Blockchain: A Revolution For STEM Education

Image: Getty / Teen Working On A GPU Rig

Fostering An Appreciation Of Decentralization

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

These days, it seems like everyone is talking about blockchain technology. News about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is hard to resist, especially when their value shoots up and down and everyone wants to know how the blockchain can make them rich or poor — financially. But the real value of blockchain isn’t necessarily tied solely to disrupting the monetary status quo. It also lies in how this technology could transform and streamline transactions and recordkeeping in all sorts of fields — specifically education.

A Blockchain Primer

If you’re not familiar with how blockchain technology works or need to brush up, it’s helpful to compare cryptocurrency with the way your regular bank does business. Banks basically have all your account data on one digital spreadsheet to keep track of your transactions. That’s fine, but a highly centralized data system is vulnerable to hackers, and you can’t send money to a family member without going through an intermediary (the bank). Cryptocurrency, on the other hand, depends on a totally decentralized network of users to store information about all transactions. There’s no bank as a gatekeeper, but information (the block) is added to a permanent chain that no one can change. It’s safer because everyone in the network has access to the information at all times, so if someone is trying to change the record, everyone can see that happening — and stop it.

Image: Financial Times / PwC United States

An Educational Revolution

Last year, MIT delivered its first blockchain diplomas to graduates — on their smartphones. It was more than just a digitized certificate: Unlike a paper diploma, which could be easily lost or falsified, blockchain ensures that this important piece of data is never lost. It also cuts out the university or traditional clearinghouse as the intermediary needed to issue transcripts. Instead, students have direct access to their educational records right on their phones. Whether their house burns down or they move across the world, their diploma is secure.


Image: Learning Machine / MIT’s Digital Diploma 1 of 3

Anatomy of a digital diploma: “The MIT digital diploma ‘makes it possible for [students] to have ownership of their records and be able to share them in a secure way, with whomever they choose,’ says Mary Callahan, MIT registrar and senior associate dean.” -MIT News

Image: Learning Machine / MIT’s Digital Diploma 2 of 3

“Using MIT’s new digital diploma system, employers and schools can quickly verify that a graduate’s degree is legitimate by using a link or uploading the student’s file.” -MIT News

Image: Learning Machine / MIT’s Digital Diploma 3 of 3

“The presentation layer has a customized image of a traditional MIT diploma; the content layer contains code with the student’s public key and generates the image; and the receipt layer proves the transaction has been recorded on the blockchain.” -MIT News


This is more than just a matter of convenience. If other credentials like certificates and badges are also stored on the blockchain, it will become much easier for students to move between universities and dictate their own educational trajectory because barriers to transferring credits would begin to fall away. In this world, MOOCs could also be more easily completed for meaningful credit that leads to a degree. A person’s entire educational record could be accessed at the touch of a button.

If individual educational records were encrypted in this way, K-12 assessments could be better coordinated as well. Instead of annual high-stakes tests that vary by state and grade level, one could imagine a more longitudinal assessment system that tracked achievement over time. For example, if an eighth-grade student passed a tenth-grade geometry test, she would carry that accomplishment on her record wherever she went, allowing her to continue her math education at the appropriate level for her as an individual, rather than having to retake the same test for the next several years. In this way, blockchain could help revolutionize personalized education.

Integrating Blockchain Into STEM Education

Image: Getty / Two Students Studying Electronics

If blockchain is the wave of the future (as it certainly seems to be), it seems logical to make sure that today’s students are prepared to engage with this technology in their careers. This is already happening in higher education, as colleges like Virginia Tech and NYU add blockchain concentrations. Studying blockchain capitalizes on a number of STEM disciplines, including computer engineering and higher math to encrypt the data.

Because the technology is relatively new and complex, there are currently very few opportunities for K-12 students to learn more about blockchain. Though some independent courses do exist, there is a real need to develop age-appropriate curriculum in this area. For younger students, understanding the basics about networks and honing relevant math skills is a good start; for older students, financial literacy dovetails nicely with cryptocurrency to spark interest. Additionally, learning to code is always an important STEM skill, and classes in Python will be particularly useful in understanding blockchain. As with all STEM education opportunities, the earlier it begins and the more hands-on it is, the more likely kids are to stick with it and see themselves as the blockchain contributors of the future.

