What might web3 mean for higher education?
On Thursday the Future Trends Forum kicked off a series of sessions on this rapidly emerging topic. This first meeting was so rich that I wanted to share it here. Hopefully this post will provide questions, ideas, and materials for educators interested in the topic.
The hour went quickly. We began with our guests introducing web3. Vriti Saraf, the founder of k20 Educators and cofounder of k20DAO, along with Scott Meyer, an entrepreneur and former professor, co-authored “From Web3 to Ed3 – Reimagining Education in a Decentralized World“; for us they sketched out several key terms and ideas. Then our community started in with questions and pushback and we went all over the place, together: credentials, centralization vs decentralization, privacy and cryptography, the purpose of education, Web 1/2/3, commodification of education, adjunctification, climate change, the history of education reform ideas, does web3 have any use at all in the academy, and many connections. People posed dilemmas, celebrated enthusiasm, criticized the whole thing, wondered about implications, compared experiences, shared resources, made jokes, and kept turning to the basics.
To begin with, here’s the whole recording:
Second, the Forum community had a lot of questions – too many to get to in a single hour! So here’s the lot, in order of their being posed, including some that we addressed directly or indirectedly, and lightly edited for clarity:
Is educational change a technology problem or a curriculum problem?
We hear so much about NFTs. Many love the idea (and have made $) but there is a considerable number that have concerns, especially related to climate change. Love to hear your thoughts.
In many states, there are bills being written right now about how to ban critical race theory and/or anything else that parents want to “opt out” of. How do you protect a baseline education if you are decentralizing education?
This seems to rub up against the increasing commodification of higher education. Have we started seeing institutions looking at implementing aspects of web3 in their current ecosystems?
Aren’t we just commoditizing teaching and learning in this model? Shouldn’t digital age education enrich the learning experience, not fragment it? How does Web3 address this contradiction?
Followup: Can NFTs eventually use alternative energy resources?
What about NFT Credentials… what can they add to “digital credentials” (open Badges).. ?
How do you see these innovations affecting the equity gap in education, especially around technology and technological access? Are there things we need to do now to close gaps so all have access?
I would imagine that web3 could be a major disruptor for higher education and could get really messy at the beginning if we’re not careful.
Sales and marketing have supplanted communication for mail, email and all web experiences. Does web3 start to address the cruft and get us back to usable communication venues?
I believe an essential function of (especially public) education is to build shared community. How would the web3 world build community in a way that would help lead to understanding/cooperation?
A lot of your examples are about “ownership.” What about how web 3 might change pedagogy?
Isn’t NFT just gilding the lily? It’s just proof of ownership of a ‘virtual’ classroom with lectures. How does that increase learning (vs. credentials)?
Who controls the awarding of the credentials? How can we trust that the credentials are valid? Same problem as now – but thrust into the NFT space.
Who is asking for ed3?
Have you guys spent any time in a registrar’s office with the person who does transfer articulation? I’m not sure what we’re talking about does anything to solve the fundamental problems they face.
Are we now just living in a golden age before AI has discovered how to crack any block chain?
Third, our conversation sparked some Twitter threads. This one explored ways of structuring academic credentials:
Verifiable Credentials (SSI) vs NFTs. The former is more privacy-preserving and gas fee-free if implemented off-chain. The latter has gained, as it seems, much higher adoption than VCs have ever dreamt of and is being used for things beyond ownership claims. https://t.co/OhcObRfj7s
— thaika (@thaika) January 13, 2022
GREAT conversation on today's Future Trends with @BryanAlexander on how Web3 can impact Higher Ed. Really puts the "future" in Future Trends. GREAT comments and ideas in the chat. Thanks to the guests @VritiSaraf and @MrScottMeyer for helping me begin to wrap my head around this
— jenobando (@Jen_Obando) January 20, 2022
Fourth, the chat room was very energetic. As one participant noted: “This chat is on fire… beats a Discord channel !” Here’s most of the text, anonymized and slightly edited for clarity, with the permission of participants. I moved around some bits to identify major topics which emerged.
Introduction and first thoughts
Seems like a big marketing opportunity was missed when “web3” wasn’t “w3b”… Think of the CPU cycles that could’ve been saved by shortening the name by one character…cycles that could be repurposed to mining and minting…
Agree that Blockchain is a tool that we really don’t know how to use and is way too resource intensive.
