Home / Technology Policy & Ethics / July 2020 / How Blockchain Solutions can Improve the Education Sector

How Blockchain Solutions can Improve the Education Sector

Bryan Fortriede, Lindsey Neeley, and Jake Skinner — Ball State University

July 2020

Abstract

Starting with identity management and the “laws of identity” [1] this article will discuss the current challenges and requirements imposed upon students in the education sector today. Building upon identity and record-keeping on a blockchain, the access granted to requesting entities is defined within access security. An exploration of the challenges and benefits by implementing blockchain and identity management with access security will highlight areas where complicated processes can be simplified with the use of blockchain technology. The summary below will detail how blockchain and identity management can be implemented to simplify and improve the current procedures that exist today.
Keywords: blockchain, identity access, security, authority, education

How Blockchain Will Impact the Education Sector

There are efforts by many organizations to implement blockchain for the use with private records. A blockchain is decentralized, tamperproof database that secures verifiable records in the form of a ledger transaction for every submission, from anywhere. Each record contains a timestamped, globally unique identifier created from the length of the block (a hash) and links to the previous record hash. Data held on the individual will be owned by the individual as the highest link in a chain of custody. The ability to verify legitimate records or their authenticity depends on a need for trusted authoritative entities. The request for information to complete a transaction would be granted by the individual with the implementation of blockchain technology.

Applications such as uPort ID seek to wrest control of personal data from major corporations and governments, as well as to provide privacy protections to individuals [2]. The ability to use this kind of built-in authenticity for the education sector will change how we view traditional school record keeping practices today and efficiently cease manmade errors that often occur.

How Identity Management Affects the Blockchain

When applying to college, the identity provider for the school will maintain a blockchain granting access to campus facilities. In exchange the applicant must share pertinent information by granting the institution access to prior school records, tax forms, and validated identity with the government authoritative body, which can vouch, on the applicant’s behalf, that they are who they say they are. Both, the college, as an identity provider creating the student’s enrollment identity, and the student own pieces of the access that both parties will cooperate with while engaged in educational transactions. But note, none of the actual data about the student needs to live on the school network. Instead, it is written to transactions available to the university and the student who place a claim on the records. This is just a depiction of what could be future options available with the help of identity access management. Due to the complexity of receiving student information from multiple sources and the overlap that can occur between there is still much to be resolved [3].

How Authoritative Entities Build Trust in Education

What are authoritative entities and how can they process claims to write specific transactions that belong to an individual? Authoritative entities are the establishment of trust between an organization and its members. A school student receives an identity, composed of a numeric identifier, email address, access to facilities, and a database record. The student provides personal data including financial, proof of residency and proof of identity records, which in turn earns him or her the privilege of attendance at the school. Proof of residency and identity are validated from another authoritative entity, the state or federal government. In order to obtain a state identity, the applicant must prove residency, provide a certificate of birth, and obtain a record identity from the federal government’s social security database.

How Access Security Protects Student Data

An individual should take care to make sure access to specific information requested is necessary to complete a transaction and that the entity to which they provide the information is trustworthy. There is a need for an application that can reside on a mobile device to assist in the ability to analyze transaction requests. Much in the way cryptocurrency provides a mobile application wallet, requests will be presented on the mobile application and provide an interface that upholds the laws of identity, by notifying the student that the request for information consists of several ledger records. Access to each record should be regulated by access policies contained in the metadata of the record. Any requests for information that is not pertinent to the transaction should be very noticeable with some form of explanation to why this ancillary request is preferred.

Data Issues in the Education Sector

Higher education institutions store a variety of sensitive data for students, faculty, and staff [4.] Hackers may choose infiltrate educational systems instead of financial or healthcare systems due to lower levels of security. This increases the need for tighter security around the validation and storage of an individual’s identity and personal identifiable information [5]. Headlines for data breaches typically focus on the financial or healthcare systems but third on the list is the education sector, consisting of 13% of all data breaches in 2017. Hacked information relating to minors is gathered and stored until individuals become adults and then used to create fraudulent educational records with which to access benefits only available to students [6].

