Blockchain Technology: Redefining Makerspaces

Some of my most innovative practices have come out of riding the exponential wave and being aware of bleeding edge big ideas, trends and things on the horizon in the world.  Working backwards from there, I have been able to ride those waves and shape those things to create amazing opportunities for my students. In recent days, I have become more and more interested in something called 'The Blockchain'.

At first glance, it might seem that something with roots in the financial sector might not be of immediate value for those of us in K-12 education.  However, some things I read about the blockchain include that:

Points such as these simply could not be ignored and caused me to begin to research possible applications to education, despite being a technology with roots in the financial sector. What I discovered, was that although the blockchain in education is still in its infancy stages, people had already begun talking and writing about the ways this technology could be used in education.  My own work in digital badging led to the discovery that the possibillities of badging and blockchain is something already under exploration. Perhaps most significant, was the recent announcement by Sony Global Education that they have developed blockchain technology for the education system. Their efforts include hassle-free education certification, developing a testing platform powered by blockchain, and using blockchain for open sharing of academic proficiency and progress reports.

So what is Blockchain? Blockchain technology was invented in 2008 to create a digital currency called Bitcoin.  Perhaps the most basic definition of Blockchain is this one, written by Audrey Watters and found in a recent Blockchain blog post of hers.  In that post, she describes the blockchain as a distributed, digital ledger.  She goes on to give a more in depth definition: 

The blockchain is a distributed database that provides an unalterable, (semi-)public record of digital transactions. Each block aggregates a timestamped batch of transactions to be included in the ledger – or rather, in the blockchain. Each block is identified by a cryptographic signature. These blocks are all back-linked; that is, they refer to the signature of the previous block in the chain, and that chain can be traced all the way back to the very first block created. As such, the blockchain contains an un-editable record of all the transactions made.

Understand it yet?  If you are saying no, don't worry.  You are not alone.  Despite so much being written about the blockchain, the consensus seems to be that most are still trying to wrap their brains around this technology, while at the same time, unwrapping its potential.There are those who say that the blockchain has the potential to disrupt everything, and that includes education, so it is important we pay attention.

My own personal fascination with blockchain technology lies in its potential for makerspaces and its role in the Maker Movement.  The blockchain by nature is decentralized (peer-to-peer), distributed and open-source…the blueprint for makerspaces.  Makerspaces both in and out of schools are about decentralizing and widening-access. This includes not only access to the spaces themselves, but also to equipment and resources.  I have written before about he potential of Open Educational Resources (OER) in a makerspace.  Blockchain technology could further open up access and use of resources, making our educational system that much more open and flexible. 

Within schools, giving students credit for the skills they gain in a makerspace is always a challenge.  The blockchain offers a real possiblity for managing and processing these types of credentials. Outside of school, no standard exists for certification or credentialing in a makerspace.  You might be certified to use a tool in one makerspace, but walk into another and not be able to use that same tool there. Blockchain technology can help streamline and create a new standard for these types of certifications.

Equity is an important issue in regards to makerspaces both in schools and in communities.  All too often, these spaces are too costly for people to create or participate in.  Blockchain technology could be the infrastructure of the future which could create a global, distributed architecture for the future of makerspaces.

The Industrial Revolution gave way to a Knowledge Revolution and therefore a shift to a Knowledge Economy.  That Knowledge Economy is shape-shifting and the Maker Movement is central to that shift.  We are moving on from the dissemination, synthesis and understanding of knowledge, to universalizing the 'making' of knowledge, i.e. Knowledge Construction.  This is giving us a global revolution of people who are driving innovation across all industries.  At the heart of this movment are sharing and collaboration.  The blockchain offers a cheap, shared resources that could distribute making, creating a true Sharing Economy, spurred by the Maker Movement.

The potential applications for Blockchain extend beyond finance and into almost limitless realms.  We are just beginning to understand the distruptive potential of this new, innovative technology.  My new passion project is to research and examine how the blockchain can be harnessed to leverage makerspaces and benefit all makers.  

Please follow me at @BlockchainMM, to join the conversation.