Does RSS fit into this ecosystem
i think rss is the grandfather of all this tech. a protocol just like much of what is getting built in the web3 world
It is interesting how RSS/feeds faded a little bit as this emerges
old and current tech offer too many opportunities for breeching privacy
spending one hour in web3 makes you an expert lol
no one is an expert in web3!!
great example of how privacy can be maintained with decentralized education here: Nathan Tonani, “Super Skills, a mobile application use case for DIDs and VCs”
Where would you recommend someone start if this entire conversation is way over their head? Is there a particular seminal text or web location that gives the background of this topic. I am thinking of something like Educaus’s 7 Things publications.
here is a Web3 Start Guide (by a LinkedIn friend)…
teaching, learning and verification do not need a multibillion $ endowment
DAO = decentralized autonomous organization. Think COOP digitally
So in K-12, parents and students can create a DAO which would be the evolution to the charter movement?
right. Or even more targeted. A parent group interested in arts education that helps bring in the best lessons in that space
So a DAO is a corporation or co-op but for people annoyed by following laws on such legal entities? Just like cryptocurrencies are money for people who don’t want to follow securities rules?
On blockchain and energy:
mining is migrating to the places with the most excess energy.
But Scott that’s not where the energy is used in blockchains, it’s in computing hashes!
But proof of stake is like “the rich run the world” built into code!
not having buildings, sports fields and commuting will save even more carbon, if you have a DAO university
What about NFT Credentials… what can they add to “digital credentials” (open Badges).. ?
NFTs are non-fungible tokens
NFTs not related to microcredentials. Art world uses NFTs to sell their art.
I’m not sure if I’m interpreting correctly but NFT/blockchain gives opportunity to own part of share of ownership? (like buying stocks for the company)
This idea of decentralization of the credential I assume would require a group to agree on standards, skills based hiring and a shift of courses to be skills based
essentially. Think of selling items or services to receive crypto.
Good way to think of NFTis just as a file type. it can be used as a piece of art or a ticket or a credential
File type or URL pointer? I am trying to understand this.
Not really, NFTs are about publicly announcing one’s support for a particular artist (or whoever claims a particular digital artifact), the property rights are a completely different matter and have to be negotiated separately.
Could have DAO created courses in parallel to campus based programs as well as DAO university
Kathy yes! a smart uni could get into this and leverage much of what they already have to a huge new market
Sounds like NFT has a lot of potentials
NFT cuts out middle men? Does that mean the potential future will belong to “creators”? What if I’m not a creative?
You can be an owner and if you are a learner I would argue you are a creator of knowledge
Are tokenized assets the same as an NFT? How do they differ?
From NFTs, POAPs (Proof Of Attendance Protocol)
What’s the acronym, POAT or POAP?
POAP – proof of attendance protocol
Access, equity, and the digital divide:
with the technology divide and huge numbers that don’t have access to basic technology are we going to see a future with dual worlds?
that is a big concern – access to technology
So with blockchain, textbooks will still cost students money rather than being open access?
What web3 actions have already happened in higher ed?
Have many universities have invested in Blockchain?
I know ASU has a program that is looking at blockchain to facilitate transcripts
this already happened —
None of this is moving learning forward. It’s just extending the traditional school into a different medium.
in some cases, yes. Bittopia exists.
Bittopia u is starting from the ground up
Need the education itself being offered through variety of platforms/forms
At the end of the day, reputation will win out in societies obsessed with credentialling. John Doe University is always going to lose out to Harvard University. That name is where the value is.
the opposite is possible. smart orgs, like Bittopia u, know there are more low income students globally that could participate in education and pay a little than richer ones that pay a lot.
It’s about skills, not sheepskins.
most people don’t need a Harvard to exist
Money from web3 in education
Is this the final commodification of education?
uber -> taxis
to me it feels like the first ownership of education
I see the potential for the NFT’ization of HE becoming like the gold rush. It could get really messy at the beginning with hordes of people trying to make a fortune off of an open market
that’s already happening
I have always thought of digital as a means to deepen the educational process. Instead, we’re seeing more and more of it being used as a mechanism for credentialling.
How are students in higher education learning about financial blockchain?
Join us at W3C Vc-EDU to learn more about how education verifiable credentials work.
Professors used to get paid by number of students (on campus) and like tutors – this is virtual, accessible version in the long run
i already own the materials in my class but so what.
are you able to monetize your materials in the current ecosystem?
I get paid by a university to teach a class so yes… I’ve founded multiple corporations, it’s not a huge deal. I could incorporate and sell my IP but who is buying? Marketing is hard.
A connection to Ivan Illich:
Aren’t we scaling those parts of education that thinkers like Illich and other criticized in the 70s?
Tell me more. Sounds interesting!
exactly! It’s not “deschooling” society, but just moving that mentality into a virtual world.
Continuing discussion about decentralization
Did folks see Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike’s post on web3?
yes, great read. This rebuttal by Packy McCormick is a great companion piece
your head is becoming decentralized!
What we need is a way to promote collaborative and democratic learning.
oversight by whom?
That’s exactly what will happen just like every application of these technologies.
my head gets increasingly decentralized as a I get older
In the beginning there is no doubt it will only widen the divide and there would be winners and losers. This article is great to explain.
how would it work if skills taxonomies are defined differently.. if I get an NFT in crtiical thinking but it’s defined differently than how an employer is defining it how can it scale?