A Philosophy Of Decentralization

Image: Getty / Students Building Computers

Finally, it’s worth noting that blockchain represents a major step in the cultural shift towards decentralized knowledge. Just as the technology itself eliminates an intermediary that stands between you and your money (or your educational record), so too does it hint at a world in which stuents may have more direct access to and control over their education. If blockchain leads to decentralized records and greater access to global databases of knowledge, education will be further democratized and many more people will have access to the learning that they desire.

This movement comes at a time when education — and particularly STEM education — is highly corporatized. There’s money to be made from selling people an education, but it would be a real mistake to allow corporate monopolies to have all the power over what we teach our students. Despite colleges becoming ever more commodified, no single organization “owns” STEM education. In order for the STEM education movement to thrive, it must remain decentralized and accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic standing or country of origin. It should also not be co-opted by special interests that value profits over innovation and authentic learning experiences.

Image: Getty / Student Studying On A Tablet

By teaching students the STEM basics they need to understand blockchain, we can also foster in them an appreciation for the values that it brings to the table. It’s a valuable technology, to be sure, but it’s also steeped in a culture that sees information as something everyone has a right to obtain freely, without having to pay a mediator for access to it. In this philosophy, knowledge is a birthright — and an effective STEM education can help keep it that way.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on November 30th, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg.

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…”

The Inherent Fluidity of STEM Careers

Image: Getty / STEM Student Welding In Shop Class

Preparing Today’s Minds For The STEM Jobs Of Tomorrow

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Education reform continues to be fiercely debated, but one thing is clear: It’s imperative that leaders align K-12 classrooms with the growing demands of the future science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce. What makes this task particularly challenging is that today’s youth will likely face challenges that the adults around them can barely imagine. We’re living in a precarious moment in human history in which some have argued that technology is so disruptive that productivity is outpacing job growth. Preparing the children of today to succeed in a completely different job market is a responsibility we cannot ignore — even though it may feel impossible to keep up with such rapid change.

Zeroing In On A Moving Target

Although the government officially recognizes hundreds of STEM degrees, simply choosing to study an existing field will not guarantee a young person a lifetime career. The very nature of STEM is that it’s always evolving as researchers and inventors build on past knowledge to spark innovation. In fact, the pace of change today is likely to affect all sorts of jobs we may think of as stable, from insurance writers and loan officers to seamstresses and referees. School-age children could see roles like tax preparers and library technicians disappear by the time they graduate. Artificial intelligence (AI) and increased automation stand to change the employment landscape dramatically, leading to fewer jobs that involve actual humans in the future.

On the bright side, there are also plenty of attractive STEM careers available today that were unheard of a decade ago. Mobile app developers, big data analysts and driverless car engineers are all up-and-coming roles in fields that only exist because of the endless forward march of human progress. This embodies the fluidity of STEM: As old technologies and related job opportunities fall away, new ones arise in their place.

Image: Getty / Drone Operator

 

Recognizing The Potential Of The Future Now

Within their short lifetimes, members of Generation Z have witnessed the rise of new technologies like next-generation batteries, blockchain, the internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles and nanosensors, all of which will spark new opportunities and change the job outlook around the world. According to Willis Towers Watson, more than 60% of children attending school today will work in a career that does not currently exist. This will likely result in new positions such as autonomous transportation specialist, human-technology integration expert, excess capacity broker and others we have yet to imagine.

Growing digital connectivity and the accessibility of affordable technology have democratized and redefined STEM careers. For example, social media influencers now play a vital role in today’s modern businesses by creating guerrilla marketing campaigns to promote goods and services. Many are also taking on roles such as in situ data scientist, focusing on analytics often collected using mobile devices and stored in the cloud. Countless jobs have arisen through companies and platforms such as Uber, Shipt and Upwork, which began as STEM experiments but now serve as gateways into the gig economy that may one day rival the size of our current workforce.

