellectual capital (Devecchi and Petford, 2015) and presented at the ECER 2015 conference. The DLL sets forth the central argument that if knowledge is at the heart of current and future economic and social development, and that if universities are knowledge-intensive organisations, then we need to develop a better understanding of the tangible and intangible aspects of the 'knowledge procurement' chain, how to track it, and how to measure its impact and value in an efficient but also fair and inclusive manner. As a solution, the DLL suggests the use of Blockchain technology. Blockchain started as the secure means of exchange for the Bitcoin cryptocurrency but it soon became apparent that it could be applied to record any form of transaction. In minimal terms, Blockchain is 'a public spreadsheet that sequentially records transactions among users operating within a decentralized peer-to-peer network.' (Zambrano, 2017: 6). Blockchain's key principles are: privacy, pseudo-anonymity, integrity, distributed trust, transparency, security, sustainability and open-source. Its limitations are scalability, environmental costs, usability and reach. It is envisaged that Blockchain technology together with personalised smart contracts can be used to create secure permission and permission-less accounting for learning transactions to be captured in the Educational Passport. The Passport will record, as Grech et al (2017) auspicate: digital certificates as proof of both formal and informal learning gains reflecting the achievements of individual learners, while also providing evidence of the university's impact and reach. From this perspective, the DLL make learners active doers and shapers of their learning by creating an Educational Passport to which employers and their university contribute to. The Passport allows for both the process and outcomes of learning to be created as immutable transactions or as smart contracts which can be shared with relevant stakeholders while at the same time providing an immutable proof of the learner's competencies, skills and capabilities.
Given that the application of Blockchain outside the financial sector has had a very brief history, this paper is currently not based on research evidence. Its intent is that of sharing with colleagues a truly new idea which, amongst other digital innovations, will have an impact on universities and learners. In this light, the paper acknowledges that a number of criticisms have been made in regard to the use of Blockchain, and the use of metrics and measurement, more broadly particularly when applied to education. After outlining how the DLL and the Educational Passport would work, the paper will conclude by raising and discussing the following questions: " What are the limits, challenges and benefits of a transactional view of learning? " How can an unalterable ledger, such as Blockchain, cope with learning as change and development? " Who will own the data and how will personal and institutional data be protected? " What will the impact of using a transparent and shared DLL be on the reputation of individuals, institutions and stakeholders? " What are the legal and ethical implications? " How can we ensure that the technology is not only efficient, but also fair and inclusive?
Devecchi, C., Hadawi, A., Turner, S., Armellini, A., Brooks, I., Mellish, B., Petford, N. and Ta'eed, O. (2017) Blockchain Educational Passport: the Decentralised Learning Ledger. Available from: https://mypad.northampton.ac.uk/cceg/files/2017/03/SERATIO-WHITEPAPER-Educational-Passport-Distributed-Learning-Ledger-30-April-2017-v-5.03-2gyqndf.pdf Devecchi, C. and Petford, N. (2015) Universities in transition: Managing knowledge and developing people through the use of intellectual capital. Paper to be presented at the ECER conference, Education and Transition -Contributions from Educational Research, Budapest, 8-11 September 2015 Etzkowitz, H. et al (2000) The dynamics of innovation: from National Systems and ''Mode 2'' to a Triple Helix of university-industry-government relations. Research Policy, 29, 109-123 European Commission (2015) Open innovation, open science, open to the world - a vision for Europe https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/open-innovation-open-science-open-world-vision-europe European Commission (2005) learning and Skills for the Digital Era, available from https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/research-topic/learning-and-skills European Parliament (2000) "Lisbon European Council 23 and 24 March 2000: presidency conclusions." European parliament. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/summits/lis1_en.htm Goddard, J. and Vallance, P. (2011) The Civic University: Re-uniting the University and the City. In Higher Education in Cities and Regions: For Stronger, Cleaner and Fairer Regions. Paris: OECD Grech, A. and Camilleri, A. F. (2017) Blockchain in Education. Brussels: Joint Research Centre/European Commission Hazelkorn, , E. (2015) Rankings and the Reshaping of Higher Education. The Battle for World-Class Excellence. 2nd ed. London: Palgrave Macmillan Lynch, K. (2015) Control by numbers: new managerialism and ranking in higher education, Critical Studies in Education, 56:2, 190-207 Manu, A. (2015) Value Creation and the Internet of Things: How the Behaviour Economy will shape the 4th Industrial Revolution. Farnham, Surrey: Gower Publishing Ltd Probst, L. et al. (2016) Blockchain Applications & Services. Brussels: Business Innovation Observatory. University of Northampton (2017) University Strategy-revised. Northampton: UoN Zambrano (2017) Unpacking the disruptive potential of blockchain technology for human development. New York: IDRC
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
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