So if instructors are going to be on their own, that means no work rules, no paid sick leave, no parental leave, no pensions, right?
the interesting part is it would be transparent so the employers would be able to go see the work or the definition but will they? maybe doubtful. it’s a great thought experiement
ASU’s big announcement today is banking on large parts of the world wanting an ASU-associated certification to hold cache in their local communities.
There are networks like Open Skills Network and Credential Engine helping to collect information about skill & competency frameworks and how they are being applied in education and employment.
Great question about taxonomies defined differently. I think we faced similar problem with badges
the rebuttal by Packy is really to ProfG. merciless critique of Web3 🙂
yes, but he ties it all in with Jack and Moxie too, a fabulous reading!
Open Badges has properties to reference skills & competencies. Open Badges 3.0 will have an option to do single skill assertions too as well as aligning with rubric related results.
The “centralized” university provides libraries, tutors, spaces to study, computer equipment… How does decentralization help with the support that some learners need?
head explosions are common in web3
My head explodes at least 25 times per day
It’s a pain to clean up after head explosions.
I leave the wreckage behind me
Wreckage tends to catch up with you. :-0
That E.M. Forster quotation…
Which Forster quote?
“only connect” remember when we thought connection was good in and of itself?
I’m totally new to this, but any time extreme decentralization is proposed I wonder who will protect the consumer/ individual’s interests and ensure quality or equivalence of credentials?
Adjunctification and web3
Are we talking about the adjunctification of higher ed? I’m an adjunct and some of my peers live in their cars or are on the edge of homelessness.
I saw the adjunctification question I wanted to hit. It is such a HUGE opportunity for teachers where they can earn in the proceeds from students and connect with students anywhere
Large profits to the few, big losses to everyone else
I’m doing this right now, try to make money doing it. Good luck.
More practical questions about education and web3:
content vs format vs delivery vs proof – all need to be rethought in web3
it’s not metaphor. it’s new types of Digital interactions performing certain functions.
Attending class is not the only the only way to learn. Cripes!!! Web 3, microcrentials, whatever. It’s what you’re able to do, your performance of a skill, that matters. You can sleep for 4 years and get a college degree, even at Harvard.
I know some who did.
Credentials aren’t really being stored on a blockchain.
most of my students attend my class without learning anything
as always your humor is on point
would we see a rise of the need for improved assessments that demonstrate you do actually know what you said you learned ?
Learning is a complex package of activities. Just showing up to class doesn’t mean you internalize anything
already need confirmation that demonstrate knowledge
Check out rabbithole.gg which proves completion on the blockchain
The army used to use a “training wallet” that was to transport experiences to SCORM devices.
When was that?
Army and SCORM? early 2000s. My Old Dominion military students carried them. Of course, SCORM was its own nightmare.
Though SCORM is a warning technology for assuming Web 3.0 automatically will work.
I think analyzing the use cases will be critical to moving forward with this idea
I am obsessed with the tech and its opportunities but I must say we are just talking about the technology and how exciting it could be but we don’t talk about the problems it can actually solve that centralized tech can’t.
I don’t think this is a really gret example. I get emails from teh alumni association pretty much every day. It’s not hard to find peers from my university community. There’s Facebook groups, linkedin pages, ….
Open Badges 3.0 will be Verifiable Credentials that will be signed by issuers and issued to decentralized identities belonging to learners to store on their wallets. No blockchain needed but may be used for for Decentralized Identifiers.
If one gets a “physical” copy of their “thing”, seems to me that would not allow for updating or any other change. [total newbie here]
I was able to network a bit by sharing my educational credentials on LinkedIn, but of course who knows if I’m really a dog?
great point. For me it’s access, affordability and accreditiation. i think it will be both! we will have the current higher ed system + decentralized approaches for people who right now can’t get that
How about we create artifacts to demonstrate that we know what we’re doing? The problem there is authentication, not certification.
On the chain, I can have a signed affidavit that I’m not a dog…maybe from my vet?
check out the Learning Economy Foundation and the work they are doing with the State in the CoLab
isn’t the problem that a lot of people don’t complete their university education not how we document and record what happened?
When I played trombone all that mattered was how I sounded (and if I showed up on time sober).
precisely. Sober is good.
Private keys can be backed up.
Dang, sidetracked, arrived late, lost an already bad connection, finally back on with atrocious…may have to give up altogether…
Or when my USB-A key no longer plugs into my USB-D computer.
For FutureTrends – this is a GREAT topic. THANK YOU BRYAN!
So does the corporation replace the university in judging credentials…
I guess we are assuming perfect security in this conversation, the distributed identity out there can never be hacked or altered.
Great point. With everything being centralized it’s almost impossible to use different learning experiences as composable blocks that I can put together to form a credential
question – is web 3 friendlier to mobile?
