Blockchain and Educational Credentials

In "Credentials, Reputation, and the Blockchain" by J. Philipp Schmidt, the use of blockchain in one educational context is examined. I first wrote about this blockchain synergy of technoloy and education earlier this year. This EDUCAUSE article looks at using blockchain and strong cryptography to create certifications and digital degrees with more control. Recipients can share a digital degree with an employer while providing trustworthy proof that the degree was in fact issued to the person presenting it. This raises interesting questions about the nature of recognizing and accrediting achievements.

                        Read the article at educause.edu/articles/2017/4/credentials-reputation-and-the-blockchain  

What Is Ahead for Career and Technical Education In The Trump Administration?

The new Secretary of Education, Betsy de Vos, was viewed with trepidation by many educators. They see her as an advocate of charter schools and not a champion of K-12 public schools. In higher education, it was unclear what her focus would be because she had no experience in that area.
In her first speeches, community colleges may have felt some relief as she praised community colleges noting their importance to President Trump’s plan of expanding vocational and technical education. While community colleges do provide career and technical education, most also have a mission to provide the foundation for students to transfer to four-year colleges. The views of de Vos and the administration on that are still unclear.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) is designed to equip students with skills to prepare them for viable careers in high-growth industries. According to the association for Career and Technical education (ACTE), the top 10 hardest to fill jobs include skilled trade positions. Healthcare occupations make up 12 of the 20 fastest growing occupations. There are one million jobs open in trade, transportation and utilities sectors and more than 300,000 jobs in manufacturing.
Middle-skill jobs that require education and training beyond high school but less than a bachelor's degree make up a significant part of the economy and workforce. 
But not all of that training requires a college. Career training centers and for-profit groups have taken on many of these skill areas, and that is why college educators fear that de Vos, as with public schools, will be more in favor of that private and for-profit approach rather than colleges.
In her speeches, de Vos did not touch on issues involving transfer students, although many enroll at community colleges planning to eventually transfer to a four-year institution. The themes of her comments match the priorities talked about by the administration and Republican lawmakers (like North Carolina Representative Virginia Foxx, the chairwoman of the House education and the work force committee) which focus on facilitating vocational education, expanding the number of certificates awarded to students, and putting a greater emphasis on alternatives to the traditional model of a four-year college education.
De Vos noted that President Trump's 100-day action plan includes a call to expand vocational and technical education, and that he has called multiple paths for postsecondary education "an absolute priority" for his Administration.
Those multiple paths are unclear right now, and that uncertainty concerns many educators.

Machine Learning and AI

AI
What is the difference between artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)? AI is an umbrella term to describe a branch of computer science that deals with the simulation of intelligent (human) behavior. Machine learning is a subset and currently the most common type of AI. We encounter it, consciously or unconsciously, in our every the average person will encounter.
Amber MacArthur posted in one of her recent newsletters some examples of AI & ML. Any phone "assistant" (such as Apple's iPhone assistant Siri, works because it relies on huge amounts of data, but its development is based on machine-learning technology. These machines "learn" over time based on our interactions with them. This happens without being programmed to say or do new things. 
It takes more than data for people and machines to learn. It requires being able to recognize patterns in that data and learning from them, being able to draw inferences or make predictions without being explicitly programmed to do so. It needs to do critical thinking.
Another AI example noted by MacArthur is SnapTravel. It is a chatbot that uses machine learning to run its "half-bot, half-human" service with its users. It uses SMS or Facebook via Messenger to work with a "bot" agent to book your hotel reservation.
During the 1960s and 70s, the technology alarm was that computers will be taking our jobs. It turned out that some jobs disappeared, but many more were created. The new technology alarm is that AI will take away jobs. And that will happen if people are "disinclined to technical skills" because they may not be able to earn a good living in a market economy. One prediction is that "as AI improves and gets cheaper, many of the jobs left for humans will be those so badly paid they are not worth replacing with a machine." Ouch.

 

Does Google Chrome Think Your Site Is Secure?

The hosting/domain service GoDaddy sent me an email about their Website Scanner. It is a free tool that scans your website for two things: 1) Forms that handle login or payment information. 2) The installation of an SSL certificate.

Both are good things, though not necessarily things that people doing blogs or personal websites know much about or deal with regularly. The thing is that this determines whether your site will display warnings to visitors who are using the latest Google Chrome browser version. Those warnings will scare many users into thinking your site is insecure or a phishing scam.

Should I scan my website? you ask. I suppose you should to find out if it uses unsecure forms. If it does, Chrome 56, released in January 2017, will display a “not secure” message (like the one shown below) to visitors.

Of course, it's not a bad idea to check for unsecure forms by scanning your website to identify form fields that collect personal information without an HTTPS-encrypted connection. I ran the scanner on this site and others that I own. On Serendipity35, it returned a error for an unsecure form. The form turns out t be part of our administration settings and it wasn't really relevant to users.

On my other sites, I got back a "Chrome approves" message "Your site won’t be impacted by the Chrome 56 release" BUT also it said I should "consider getting an SSL certificate to boost your site’s Google ranking."