Image: Getty / Engineers Working In An Advanced Robotics Laboratory

 

Preparing Children For STEM Careers

Preparing students for future careers in STEM as well as for a workplace that emphasizes independence and flexibility is the major task ahead of anyone interested in education today. Though novel vocational opportunities are exciting, facing the changing future of work and preparing students for STEM careers means embracing new pedagogical approaches and developing curriculums that go beyond the basics of what is currently available. The task is two-fold: We must encourage the skills needed to keep up with the rapid changes happening around us while anticipating what the future will hold next.

To do this, it’s crucial to begin STEM learning as early as possible. According to King’s College London, children’s feelings about science and any career aspirations in STEM are formed before age 14 — that is, by the time they are in middle school. Getting children interested in and feeling positive about STEM will go a long way toward raising a generation that’s excited about excelling in these fields.

However, early STEM education must also be developmentally appropriate. For example, preschoolers and early elementary students should be encouraged to play and manipulate materials to develop scientific thinking. Researchers at Johns Hopkins point out that block play helps children develop spatial reasoning skills that are crucial in many STEM fields. STEM toys can be used in ways that encourage inquiry, experimentation and theorizing, which are the founding principles of the scientific method.

Image: Getty / STEM Students Building A Robot

 

As children mature, connecting STEM learning to real-world problems becomes key. Where once they were invested in building the tallest Lego tower, students might now be led to solve problems in school or at home by experimentation and applying ideas they’ve learned about in class. A revolutionary STEM education should focus on hands-on building and problem-solving rather than memorizing textbook material in order to engage students. Older students should also be explicitly encouraged to explore evolving career fields — both those that exist and those that may be available in another decade or two. While many students may enjoy STEM, they won’t consider a career path in it unless they know what’s available to them.

Building A Foundation For STEM Inclusivity

It should also be noted that early, robust STEM education has the power to transform equity in scientific fields. Though STEM education in its current form is not “culturally neutral,” committing to collaborative STEM learning during early childhood education can make high-paying careers in STEM fields available to everyone, regardless of gender, race or country of origin. Starting early means that all children are encouraged to see themselves as scientists capable of solving problems and designing inventions. STEM must be included in the educational standards that all children are expected to meet and no longer seen as something for only the most gifted or mature. When we make this shift, we will lay the foundation for STEM education that prepares all students for whatever the future holds.

“Moving Target: Preparing Today’s Minds For The STEM Jobs Of Tomorrow” was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on November 8th, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg. “Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…”

What’s Driving STEM Education? Emerging Trends on the Road Ahead

Image: Shutterstock

Where is STEM education heading in 2018? A look back on the years leading up to 2017 to predict what lies ahead for STEM

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

In many ways, 2017 has been a year of great acceleration and progress in the field of STEM education.

In the roughly dozen or so years since the term ‘STEM’ was first popularised, the acronym referring to the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics has become something of a household term.

Not only are traditional primary-school science educators talking about STEM, but it seems that our entire global culture has started to shift towards recognising the power and importance of scientific innovation as we collectively look towards solutions to the challenges of our modern times.

It’s truly an exciting time to be a young person exploring the various subjects and disciplines of STEM, and, while the work is challenging, it’s also never been more invigorating to be an educator or educational leader devoted to furthering STEM education opportunities.

As we look back on 2017 and the years preceding it, we can also look forward to the trends emerging on the horizon.

Reports from the field: What research says about STEM education trends

It can be difficult to forecast the trends and influences in STEM education due to the rapidly changing nature of the technologies that inform STEM pedagogy.

However, referring back to a 2013 report tasked with forecasting STEM through 2018 offers some key takeaways for STEM practitioners across the globe. The report keys in on a dozen “technologies to watch”.

2013–2014

  • Learning analytics
  • Mobile learning
  • Online learning
  • Virtual and remote laboratories

2014–2016

  • 3D printing
  • Games and gamification
  • Immersive learning environments
  • Wearable technology

2017–2018

  • Flexible displays
  • The internet of things
  • Machine learning
  • Virtual assistants
Getty: Machine Learning

 

These technologies have already begun to play out in our classrooms and our lives, and this report provides a solid glimpse for what’s to come.

