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US Education Department promotes putting student records on blockchain



The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed flaws across various sectors. As a result, a number of government departments are evaluating blockchain-based systems as possible solutions for challenges involving multiparty workflows, record-keeping, transparency and more. 

For example, the United States Department of Education recently provided funding for the launch of the “Education Blockchain Initiative.” Referred to as the EBI, this project is led by the American Council on Education — an organization that helps the higher education community shape effective public policy — and is designed to identify ways that blockchain can improve data flow between academic institutions and potential employers.

Determined to seek out new technology solutions, ACE announced the “Blockchain Innovation Challenge” at the end of 2020 to find projects capable of reinventing the U.S. education and employment ecosystem. The challenge specifically focused on helping underserved populations that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.

Louis Soares, chief learning and innovation officer of ACE, told Cointelegraph that as a whole, the higher education sector has been impacted financially by the economic downturn. This has resulted in a decline in student enrollments, placing even more pressure on educational budgets that now require a digital approach:

“Higher education is learning to operate in a new technology-enabled environment. We must explore different ways of creating connections between education and work. This includes finding new approaches to credentialing (and hiring) that leverage the potential of emerging technologies to improve communication among education and training organizations.”

Blockchain gives students control over their credentials

According to Soares, blockchain technology can help empower students by providing them with control over their educational records like degrees and transcripts. This is especially important for allowing seamless transitions to occur when a student transfers schools, or for those who are seeking employment and need to show credentials.

A document from the Education Department states that educational records are generally located at the school a student attends or has attended. It further notes that if a student has transferred schools, those records “may” transfer with the student, but some “may” remain at the school. As such, there are a number of challenges present for students who must obtain their personal records.

The Blockchain Innovation Challenge devoted $900,000 to help solve this problem and announced four Phase 1 winners on Feb. 11. According to Soares, the winning teams — from Arizona, Nebraska, Texas and Utah — showed potential for using blockchain and distributed ledger technology to streamline the sharing of educational records.

For example, one of the winning teams was the UnBlockEd project, which leverages a blockchain-based system to address inequitable transfer credit recognition issues. The project is led by the University of Arizona and the Georgia Institute of Technology, along with various technology providers and academic institutions.

Greg Heileman, vice provost for undergraduate education at the University of Arizona, told Cointelegraph that UnBlockEd empowers students by giving them self-sovereignty over their learning records. Heileman noted that this is achieved through a decentralized identity management system that allows students to control who has access to their learning records, or transcripts:

“We are working to build out a minimally viable product (MVP) that will clearly demonstrate the feasibility of our approach. This MVP will demonstrate how a student in a degree program at any college/university in the State of Kentucky can efficiently transfer to any other program at any other college/university in the state.”

Specifically, Heileman explained that a “degree roadmap” will be constructed to show students how to transfer their prior credits to those in the receiving program. To ensure this, UnBlockEd leverages Fluree, a decentralized data platform that stores secure, verified, reusable data.

Brian Platz, co-CEO of Fluree, told Cointelegraph that Fluree allows for data to be held privately by individuals, yet it also lets other parties view that information. As such, different groups can issue credentials, while those receiving the information can verify the data is accurate:

“This solves the data reusability problem. We use a private blockchain to tokenize data and validate a series of rules that guarantees information adheres to those rules. This is like a smart contract, but heavily data oriented.”

Blockchain solves data transfer inefficiencies

The solution being built by UnBlockEd is extremely important for a number of reasons. For instance, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office, students will on average lose the equivalent of one semester of course work with each transfer.

Heileman further shared that out of 23 million students in higher education, about 35% of them will transfer at least once, and 11% will do it twice during their academic career. He also pointed out that community colleges are disproportionately functioning as a primary entry point for students from historically underrepresented ethnic groups and low-income families. “To put it mildly, transfer articulation is a structural inequity in higher education. Our hope is that the UnBlockEd project will reduce the extent of this inequity,” Heileman commented.

Another winning project came from Texas Woman’s University. This initiative aims to establish a consortium of institutions throughout the North Texas region via a shared credentialing platform. The platform would allow students to store and send their educational records to colleges and employers across North Texas.

Fluree also helped power the Lifelong Learner Project, which aims to develop a digital wallet for teachers to store and access their credentials, certifications and learning resources. This aims to enable teachers to share these verifiable credentials with entities such as state licensing systems, human resources departments and learning management systems.

