Blockchain Technology For eLearning At Time Of Pandemic Restrictions

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, online and distance learning has become incredibly popular all around the world. Some institutes have been prepared better than others for the transition to a fully online mode of teaching and learning. However, numerous technical and security challenges and issues relating to a learning management system (LMS) have surfaced.

Blockchain technology has been a global emerging phenomenon applicable to a high variety of subject fields including the education domain where it enables a trusted and secure online learning framework to ensure the required level of standard teaching and the fairness of evaluation. LMS (also referred to as e-learning platforms) provides tools for managing data on student registration, administration, performance, and course scheduling among others. A blockchain-enabled e-learning ecosystem can include features like learning behaviour recording, degree certificate verification, courseware resource preservation, transaction book tracking, and cross-institutional validation of academic credentials. For various important educational application scenarios, such as inter-institutional lifelong learning, inter-disciplinary education, and contemporary vocational training, these aspects can effectively aid in the development of an online education credit system.

Proof of achieving qualifications is normally given as certificates (physical or digital) to individuals by institutions after successful completion of their training. The audit organisations then verify these certifications and declare them to be “valid.” E-learning resources are available in a range of formats, including digital assets like movies, PDFs, slideshows, Word documents, etc., software applications like PC, tablet, or smartphone apps, and many interactive web platforms. The blockchain can be used to create a reliable verification process, while the entire ecosystem depends on trust.

Many educational institutions have turned to online learning during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Inevitably, some scholars have begun to question the efficacy of traditional education and learning systems in light of a potentially permanent shift to online learning, where in-person meetings are used just for limited purposes like supervision and practical sessions. Besides, many concerns about the security and privacy of conventional learning platforms have been raised by security professionals. Any security lapse on those systems could compromise important data (teaching resources and assets, grades, user personal data, etc.) or prevent authorised users from accessing them.

In fact, not all potential users have the security knowledge and education necessary to use the learning platforms in a safe setting, which is usually provided when students and staff are present on school property and connected to a secure network. The analysis of security issues in online learning platforms showed how important security is to maintain users’ confidence and acceptance in the online learning environment because any risk can significantly affect their perception of a system’s quality and dependability. Therefore, some prestigious universities now use blockchain technology for a variety of purposes. For instance, the MIT Media Lab has created Blockcerts, an open standard for creating and validating certificates. The State University of New York (SUNY) collects educational services from its affiliated institutions and constituent universities utilising peer-to-peer blockchain technology.

The integration of blockchain technology could bring the following advantages to the online education system:

  • All users have continuous, secure, and trustworthy access to online resources at any time and from any location;
  • Students’ achievements, grades, and transcripts are supported by a reliable, verifiable, and trustworthy data management structure. A framework built on the blockchain ensures that the data is kept unmodified. Blockchain technology stores and makes accessible, reliable, verifiable, and trustworthy students’ accomplishments and grades. This facilitates and expedites the hiring process and registration for other degrees. Besides, the incentive system encourages teachers to exert more effort and work harder;
  • Decentralized blockchain platforms enable quicker recovery in the event of an IT disaster (technological or natural causes);
  • Blockchain addresses also the majority of authentication concerns.

In order to benefit from such advantages, Sunway University is working towards developing and implementing a novel distance learning framework integrated with blockchain technology while addressing emergency scenarios where students and academics are compelled to stay at home if required. It gives students and academics direct access to courses and tests using the capabilities of blockchain’s secure open ledger. The functionality of the blockchain-enabled education system is to be further extended to include things like laboratory sessions, dissertation defences, and remote supervision and tutoring. The use of blockchain technology in education will lead to more open e-learning systems, reliable educational records, accurate educational evaluations, lifelong learning, enhanced professional academic development, better IP protection for educational digital resources, as well as more secure and connected educational governance.

By Dr Houshyar Honar Pajooh, Senior Lecturer, School of Engineering and Technology, Sunway University

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