Ever imagined having all your academic records, research details, work experiences, etc. all in your care like NFTs in your crypto wallets just sitting there? No, this is not a replacement for the physical papers you can interact with, but a digital footprint of your life’s work. If we can have our financial lives in our total control via blockchain technology, why not our academic and work life? This article focuses on why I believe the Avalanche platform is a lifebuoy to educational structures in terms of data privacy and security.
Malcolm X stated that Education is the passport to the future. Education has been the root of the world’s advancement. It has been the key that unlocked the great inventions we now enjoy today- the computer, internet, blockchain technology, and cryptocurrency all came from works of research. But there are some inherent challenges of the Higher Education system that seem insurmountable over the past few years.
Basic Data-Related Challenges in Higher Education Worldwide
Below are some data-related challenges that have plagued the higher institution of learning today:
Research Plagiarism and Record Frauds
Courtney Cullen from the International Center for Academic Integrity- ICAI reported, on August 11, 2020, few cases of contract cheating from people in power. These cases are centered on plagiarism. Students are not the only ones who cheat and plagiarise, even educators and researchers do so. There currently no transparent international system to check research topics and confirm their uniqueness. Great publishing websites can only do their best to vet research works but what about other publishers who are only concerned about traffic to their websites?
World Education News and Reviews (WENR) made some astounding revelations about multiple academic frauds worldwide in 2017. Some politicians of a particular country forged their academic certificates over the fear that they may be impeached if they do not have a University certificate. The problem becomes full-blown when there are needs to confirm the authenticity of a student from a foreign country. Communications between schools in different countries face the risk of data leakages and privacy breaches with hackers’ threats. Universities in most cases prefer physical delivery of students’ records via courier services because of the risks mentioned earlier.
Research Collaboration Barriers
Dr. Christopher Kuner, a professor of law and co-director at Brussels Privacy Hub in Belgium, on April 27, 2020, in an article revealed some basic barriers to cross-border data sharing especially during COVID-19 Pandemic. He reported that the situation of the pandemic has made data sharing between researchers in the health sector a necessity if the virus will be combated effectively. But the challenges are the security and privacy of these data. He concluded that no matter the regulations, data must be shared but must be protected while doing so. Earlier this year, nearly 25000 emails and passwords allegedly belonging to employees at Gate Foundation, WHO, and NIH were dumped online. Even though many may argue that it is good to reveal the “bad intentions” of those involved in relation to COVID-19, it still does not justify the course. What about other data that must have been compromised doing so? It reveals the need for effective data sharing with security and privacy at the center. Research collaborations are essentially hampered by these factors.
Data Interoperability and Digitization Levels in Higher Institutions
The use of different data handling packages has been identified by some researchers as the basic challenge of interoperability between institutions of learning in some countries. Centralized data centers have been suggested as a way out. But many universities still rely much on paper records as digitization is slow-paced for them.
Blockchain Technology and Education
This week, I reported a young boy of 11 years being recognized by the India Book of Record for completing and being certified as a Basic Blockchain Expert. It seems parents who know about Cryptocurrency are beginning to educate their children and families so they can have the edge above their peers. Just imagine knowing about cryptocurrency from an early age-old how awesome will that be?
In higher institutions of learning, we’ve seen blockchain breaking new frontiers. The tech has been added as a course in some departments. Many researchers have also contributed immensely to the growth of blockchain technology. We can see Professor Emin Gun Sirer, the founder of Avalabs, a researcher who has contributed in research to the growth of Bitcoin as far back as 2013. His profile contains many other research works and project works based on blockchain technology and cryptocurrency. It is no doubt that the Avalanche platform will be an academic favourable one.
Avalanche and Academics
Joseph Ferrara, an editor of Avalabs, on July 24 reported the conclusion of a 1.5-month-long University-focused hackathon (Avalaunch) to commemorate the launch of the platform. The event saw participants from over 30 universities build assets, infrastructure tools, and applications on Avalanche. Three winning works were chosen with one honorable mention. There are no hidden truths other than the fact that the Avalanche platform will be a very great tool in the hands of researchers.
From the Telegram Ask Me Anything (AMA) event held by Avalanche on July 24th, I asked:
A reply was given by Jay Kurahashi-Sofue VP of Marketing at Avalabs:
Can Avalanche be a Potential Rescue or Lifebuoy for the Problems listed above?
