As we are in the midst of the worst crypto bear market in several years (it’s normal, relax), the get-rich quick-types have exited the field to find another scheme while the builders are still here weathering the storm. These times may be tough and stressful for some, but it’s a good time to talk about ideas without having $$$ be at the center of the conversation.
We hear the buzz phrases all the time such as “crypto is going to change the world” or “blockchain can be used for anything such as (insert random field here)” but we are still some time away from mass adoption. So allow me to interject my own thoughts about the topic of higher education and how blockchain, when properly utilized, can greatly reform the institution.
For some time, higher education has been the target of criticism without many solutions. Tuition has increased significantly, disturbingly outpacing inflation, which has caused millions of students to take out loans in order to fund their education. By the time they get out, they are shackled to their debt and in total, 44 million borrowers in the United States owe collectively $1.5 trillion in student loans. That’s a little over 1 in 7 people that are not only burdened with debt so early in their lives but will have trouble contributing to the economy in the future. It shouldn’t be a surprise that what was seemingly in reach a few decades ago such as home ownership, new business entrepreneurship, family-building and more are now down significantly. Ironically, pushing the meme that everyone should go to college for a better life, regardless if one can afford it, has created a modern class of indentured servants who will be stressing more about paying off debt than motivated to create solutions for it.
And when we go to college, what are we paying for exactly? We are paying for the credits and we are paying for the social experience. If we truly wanted to learn something, we could all just Google it or take an online class, and with edX and Khan Academy around, we could teach ourselves almost anything. If you notice with these online education programs, they only charge for one class at a time. From this idea, I will create my hypothetical dream education blockchain.
Proposal: The Decentral Academy
Introducing the Decentral Academy System,or DAS for short. How it would work is that an interested student would acquire DAS tokens and can use them to pick classes to enlist in. In order to enroll, the student must stake their DAS tokens (stake means to permanently lock up tokens for an extended period of time in order to perform actions in a token ecosystem) and then will be allowed to participate. At the end of the session, the students will be split up into thirds that are either rewarded DAS tokens, refunded their initial amount or slashed (meaning DAS tokens are locked up for a longer period of time) based on academic performance. Instructors who teach the class are either receive a base compensation of tokens for their efforts or earn a bonus based on their teaching performance, which is judged by the students. DAS Classes can be taught either online, in-person, and/or both based on instructor preference, and as DAS scales, an ecosystem of services will be built around it offers services such as tutoring, advice, study tools, and more.
Using DAS tokens, students and instructors would be able to vote on the curriculum of each given program. For example, if enough people want to have a degree in blockchain, they can vote on approving the program as well as the classes required for it. This idea isn’t unfounded. At UMass Amherst, there is a degree program called Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration (BDIC for short) that allows students to design their own major. The program has been around since 1968 and example concentrations have included The Art of Persuasion, Dance Therapy & Early Childhood Development, and Neuroeconomics.
This voting mechanism of DAS will allow for the dynamic evolution of classes and for the curriculum to adjust with the present needs rather than dwell on outdated topics that most modern universities unfortunately fall into. Outside of the educational aspect, students and instructors can vote on the economic mechanisms that drive the network such as inflation rate, burning parameters, etc.
Grades in the Decentral Academy are recorded on the blockchain showing immutable evidence of completion and are meant to be an equivalent to college credits. The credits earned in theory can be used to transfer to one’s traditional education and/or used to earn a degree in a given area of study approved by the DAS network. In addition, a methodology can be used to rank the prestige of classes based on the past grades of students, reviews of instructors, and additional feedback about the class subject which will provide context to interested students and instructors.
How does this compare to the current system now? Well today, students pay tens of thousands of dollars for their classes; it doesn’t matter if they receive an A+ or an F. In the Decentral Academy, in the best case scenario is that students earn tokens for good grades and the worst case is that they won’t be able to access their tokens for a longer period of time. The case is slightly different for instructors, with them either earn a bonus or merely obtain minimum compensation.
I will admit, I was influenced by my time at Everipedia and observing the IQ Network’s token economics when theorizing about DAS. As someone who contributes to Everipedia every day, it still doesn’t cease to amaze me that I am working with a live blockchain product and caused me to realize that decentralized applications will only seep more into our lives. It is up to us, the users, to how those blockchains are governed and operate, no matter if they are a university, an encyclopedia, or anything else.
DAS will make education run more efficiently by directly connecting students with instructors and cutting out administrators who more often than not have a symbiotic but parasitic relationship with government/private loans that have driven up the cost of education the past several decades. With higher education debt reaching a tipping point, it’s time to consider options on how to revolutionize the current system. DAS offers an interesting solution using a new technology. And with millions of graduates in debt and millions more ready to be shackled in the pipeline, what do we really have to lose?