Implementing is the next step

While each of these projects takes an innovative approach to solving challenges related to educational data sharing, implementing these initiatives will likely take some time.

For instance, Platz explained that there is a supply-and-demand side when it comes to blockchain-based projects. He pointed out that while universities and educational groups can issue students digital credentials, employers are not yet requesting them: “We are still building ecosystems around this involving education and government standards.”

Fortunately, Platz noted that the new administration of President Joe Biden shows potential for implementing new technology standards focused on blockchain and other emerging technologies that can provide benefits. It’s also encouraging to see that other countries have started to store educational certificates and records on blockchain networks.

Matla, for example, was one of the first countries to announce that all educational certificates will be kept on a blockchain. Furthermore, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, created a pilot program in 2017 to issue blockchain-based digital certificates to graduates. While this may be, an MIT Media Lab blog post explaining lessons learned from the project noted that an important takeaway has been that blockchain is a complicated technology and that there are still very few people who understand it.

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Black Americans are changing the face of crypto and blockchain through education




Despite there still being work to be done to further diversify the crypto space, many believe the blockchain sector is generally more diverse than other tech industries. This could be because cryptocurrency boasts financial inclusion and the democratization of global economics, attracting a wide variety of people from various nationalities, ethnicities, genders, etc., from around the world.

Among this diverse group of participants, Black American founders and thought leaders, in particular, have helped advance the blockchain and crypto sector. While a number of these individuals have founded blockchain companies or venture capital funds, many have also placed a large emphasis on an important, yet often overlooked, element: education.

Educating the public on blockchain and crypto

Isaiah Jackson, author of Bitcoin & Black America and host of The Gentlemen of Crypto podcast, told Cointelegraph that education and awareness are bringing more Black Americans into the crypto and blockchain space:

“We have a number of amazing Black people working in the Bitcoin and crypto industry, but many people remain unaware,” he said, adding further: “These individuals are doing their part to provide books, resources, and guides to the Black American community.”

Specifically, Jackson explained that he wrote Bitcoin & Black America as a source for those in his community wanting to better understand how Bitcoin (BTC) could be used as a tool for financial freedom:

“Years of exclusion and discrimination in the current financial system have affected the black community, so I wanted to share information about a new financial system that was built for everyone. You can burn down Black Wall Street, but you can’t burn down Bitcoin. Black people have an opportunity to help build a new digital monetary system that can help change our outlook for generations.”

Jackson also mentioned that the popular social media app Clubhouse has served as a great outlet for educating others. Jackson helped form the “Black Bitcoin Billionaires” group, which currently has over 24,000 members.

Lamar Wilson, a software developer and entrepreneur, also helped found Black Bitcoin Billionaires. Wilson told Cointelegraph that they are using Clubhouse specifically to educate others in African American communities about cryptocurrency:

“After all the years of being involved in cryptocurrency as an African American, I still haven’t seen many African Americans at events or conferences. Clubhouse has allowed us to create a club to directly influence and educate these people about cryptocurrency.”

In turn, both Wilson and Jackson are using the group to educate those who may not have access to other resources about Bitcoin, crypto and blockchain. “To bring more Black Americans into the space we have to continue to educate. The only challenge we need to overcome is education. Bitcoin is not something to be believed, but rather it’s something to be understood,” Wilson remarked.

Tavonia Evans, founder and CEO of Guapcoin (GUAP) — a cryptocurrency that addresses financial and economic concerns for members of the African diaspora — told Cointelegraph that she also uses platforms like Clubhouse to help educate people with limited access:

“It’s important that we educate those with little access because a lack of education denies them the tools to make empowered decisions that could be beneficial in the long run.”

In addition, Evans regularly speaks at schools and conducts webinars for those who are new and interested in learning about cryptocurrency. According to Evans, more Black Americans will become involved in the crypto and blockchain space as a result of Black voices being amplified.

Black American celebrities educating the community

Fortunately, to Evans’ point, a number of Black American celebrities have begun using their influence to educate the public on the potential of blockchain and cryptocurrency.

For example, American singer and entrepreneur Akon publicly announced plans to build a blockchain-focused city in the West African nation of Senegal. Known as “Akon City,” this development is expected to be completed by the year 2030 and will offer tools for residents to utilize crypto in everyday life, while promoting adoption. Akon also created the Akoin (AKN) cryptocurrency, which is now ready for full deployment in the Mwale Medical and Technology City complex in Kenya.