I don’t think that’s true. I have students every year in self defined majors. UC Santa Cruz.
The Bologna agreement does this in the EU
awesome, gonna look into that
And they used to not give grades at UC Santa Cruz. How did we know what they learned? Through observation of performance.
I was thinking across institutions
Would people owning their credential improve completion rates?
there were written evaluations like a letter of recommendation from every class
I talked about how we can think about using digital to enrich learning, not commodify it in this article.
Why do we need to change that? Reputation matters!
Is my A+ from Harvard more valuable that your A+ from Long Beach State? Maybe yes, maybe no. They they’re different.
quick side note – love these questions and side convos!
Some confusion by some about copyright and NFTS (see Dune purchase). I wonder if decentralizaiton will impact copyright.
place to continue this discussion when Bryan is done?
we have the #FTTE tag on Twitter.
check out what bored ape yacht club is doing. when you ownt eh nft you own the IP. you could build your own tv show with their ip but when you sell it you no longer have the rights
my students are challenged to complete the classes required for their major. I’m interested in how this helps them but I don’t see it.
do you think they would if the nft gave them access to something interesting?
would decentralization leave behind individuals with lack of “mobility knowledge” (e.g., knowledge about what skills are needed to get higher paying jobs)
not that w3 will fix any of this, but the A+ needs to mean something. When Harvard rep is attached, it carries weight.
that’s not true btw
National University of Singapore is in first place as a result of its multiple blockchain research centers, its frequently hosted blockchain-themed conferences, its many blockchain clubs, its company partnerships and its masters program in digital finance
Where was that quote extracted from – 7% of world is educated and 93% do not possess post higher education
There is a fundamentally philosophical problem when you introduce a concept designed for economic exchange into something whose power derives from its qualitative impact on our lives.
because $$$ >> learning
why put a portfolio “on the chain” how about just keeping it on your own machine or thumb drive
Extrinsic vs Intrinsic motivation?
Yes, a running theme on the Forum!
Exactly. Remember the Vivarium??
This is where I am looking in my own work as an educator
lots of great opportunities for creative teaching and learning in this context. endless flexibility
$20 for your amazing lecture
love this one!
if your portfolio is on the chain, then if my portfolio also has bored ape NFTs in it, we can find each other and network…
oh wait, there’s someone online bidding $15, sorry maybe next time
yay, let’s network our apes!
I think we need to spend more time discussing the purpose of education. Not everyone agrees it’s pedagogy. Scott briefly talks about this in the article.
great way to do experiential learning
Carol Dweck- growth mindset
the question of “what’s it for” is key
is it for getting a job or becoming a more well rounded person, etc. much like thinking about liberal arts v polytechnic, etc.
Very True. But many make assumptions about this as if all are on the same page and have the same access.
@vriti, @scott, @bryan: it seems like this discussion is all predicated on the neoliberal worldview: “wallets,” the university’s “business model,” “ownership of the IP of textbooks/tweets/etc.” … it’s just such a toxic worldview that hasn’t benefited ed
love thinking thru that
agree that this is not about web3 but about new way of thinking about education and delivery
Technology will not solve that problem.
I’m coming away more skeptical about this TBH
technology isn’t interesting until it’s boring. love that quote from clay shirky
@Vriti – there you go! But I disagree the sole problem is technological. But it’s as old as Dewey vs. Thorndike.
I wonder if there is opportunities with students as producers and student created content that they can own and share outside of the clasroom
What are some ideas for how web3 improve opportunity for underserved & low socioeconomic communities?
and the metaverse was a dystopia, as he points out!
Trump University NFT is going to the moon!
We need Networked Improvement Communities, not city-states of learning.
Thorndike gives those in power control.
Just need some successful examples of it in action
So much great conversation here
i wonder if we have that will/interest to do that now Bob. great discussion
Thank you everyone for your ideas and input
Let’s continue the conversation!
Huge applause for all!
thanks, @vriti, @scott, and @bryan!
Thank you! Great information for this newbie!We’ll continue with more guests and conversation over the next few months.
Looking back on this… One way of looking at the session is that it was a collective and emergent learning experience. Not quite a class, because while we had two experts as guests, we also had a lot of knowledge sharing among participants. Another way of viewing the hour is as a snapshot of the web3 project in time, seeings its ideas, projects, and problems in mid-appearance on the historical stage.
The subject was larger than the session. We could easily have continued for another hour, and we didn’t even touch some major web3 points, notably virtual reality and Facebook/Meta.
So we’ll keep going. I’m arranging more Forum sessions on web3 over the next few months, woven into our other topics and alongside guests focusing on other issues.
I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts about the whole thing. Who’d you like us to bring on stage next? Which ideas should we focus on? And is documenting and summarizing this Future Trends Forum session a useful thing to do?