An SSL certificate (SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer) is a global standard security technology that enables encrypted communication between a web browser and a web server. Millions of online businesses and individuals use them to decrease the risk of sensitive information (credit card numbers, usernames, passwords, emails, etc.) from being stolen or tampered with by hackers and identity thieves.

You have probably noticed the HTTPS on website addresses and a "lock"that gives visitors more of a sense of security that their information is encrypted and safe.

Of course, there are no absolute guarantees of security, but not using HTTPS and other security tools already affects your site’s search engine ranking, and in the future could result in your site actually being labeled not secure by Google and other search engines.

screen

 


Is a Blockchain Coming to Campus?

blocks

updatedBlockchain is the backbone of Bitcoin. It's a technology that adds levels of trust, authentication and recordkeeping. I suspect many of you reading this have not heard about it. Those of you that have learned about it probably don't see an immediate connection to education. 

I see it defined as a public ledger of transactions. It is comprised of a peer-to-peer network, and a decentralized, distributed database. It requires a more complicated definition than I want to get into here but  that distributed database provides an unalterable, (semi-)public record of digital transactions. That is the part that makes Bitcoin work and it would obviously be very attractive to financial users. 

The "block" aggregates a time-stamped batch of transactions to be included in the chain/ledger. Each block has a cryptographic signature. These blocks are also all back-linked. They reference the signature of all the previous blocks in the chain. The claim is that the blockchain contains an uneditable record of all the transactions made.

Another author writing about the financial sector says that "Blockchains are new technology layers that rewire the Internet and threaten to side-step older legacy constructs and centrally served businesses. At its core, a blockchain injects trust into the network, cutting off some intermediaries from serving that function and creatively disrupting how they operate. Metaphorically, blockchains are the ultimate non-stop computers. Once launched, they never go down, and offer an incredible amount of resiliency, making them dependable and attractive for running a new generation of decentralized services and software applications."

Some education writers, like Audrey Watters, have connected it to education. The most obvious connections are in recordkeeping for courses, credits, tuition and personal information. Authenticating the individual and the learning is important, but imagine using it globally across many school and non-academic providers. This is digital badging but at a much more secure and sophisticated level. MIT Media Lab announced last year that it was developing software to issue digital certificates on the Bitcoin Blockchain. One developer of this technology for secure sharing of academic records is Sony Global Education.

This is not pedagogy. It won't change how you teach a course. It will change what happens to the students in your classes and so may change the kind of student you have in your classes.  

"Learning Is Earning" was presented by Jane McGonigal at SXSW 2016. She introduced "Edublocks” which would be units of hours of learning written to a blockchain and like Bitcoins can be used to pay for the next learning opportunity. Not all of us are enamored of the credit hour, but I like the authentication aspect. Mentor someone, get paid and use that to pay down your student loan. Acquire new skills and that goes on your learning chain.

Probably, we are going to see blockchain used in places like the financial and healthcare sector and even sharing economy businesses, like Airbnb, before it is in your school's administration offices.

For further reading, check out the book Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott. Don also has a series of videos on blockchain online too.

updatedEDUCAUSE has published "The Blockchain Revolution and Higher Education" by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott (3/13/17)



"Why not be leaders for a new paradigm? The blockchain provides a rich, secure, and transparent platform on which to create a global network for higher learning. We believe that higher education works best when it works for all types of teaching and learning, and we believe that this new platform is an engine of inclusion. Let’s use the emerging Internet of value and the blockchain revolution to recapture our identities and endow them with our detailed and real-time records of learning. Perhaps then we can finally reinvent the past model of pedagogy and transform the architecture of higher education for the future generation of lifelong learners."


Getting Put in Twitter Jail

watching you

As part of Twitter's efforts to limit the visibility of abusive posts, the company is using more automated methods. They (and other social media and news sites) have gotten a lot of bad press the past year for allowing the spread of harmful content. This is certainly a worthy goal, but a difficult one to implement. At one time, many sites relied on human monitors and community managers to respond to abuses, but the volume of posts makes that impossible.

Twitter has expanded its mute and filter features. Now, they will also notify users when they take action on harassment they reported, even if it's not directed at them.

Perhaps most pwerfully - and therefore most frighteningly - Twitter is implementing tools that can automatically identify patterns in the way harmful tweets are made and distributed. CNN reports that "If it identifies a harmful account, it will truncate the user's visibility. For instance, if a user routinely replies to accounts that don't follow it, or repeatedly violates Twitter's rules, Twitter might make it so that the tweets are invisible to everyone except the user's followers for a set amount of time."

That means if you routinely reply to a favorite celebrity (even with kind words) and the celebrity doesn't follow you (and most will not) that invisibility function kicks in. The algorithm thinks you are stalking/harassing the person. This is what someTwitter users have called "Twitter jail."

What behaviors might trigger the algorithm and put you in jail or ban you from Twitter? The company won't say because they don't want people to find workarounds.

Big Brother isn't watching you - an algorithm is...