Shawn Mims, also known as “Mims,” is an American rapper, songwriter and record executive who is innovating in the blockchain space as well. Mims told Cointelegraph that he was first introduced to blockchain after winning a TechCrunch Disrupt competition in 2017 for a music technology app called Cre8tor. It was during this time that Mims understood the potential of leveraging blockchain to provide artists with better transparency for royalties, copywriting and more.

Mims shared that he is now focused on building awareness of blockchain within the music community. In order to do so, he is building a utility token powered by Ethereum that would allow for royalty transparency while providing fans with rewards for sharing content. “The name of my token is ‘Tune.’ My business partners Erik Mendelson and Winston ‘Blackout’ Thomas and I are working on integrating the technology within the Cre8tor app,” he said.

In addition to influential individuals like Akon and Mims, the American venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz helped create the a16z Cultural Leadership Fund to advance Black Americans in technology. The fund was raised by Chris Lyons, a managing partner of Andreessen Horowitz, and consists of cultural leaders including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Quincy Jones and others. Most recently, a16z hosted a Clubhouse conversation around cryptocurrency and blockchain to educate the public.

Is the blockchain space diverse enough?

Although the blockchain space is diversifying, it’s important to distinguish between diversification from a cryptocurrency perspective and from a technology standpoint. For instance, Mims pointed out that the blockchain space consists of many different sectors. As such, he believes that many Black Americans have taken an interest in crypto investments.

However, Mims noted that he would like to see more Black Americans involved with building out the technology needed to support digital assets. “More chief technology officers, coders and chief executive officers in technology” are what is needed moving forward, according to him.

Marcus Wardlow, blockchain and product strategy manager at JPMorgan Chase, told Cointelegraph that while he has seen several Black voices emerge in the space, the technology sector itself is still very much white and male. As such, Wardlow hopes the blockchain technology space, in particular, continues to evolve with a diverse set of founders, thought leaders and technologists.

In order to ensure this, Wardlow mentioned that Black technologists should be inclusive to those who are of different ethnic and racial backgrounds and include women who are often underrepresented in the tech space.

This is still apparent today, as recent statistics show that women make up about 19% of entry-level and mid-level positions in the tech industry. Only about 16% of senior-level roles are held by women, while that figure is just 10% for executive positions.

Fortunately, a number of Black American women in the blockchain sector aim to encourage more females to become involved. For example, Alexis Johnson, founder and president of Light Node Media — a public relations and events company — told Cointelegraph that she has always felt like a unicorn as a Black woman in blockchain. “But this will all soon change as people start to become more educated and less intimidated,” said Johnson.

In order to promote education, Johnson founded the Johns Hopkins Blockchain and Fintech Network in 2019. She noted that this initiative was created for pioneers, purveyors and innovators in the blockchain and fintech industries looking to learn from others via information sharing, job forums and additional resources.

Carrier Eldridge, founder and CEO of ATO Gallery — a fine art gallery that leverages blockchain for transparency — is also ensuring that Black women have a seat at the table. Eldridge told Cointelegraph that she has not faced discrimination as a Black woman in the blockchain space. 

In fact, Eldridge noted that her experience has been the contrary, noting that she has always been welcomed with open arms at various blockchain events around the world. However, Eldridge did mention that she has faced significant hurdles in terms of raising additional funding rounds:

“As a Black woman, I feel that I don’t have the same access to funding. The challenges I have faced boil down to the same that all Black entrepreneurs in technology face. It’s an alarming fact that through 2021 only 1 percent of VC funding went to Black people, with 0.2 percent going to Black women.”

According to Eldridge, she started ATO Gallery to create inclusion for all artists to have access to a broader spectrum of collectors, museums and patrons. Yet, over time, she has learned that in order to grow the company, she must overcome a similar problem that many Black Americans continue to face.

Community remains positive despite challenges

Challenges aside, many Black Americans involved in the blockchain and cryptocurrency sector remain hopeful when it comes to inclusion.

For instance, Sherrard Harrington, co-founder and president of EonXI — a venture fund and startup studio — told Cointelegraph that the space is generally open to inclusion because the primary goal is democratization, which is a core pillar of diversity and inclusion. “This carves out a path for industry leaders in blockchain to solve unique problems that impact people from all walks of life — not just the majority,” he remarked.

