Innovation and changeDigital TransformationBlockchain and big data’s impact on the higher education sector

Blockchain and big data’s impact on the higher education sector

EdTech industry expert Jeremy C Bradley discusses the potential of blockchain technology in the education sector and the challenges associated with processing big data

Aside from enhancing the learning process, digital technology is also bringing about major changes in how higher education institutions are managed. Two notable areas in which educational institutions have been affected by digital technology involve blockchain technology and the challenges associated with processing big data.

Easing the chain

Blockchain technology, which allows for the quick and secure transfer of documents between institutions, is showing tremendous promise for establishments of higher education, especially when it comes to verifying credentials and sharing academic records. Tamper-proof and easily accessible, blockchain removes the need for higher education institutions to worry about the myriad issues involved with sending and receiving the academic credentials of students. Instead of having to mail and process service requests from current and former students, blockchain offers educational institutions the ability to seamlessly share the academic records of students from one university to another.

Some institutions are already implementing blockchain applications. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which partially helped create a variant of blockchain technology known as Blockcert, began issuing degrees to some of its 2017 graduates in this format. Additionally, Southern New Hampshire University, a major university for online learning, issued all of its spring 2018 graduates a copy of their degree in blockchain format, in addition to its traditional paper form. On an even more advanced level, the Central New Mexico Community College not only issued its graduates a digital blockchain format degree, but also began to accept payments in cryptocurrency through blockchain.

Great data and great responsibilities

In order to solve problems created by the emergence of big data, higher education providers have also been forced to reorganise themselves structurally. Traditional methods of storing and transferring information conducted by research institutions are quickly becoming obsolete.

As the sheer amount of research data produced by universities increases, it has become impossible for research institutions to singlehandedly keep track of their data or to collaborate with other institutions. One solution that some universities have opted for involves investing in high-performance research networks capable of managing big data. For example, Harvard University used to have an on-campus data centre ten years ago, but with the emergence of ever larger quantities of data to process, in 2012 the university was forced to team up with several Boston area universities, IT multinational Cisco Systems, and computer storage company EMC to create a high performance computing centre.

As an alternative to hardware-based network solutions, various educational institutions, such as Montana State University, have also begun to employ software-defined networking systems as a means to manage data. Furthermore, the issues associated with big data have also strained the existing infrastructure of universities down to the individual workstation level. Instruments at workstations are becoming unable to keep track of and store all of the data that they are acquiring. Consequently, universities have been forced to invest more money in updating existing equipment sooner than they would have done previously.

Never stop learning

In order to reap the tremendous benefits promised by blockchain and big data, those institutions still waiting to update their systems to align with the latest available technologies will have to be quick. As these technologies evolve and become more sophisticated, it is the early adopters that will be the beneficiaries of the tremendous returns they promise.

Few have the luxury to take a ‘wait and see’ approach. Being left behind could mean a detrimental knock to the institution’s reputation and ability to deliver first rate education.

About the author: 
Jeremy C Bradley is Executive Director at InterActive Pro and Edology.com

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