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Blockchain technology enables transferring students’ data from University databases their wallets

Published on 1.12.2022
Tampere University
Grafiikkakuvitus tietokoneesta, jonka näppäimistöllä on kädet ja jonka näytöllä on koodia.
The MicroBlock project is building and piloting blockchain-based digital services for secure and transparent data management. The aim is to facilitate students to verify their certificates, for example, on courses taken at different universities or even their degrees, and to keep them in their possession. The solution may also help proving one’s competence to employers.

European Blockchain Services Infrastructure (EBSI) organised a Demo Day at the end of May to showcase six pilot projects of the EBSI Early Adopters Programme. One of these is the research project MicroBlock at Tampere University.

EBSI is the joint initiative of 29 European countries and the European Commission’s Blockchain Partnership (EBP), with the vision of creating reliable and cross-border services for public administrations, businesses and citizens using blockchain technology. Since 2020, EBSI has gradually deployed a network of distributed nodes across Europe, supporting applications focused on selected use cases.

Confirming study attainments is hard and requires much administrative work

“Europe is driving the digitalisation of education data. The idea is that students would get digitally verifiable data on their entire education, from comprehensive school to continuing education, which can be verified by other institutions without time-consuming manual work and any risk of forgery,” says Professor Henri Pirkkalainen, leader of the MicroBlock project.

Pirkkalainen and his team participated in the MicroHE and OEPass projects, which contributed towards the EU’s own digital credential solution, European Digital Credentials for Learning (EDC).

At the moment, when universities use EDC and issue certificates to students, they must have a strong digital legal e-seal, which is not largely used yet. However, Tampere University has begun to test and implement it. According to Pirkkalainen, blockchain technology may open new and easier ways of verifying credentials in the future.

Traditionally, students themselves are only left with the credits and the grades. For example, information stored in Moodle is difficult for students to access. When data about the skills students learn is not cumulative, it is difficult to prove to an employer, for example, what one is really capable of.

“In the societal sense, we aim to address the problem of career fragmentation. We often no longer complete just one degree but proceed to further education. How can we get digital evidence of study attainments and share data in a secure and transparent way?”, Pirkkalainen asks.

One’s data stays safe in the digital wallet

According to Pirkkalainen, blockchain technology aims to ensure that the data is held by the student rather than gathering dust in a national or university database where it is difficult to access, which is why different types of digital wallets are being developed.

The project also promotes including competency data in these digital micro-credentials so that students can demonstrate their individual development, for example, in job search.

“The model we are using to collect data automatically accumulates this type of data. By structuring them, we can, for example, gamify learning and provide useful information on the skills acquired in different areas of learning,” Pirkkalainen says.

There are dozens of digital wallet solutions, and they are roughly divided into informal and formal skills recognition. The former contain more limited evidence of learning and are often based on badges and the latter on verifiable evidence such as EDC in the form of certificates, with potential of using badges as well.

According to Pirkkalainen, both EBSI and the MicroBlock project are still at an early stage.

“Ensuring accessibility is one of the project’s main areas of development. We aim to ensure that the solutions and services we develop are compatible, speak the same language and work across different devices,” Pirkkalainen notes.

He emphasises that technology is changing, and only time and piloting will tell what blockchains are capable of, and in which industries they are most useful. So far, no real student data has been used for testing, but real courses from Tampere University and ECIU have been used as examples.

“It is important that development work is done in close cooperation with students to gain an understanding of what kind of digital wallet would be really useful for them and how it would create added value,” Pirkkalainen says.

Tampere university is an active member of ECIU University that is now moving to its next four year-period of piloting with micro-credentials. The use of digital wallets and personalized recommendations of fitting learning activities are central to ECIU University. Students, teachers and administrators from Tampere university will now also face many opportunities to explore micro-credentials and pursue the benefits of new kinds of digital proofs from education.

View the entire MicroBlock EBSI success story and demo video on EBSI’s website