Blockchain technology has been instrumental in the privacy, security, and speed of remittance of financial data. The current boom in Decentralized Finance (DeFi) is owing to the reasons stated above. Avalanche has proven to be a platform that loves Academics. Its protocol can also be a potential lifesaver to the challenges listed above.
If you don’t know, get educated about the Avalanche platform here.
Subnets and Validating Nodes
Universities around the world can set themselves up on Avalanche as subnets and their top officers (heads of Departments and other data centers outside the campus for true decentralization) can be the validators in the subnet. Subnets on Avalanche are a conglomeration of validators who come together to reach consensus, create blockchains, and determine how the blockchain will behave. This sounds like a University set up. Heads of Departments can be validating nodes that come together to create an ecosystem of data for the university based on the existing laws.
Because data can be cumbersome and very hard to store directly on the blockchain, Interplanetary File System (IPFS) can be used to store data and its hashes (key to locating and unlocking files stored on IPFS) can be securely stored on the blockchain. With this, records, certificates, personal records, researches, etc. can be digitized and stored on the blockchain without hassle. Original owners of researches and records can easily be identified via this process, this will put an end to plagiarism to a great extent. Via decentralized tools (D’Apps), data can be shared securely with other professionals. Data will be validated or checked through validating nodes just like confirmation of transactions.
Since subnets determine how blockchains will operate, students and researchers can submit their research works like sending cryptos, it will go through the appropriate quarters and then confirmed to be added to publisher repositories (this may be slow unless checks are done off-chain and confirmed on-chain).
Each university can run its subnet according to their standards or governing laws.
Schools will not only be able to handle data in a smart way, but they can accept tuition fees and donations from students and philanthropists. This will greatly aid financial transparency and records.
Imagine being able to remit payments to your School via cryptos. Bye-bye errors, cross-border barriers, and delays.
The developers at Avalabs have been very cautious about blockchain security. In the last article, I reported the collaboration between Avalanche and Whiteblock a blockchain auditor. This week too, another partnership emerged between Avalanche and Quantstamp, another blockchain security firm to enhance the platform’s security. This can assure universities of the security of their data.
Avalanche X-Chain can be used to design a decentralized exchange platform for secure data, records, and research sharing with other subnets (research centers, universities, etc. all over the world). Since Avalanche reaches finality in a matter of seconds, data sharing will be instant. The security of data is assured by the decentralization of the blockchain. Trust and validation of information are guaranteed by the transparency and immutability of blockchain technology (in actual sense, trust is not needed because blockchain is a trustless network). Interoperability is assured.
The smart contract chain on Avalanche can be potentially instrumental when researchers collaborate to do research work. Since all footprints are recorded on an immutable ledger, there will never be a dispute on who did what.
Personal Record Ownership
With the set up explained above, it can be seen that Records, certificates, researches, etc. can become digital assets that can be held like tokens or NFT in a wallet. It will be possible for students to request their personal data from their schools and their records can be minted as tokens and sent to them via X-Chain and they can make payments via this channel too. Do not forget that in no way can digitization of these records replace physical records, but it will serve as an extra layer of proof and transparency to flush out fraudulent acts in the educational system. The blockchain technology will easily and quickly fish out frauds.
One important limiting factor to all these potential use cases is the existing law binding data sharing in different countries. Differences in law appear from countries to countries thus making it a lot harder to find a platform layer compliance with many blockchains today. But the design of the Avalanche platform supports network-level compliance. Subnets can easily impose a set of requirements for what kind of validator can join the network or what data can be shared on the network thus complying with the law.
Another point of call is the fact that some Universities are still struggling with digitization. This can slow the process of adoption down for a long period of time. And it can still be managed, how? By starting from somewhere because starting from somewhere is a great feat.
Blockchain Education at the Foundation is a Must
If blockchain technology will become an important aspect of our lives then it must become a curriculum in all levels of education, especially at the foundations. Educators must arise from blockchain enthusiasts to design books that incorporate the technology into the educational materials for children. The Avalanche Hub (Advocacy Program) is like a starting point that the platform has built into its structure to recruit and incentivize educators to enlighten the world about the platform. You can also join the trail here. Blockchains and researchers must take this seriously else we might be seeing a generation where blockchain technology becomes alien.
In The Series…
Enjoyed this piece? I have made other articles revealing my thoughts and discoveries on the Avalanche platform, you can find those articles here. The articles reported some of the potential use cases of Avalanche both digitally and in the real world. I also took the time to explain the concept of the Avalanche validation model in simple terms with illustrations everyone can relate with. Make sure to read them, you will enjoy them.