The journey in selecting a digital credential Blockchain-based platform

Digital credentials based on Blockchain-based technology may appear as just another digital project for higher education, yet it is a major breakthrough for students and life-long learning. The payoff for students and the workforce warrant every institution who claims that ‘it’s all about the students’ to take a serious look at digital credentials on a Blockchain-based platform.

Oral Roberts University evaluated approximately seven different platforms over the past three years and settled on a platform that truly met their criteria of ‘creating a fluid environment for students around the world.’  ORU was already aware of the painstaking measures to get the SIS and LMS company providers to make any changes to their systems. Considering that it takes an estimated 2-years for an SIS and LMS vendor to make a systemic product change, they are the least likely to become a digital credential vendor with Blockchain-based technology.

By ruling out the SIS/LMS providers who have yet to produce any substantial success in Blockchain-based technology out of the equation, the playing field is narrowed down to a few. A leading CRM Company has a plan to evolve a platform and will eventually get there, but it will require integrations into the LMS and SIS systems. The other current alternatives for a higher education organization is to either join a Blockchain consortium like MIT recently formed with nine other universities or continue the search for a vendor who understands higher education and the fluidity of all the student’s digital credentials.

The list of vendors are quickly short-listed when considering the vendor’s depth and breadth into higher education and their ability to pull SIS/LMS data to ensure the entire set of credentials can be securely available in the Blockchain platform. ORU learned many lessons by evaluating seven different vendors, only to find out most of them were not capable of using multiple file formats.

ORU’s ultimate test was to ensure the vendor would allow instant and secure access for the Registrar’s Office to issue Blockchain certificates, transcripts, degree pathways, diplomas, honorary awards, and pertinent documents without contacting the vendor. ORU did a live test of their criteria by delivering training in both Singapore and Nashik, India in the summer of 2019 to see if they could instantly issue the Blockchain-based digital certificate without contacting the vendor. The test was successful, and the audience in both Nashik, India, and Singapore were blown away with instant smartphone access to their secure and trusted digital credential. An example of one of the digital credentials for Nashik, India is shown below.

What made this extra special is the ORU IT employee who designed and delivered the instantaneous access was from Nashik, India. He had a complete understanding and appreciation of what this type of breakthrough meant to his fellow citizens. In his exact words,

This breakthrough for India is what my country has been waiting for. To attend an ORU webinar or workshop and instantly be sent a digital award known as a digital credential allows students to be motivated and engaged in their educational journey. In addition, it gives them trust and confidence in ORU who has expressed interest in reaching people around the world with whole person education.

Ironically, the very digital credential Blockchain-based platform that ORU chose is Pistis, which is a Greek word meaning ‘faith, trust, and confidence.’ ORU did not choose Pistis merely based on the name. Rather, they choose it due to the vendor’s ability to comprehend education, SIS/LMS systems, transcripts, file conversions, and had the ability to meet the ‘fluidity’ criteria of ORU.  Pistis was clearly the only vendor who had the depth and breadth of understanding that a Blockchain vendor needed to allow the university to have control over the digital credentialing process.

Pistis’ founder, Feng Hou had five years of hands on experience of making Blockchain-based digital credentials work for a community college. Through his nationally known story of success, Feng was challenged by ORU who had invited him to be involved in a few thought leadership opportunities. The challenge by ORU was that no company had the in-depth knowledge of higher education, SIS/LMS systems, and ability to allow institutions to self-manage the vendors Blockchain platform in a fluid manner. This challenge began the creation of Pistis.IO.

Based on the mutual journey of Feng Hou and ORU below are eight recommendations for choosing the correct digital credentials Blockchain-based vendor.

  1. Do not use Blockchain just for the sake of the technology. A Blockchain-based solution must be driven by educational needs and in alignment with an institution’s strategic priorities.
  2. Optimize educational processes first with a clear data governance structure. Blockchain technology cannot turn a bad education or business process into a good one. With a clearly defined process (workflow) and data governance structure, an institution can optimize and automate the process that helps students and the institution.
  3. Define the community of stakeholders and solicit their participation. “Blockchain is a community-based solution and works best in collaboration,” Feng Hou emphasizes. “Identify the stakeholders early on and create a solution that all of them can benefit from.”
  4. Team up with a Blockchain vendor/partner while also developing internal Blockchain knowledge resources. Avoid developing a Blockchain solution on your own to begin with; collaborate with a reputable Blockchain vendor offering a solution that complies with national and international standards, and has a minimum of ten years of student information system experience.
  5. Ensure security of data integration and transactions. Based on your data security needs, select the right design for a public or private, permission-less or permissioned Blockchain solution.
  6. Understand token functions before developing smart contracts. Not every Blockchain solution needs to use a smart contract. Hou explains, “In Blockchain technology, a measurement can be designed to represent a unit of value, to provide access to a service such as online learning; to reward successful completion of a task as in a training certificate, or a training experience or test in virtual reality.
  7. Be value-driven: Seek a solution with security, privacy, speed, and lower costs. Blockchain can help dramatically increase the speed of business operations by eliminating intermediary layers.
  8. Evaluate what is in the best interest of students and life-long learner. Take a step back and evaluate if your current processes help students get life-long access to their digital assets and credentials. Next, ask your students if the institution can improve the access to their educational pathway and accomplishments. If improvement is needed, providing digital credentials via a Blockchain-based platform is one of the simplest methods toward improvement.