Wilson further noted that the Bitcoin space is diverse because the cryptocurrency helps people everywhere in the world. In terms of inclusion, Wilson explained that this shouldn’t matter. “Bitcoin doesn’t care about race. This is the reason why we are focused on making sure those that have been excluded are now included,” he said.

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Inside the blockchain developer’s mind: Koinos approaches testnet




Cointelegraph is following the development of an entirely new blockchain from inception to mainnet and beyond through its series, Inside the Blockchain Developer’s Mind. In Part Four, Andrew Levine of Koinos Group discusses some of the challenges the team has faced since identifying the key issues they intend to solve.

Earlier in this series I outlined three of the “crises” that are holding back blockchain adoption; upgradeability, scalability, and governance.

In this post I will summarize the solutions we’ve developed to these problems, which we will be showcasing in the upcoming Koinos testnet planned for the second quarter of 2021.

Since that series Koinos Group has successfully launched a token, KOIN, as a proof of work mineable token on Ethereum. By using proof of work to distribute the initial token supply we were able make the token accessible to early adopters and forgo an ICO.

Assessing the ICO model

ICOs and similar token sale tools, while not without their use cases, have created their own crisis within the space by misaligning incentives before development even begins. The issue is not with the ICO as a tool, but what happens when a team is financially rewarded before they have even shipped a product.

While so many projects have followed in the footsteps of Bitcoin, it’s surprising how few have replicated arguably the most successful aspect of its launch; a token distribution exclusively through proof of work.

The benefit of this approach is that it ensures with algorithmic certainty that the people behind the blockchain have no advantage in acquiring the token. In short, everyone, no matter who they are, has to make a financial sacrifice in order to acquire that token and the scale of that sacrifice is determined by some neutral third party. In the case of proof of work, that neutral third party is the manufacturer of hardware.

For Koinos Group, that means we had to spend money to acquire our token just like everyone else. In fact, because we have to spend most of our time developing the product, we are even at a disadvantage relative to professional miners. So we have to keep working to add value to the protocol if we’d like to get a return on our investment.

Proof of work algorithms are not without their problems, but we mitigated those in a few ways.

  • First, the mainnet will be governed by a totally different consensus algorithm that won’t be proof of work or proof of stake, so any attempt to develop an ASIC would be a waste of resources.
  • Second, we made the algorithm GPU resistant.
  • Third, we released this token long before releasing our mainnet. In fact, we released the token long before we had even completed development of our framework. Without a functional product, this token becomes a way for people who believe in our team and who share our vision for a fee-less smart contract platform to acquire the token at a reasonable cost.

Rapid rate of improvement

Part of what makes this launch strategy work is the innovative property set of Koinos. We built Koinos totally from scratch, not around any single feature like transactions per second or sharding, but with the goal of creating a blockchain that would improve at a much more rapid rate than any other blockchain out there.

In our experience developing the Steem blockchain, the need to execute hard forks was the single biggest factor holding back progress. If we wanted to eliminate that bottleneck, we reasoned, moving as much of the system code as possible into smart contracts that could be upgraded in-band would do the trick.

That’s why the Koinos blockchain framework contains only the most basic blockchain features (called “thunks”) like contract input/input, getting parameters, and writing to the database. All of the more complex features that people are more familiar with (consensus algorithm, accounts, resource management, governance, etc.) have been moved into modular WASM smart contracts running in the virtual machine that can be upgraded without a hard fork.

Because all behaviors are now coded in distinct “modules” that can be individually “upgraded” we call this feature modular upgradeability.

As a result of modular upgradeability, any behavior can be added to the blockchain without a hard fork because individual upgrades can be distributed in blocks and transactions that are pushed to the network much like an operating system patch, but with the added benefit of an on-chain record of the entire upgrade path.

By moving nearly all of the system code of the blockchain to smart contract modules that can be upgraded without a hard fork we have made Koinos into a blockchain that derives its strength not from the features it is born with, but based on its ability to rapidly acquire new and better features faster than anything else out there.

This is why we call Koinos the first blockchain capable of evolution.


Modular upgradeability was just the first major technical innovation that we developed to make Koinos less monolithic and an order of magnitude more upgradeable. Just like there is code that does not need to be implemented natively (in the blockchain itself) but that can be implemented as smart contracts (most of it in fact), there is plenty of code that does not need to be implemented either natively or as smart contracts and can instead be implemented as microservices.