Credential fraud is also a concern for higher education. Individuals attempt to modify or recreate educational documents to alter courses or grades, falsify enrollment, or claim degrees that they did not earn [9]. While there are some processes in place to catch and verify this information, they are not effective. Another issue is gathering, storing, and the transfer of educational records. These records exist in a variety of media, including paper, microfilm, and various digital formats. Educational records must be kept for a long time, easily accessed, and in a consistent format across multiple institutions.

Blockchain provides a method that institutions could capitalize on to address these data needs. Beginning with information provided by an applicant to a university, this information could be transferred from existing blockchain records owned by the applicant. Personal information is easily transferred with blockchain in a secure and verified process, greatly reducing the risk of
fraud. The access security allows the applicant to control the transmission of data, permitting the university only to see what pieces of data are relevant and pertinent to the application.

There are some current ventures for utilizing blockchain in the education sector. Disciplina is the first platform to use this solely for education and recruiting [7]. The problem is that institutions must buy-in to the blockchain technology. If there are not enough participants on the network, it may not obtain viability [8].

Another related work to blockchain in the education sector is Blockcerts. The MIT Media Lab has worked with a company called Learning Machine to provide an open infrastructure to create, issue, view, and verify blockchain-based certificates [9]. These records would exist in a “Blockcerts Wallet”. Students could virtually receive and disseminate their diplomas and other certificates by use of their smart devices [10].

While there are current attempts to bring blockchain into the education sector to store and maintain information about students’ personal identifiable information, and educational records, there are no overarching attempts. There are many challenges to reaching this goal, including agreed upon schemas and formats, buy-in to the system, and building of transaction ledger meshed networks. Administrators handling admissions and transfers would benefit from the ease of transferring records and eligible credits with the added benefit of security and authenticity.

Conclusion

As expressed in this article, the benefits of blockchain technology accompanied by identity management and access security applications will serve as an instrumental improvement to the education sector by allowing individuals to control the access of their private information in a decentralized ledger system. Additionally, by implementing blockchain into the education sector

the ease in transactions and the improved security will continue to attract many organizations from all sectors to make transactions more efficient.

References 

  1. K. Cameron, The Laws of Identity. Microsoft Corporation. (2005, November 5). [Online]. Available: https://www.identityblog.com/stories/2005/05/13/TheLawsOfIdentity.pdf. [Accessed Nov. 3, 2019].
  2. ConsenSys. uPort: The Wallet is the New Browser. ConsenSys Media. (2015). [Online]. Available: https://media.consensys.net/uport-the-wallet-is-the-new-browser- b133a83fe73. [Accessed 4 Apr. 4, 2018].
  3. Johnston, C. (2016, August 24). Unique Identity Management Challenges in the Education Industry. Retrieved from https://www.onelogin.com/blog/identity-access- management-challenges-education-industry[4] M. Spivak, T. Ey, & L. L. V. Riley, Data Breaches and Educational Institutions. National Law Review. (Jul. 18, 2019). [Online]. Available: https://www.natlawreview.com/article/data-breaches-and- educational-institutions. [Accessed Nov. 4 2019].
  4. T. Coffman, J. Lancaster, K. Ronay, C. Van Pelt, K. Tzvetanov, Panel: Information Security Panel. University Outreach “Building the Internet of Tomorrow.” Panel discussion conducted at the meeting of the North American Network Operators Group, Muncie, IN. (Nov. 2019).
  5. R. Ayers, How Will Blockchain Transform the Education System?. Dataconomy. (Jan. 31, 2019). [Online] Available:%20https://dataconomy.com/2019/01/how-will- blockchain-transform-the-education-system. [Accessed Nov. 7, 2019]
  6. P. Tasca, Education. IEEE Standards University. (Jun. 10, 2019). [Online]. Available: https://www.standardsuniversity.org/e-magazine/may-2019-volume-9-issue-1- blockchain-standards/education/. [Accessed Aug 28, 2019].
  7. O.A. Naumova, I.A. Svetkina, and D. V. Naumov, “The Main Limitations of Applying Blockchain Technology in the Field of Education,” 2019 International Science and Technology Conference “EastConf”, Vladivostok, Russia, 2019, pp. 1-4. doi: 10.1109/EastConf.2019.8725411. (2019).
  8. T. V. Ark, 20 Ways Blockchain Will Transform (Okay, May Improve) Education. Forbes. (Aug. 20, 208). [Online]. Available: https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomvanderark/2018/08/20/26-ways-blockchain-will- transform-ok-may-improve-education/#3ff8b8414ac9. [Accessed: Aug. 17, 2019].
  9. [10] E. Bessa, & J. Martins, “A Blockchain-based Educational Record Repository” in ILLUSTRATED TECHNICAL PAPER, pp. 1-8, doi:10.5281/zenodo.3236878. (2019).