Microservice architectures have many benefits which is why this has become the industry standard for modern software development, but one major benefit is scalability because individual services can be scaled up without having to scale up the entire system. This can dramatically reduce the cost of running a network while improving both the speed and quality of improvements to that network. As a result of historical accidents, blockchain stacks appear to be the last to adopt this new standard as Koinos will be the first blockchain built on a microservice architecture.

This creates amazing new opportunities for developers who will be able to build application specific microservices for Koinos that will help them run their nodes, and their applications, more efficiently; and as a consequence deliver better user experiences. Best of all, this will make Koinos node operation more accessible, thereby improving decentralization, and enabling the network as a whole to run more efficiently so that developers and their end-users can get more out of their decentralized applications.

Multi-language support

Another benefit of a microservice architecture is that individual microservices (basically small programs) can be written in the best (fastest, most secure, best libraries, etc.) programming language for the job, a capability we also wanted to offer for smart contract developers. But in order to take advantage of this trait we needed to develop a way for these small programs written in different languages to “talk” to one another in a way that conformed to the unique needs of a decentralized network. To solve this problem we created a cross-language serialization framework named Koinos Types.

Koinos Types is like the Rosetta Stone for blockchain data structures. It allows programs written in different languages to talk to one another in a simple and unified way by giving them access to the same objects (the “building blocks” of modern programming languages). Koinos Types allows for the interpretation of Koinos (i.e. blockchain) data structures in practically any programming language which will be extremely useful for the development of blockchain-related microservices, clients, and smart contracts.

Koinos Types solves a number of problems. It helps us add multi-language support to Koinos more generally (including for smart contracts), it enables microservices to communicate with one another, and it makes it far easier to develop and update client-libraries. While modular upgradeability and the microservices architecture alone make Koinos far more upgradeable than any other blockchain, Koinos Types takes that upgradeability to another level. That’s why we were so excited to make Koinos Types the first piece of Koinos that we open sourced.

As you can see, ensuring that Koinos can improve at a more rapid rate than any other blockchain isn’t about any one feature.

  • It’s about getting the incentives right from the beginning.
  • It’s about ensuring that the blockchain has modular upgradeability.
  • It’s about modularizing the very architecture itself as microservices.
  • And it’s about making sure that developers operating at every level of the stack (not just smart contracts) are able to use the programming languages they already know and love.

The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Every investment and trading move involves risk, you should conduct your own research when making a decision.

Andrew Levine is the CEO of Koinos Group, where he and the former development team behind the Steem blockchain build blockchain-based solutions that empower people to take ownership and control over their digital selves. Their foundational product is Koinos, a high-performance blockchain built on an entirely new framework architected to give developers the features they need in order to deliver the user experiences necessary to spread blockchain adoption to the masses.

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Supercar maker Mazzanti Automobili launches security token offering




Italian luxury car manufacturer Mazzanti Automobili has launched its security token offering on regulated digital marketplace STOKR.

As part of the offering, Mazzanti aims to raise 999,999 euros ($1.2 million) on STOKR to develop a special edition of its hypercar model Evantra Millecavalli R.

According to a Feb. 25 announcement, Mazzanti’s STO will allow investors to purchase MZZ tokens, priced at 1 euro each. The token is issued by Mazzanti via Blockstream AMP, a platform for the tokenization of securities built on the Liquid sidechain of Bitcoin (BTC), which has been directly integrated with STOKR.

As part of the STO, MZZ investors will be able to receive a 50% revenue share in the sale of the Evantra special edition. The offering is available for select European countries, with a minimum investment of 50 euros, the announcement notes.

Mazzanti’s founder Luca Mazzanti said that the company has been considering running an STO for a while. The company initially announced its upcoming STO plans earlier in February.

In conjunction with the STO, Mazzanti also announced that the company will allow its customers to purchase all editions of the Evantra model with Bitcoin starting from Feb. 25. The move echoes Tesla’s recent move toward accepting Bitcoin payment for its electric vehicles. 

Based in Luxembourg, STOKR has been listing various STOs in compliance with capital market laws of the European Union. Last year, Germany’s Federal Financial Supervisory Authority approved ParkinGO’s offering as the first cross-border STO on STOKR.

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