Jake Skinner is Senior DevOps Engineer and Team Lead at KAR Global automating software delivery In Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. Prior to Working With KAR Global, Jake worked with Ontario Systems as a Senior Network and Cloud Architect designing high capacity call center solutions.

Jake received his undergraduate degree from Ball State University. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree through the Center for Information and Communications Sciences from there, as well. His topics of interest include reactive automated technologies, predictive scaling through machine learning, and anomaly detection through artificial intelligence for enhanced security solutions.

Bryan Fortriede is an Information Specialist at Ball State University where he manages the Enrollment Systems Technology and Reporting department. He has worked at Ball State for eight years. During this time, he has developed new diploma and transcript solutions, improved data automation, and initiated new system and integration.

Bryan received his undergraduate degree from Ball State University. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Information and Communications Sciences there as well. His topics of interest include artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data analysis.

He is scheduled to present at the 2020 Information and Telecommunications Education and Research Association (ITERA) conference as well as multiple international conferences, including Ellucian and Evisions. He has also conducted online webinars and written as a guest blogger for Evisions. Last October, Bryan was named customer of the month by Evisions.

Lindsey Neeley is a Muncie native and a Ball State graduate. Since 2015, Lindsey has been an employee at Ball State University. She has also served as the Hospitality Chair for Ball State’s Staff Council. Lindsey is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Information and Communication Sciences (expected graduation is December 2020). Her research interest is in user design interfaces and technology development for online businesses. Her most recent research project which was a collaboration with this article’s co-authors was accepted into the 2020 ITERA Conference paper competition.

Editor:

Dr. Rasheed Hussain received his B.S. Engineering degree in Computer Software Engineering from University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar, Pakistan in 2007, MS and PhD degrees in Computer Science and Engineering from Hanyang University, South Korea in 2010 and 2015, respectively. He worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Hanyang University, South Korea from March 2015 to August 2015. He also worked as a guest researcher and consultant at University of Amsterdam (UvA), The Netherlands from September 2015 till May 2016 amd as Assistant Professor at Innopolis University, Innopolis, Russia from June 2016 till December 2018. Currently he is an Associate Professor and head of the MS program in Secure System and Network Engineering (SNE) at Innopolis University, Russia. He is also the Director of Networks and Blockchain Lab at Innopolis University, Russia. He serves as ACM Distinguished Speaker.

Dr. Hussain is a senior member of IEEE and serves as editorial board member for various journals including IEEE Access, IEEE Internet Initiative, Internet Technology Letters, Wiley, and serves as reviewer for most of the IEEE transactions, Springer and Elsevier Journals. He also serves as technical program committee member of various conferences such as IEEE VTC, IEEE VNC, IEEE Globecom, IEEE ICCVE, and so on. He is a certified trainer for Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW). His research interests include Information Security and Privacy and particularly security and privacy issues in Vehicular Ad Hoc NETworks (VANETs), vehicular clouds, and vehicular social networking, applied cryptography, Internet of Things, Content-Centric Networking (CCN), cloud computing, and blockchain. Currently he is working on carpooling, blockchain technologies for resource-constrained environments, Machine Learning (ML)-based security and API security.