It’s surprising to look back at the use of mobile and online learning tools as a ‘new’ idea just a few years back. Today’s classrooms at the primary and university levels have, for the most part, fully integrated the use of personal technologies with instruction.

It’s no longer strange to see a smartphone or tablet being employed in the classroom, and this comfort with technology has set the stage for what’s to come.

In addition, the use of ‘out of the box’ approaches, such as gamification and alternative or immersive environments, seems like it just might be paying off.

A recent article in US News and World Reportshares some promising news for STEM strides, noting that “the number of students who took an AP exam in mathematics or science has never been higher. Students taking these exams nearly doubled from 273,000 in 2003 to 527,000 in 2013.”

Greater interest in advanced courses in mathematics and science is a trend that seems like it will only increase as educators and administrators continue to invest in not only off-the-shelf STEM pedagogical products, but also invest in a mindset that values the power of properly prepared educators and prioritises meaningful, rich opportunities for students to engage with science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the classroom, and the real world.

Looking ahead: The future of STEM education in 2018 and beyond

Many thought leaders in the educational community remain excited and forward-thinking about the future of STEM and, increasingly, STEM initiatives are happening via global collaborations that reach far beyond political borders.

In a report focused on the future of STEM education, the tenets of the STEM 2026 Vision are put forth as follows:

  • Engaged and networked communities of practice
  • Accessible learning activities that invite intentional play and risk
  • Educational experiences that include interdisciplinary approaches to solving “grand challenges”
  • Flexible and inclusive learning spaces supported by innovative technologies
  • Innovative and accessible measures of learning
  • Societal and cultural images and environments that promote diversity and opportunity in STEM

Most notably, none of these “six interconnected components” are prescriptive or specific to one particular approach of achieving success.

Image: Getty / Successful Learning

 

Flexible by design, the goal of STEM education going forward is not that all classrooms come equipped with a 3D printer and the latest software package that promises results, but rather that educators and students work together to radically transform our traditional notions of what a STEM classroom looks like.

What do these emerging STEM trends look like in practice?

Some experts predict that more schools will invest in multi-use makerspacesin which students can engage in truly hands-on problem-solving through experimentation, robotics, coding or even low-tech group activities that model the experience of solving engineering problems in the real world.

Others predict that Silicon Valley technocrats will continue to have a major influence on STEM education trends as companies such as Google continue to proactively grow their employment pipeline. But, at the same time, it seems likely that individual products or services will become far less important than a more holistic commitment to digital literacy and self-directed learning.

And, while collaborative learning is far from a new trend, many expect that increased access to free or low-cost collaborative technology will make for more dynamic, group-driven classroom work that better prepares students for the experience of working together for a common cause, on a common problem.

The future of STEM education will likely involve some shiny bells and whistles, such as AI or even new funding streams for coding courses, but what’s most essential about the future is that we are now building upon our successes in a way that’s different from building the plane as we fly it.

With more than a decade of experience and experimentation behind us, the next steps in STEM education look brighter than ever and, together, we can light the way towards global solutions that can collectively advance us all — with our foot on the accelerator.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

How Advancements In AI Could Radically Change The Way Children Learn In The Classroom

Image: Getty/ AI Classroom

 

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Advances in technology continue to change the way we live, earn a living and learn. These shifts affect not only the types of courses that college students take, but also may soon alter the very capacity of our brains’ abilities to create and store memories. The story of how technology affects the way we live and learn is one that is still being written, but we’re excited to track the ways in which the future is already happening — in our classrooms and in our minds.

Distance Learning, Online Learning

According to a 2017 study, 30% of all enrolled higher education students take at least one distance learning course. Distance learning refers to any courses that take place fully in an online space with no in-person meetings or class requirements. Distance learning classes typically feature a blend of learning approaches, some traditional and some more innovative.

One innovative approach that’s being used in both distance learning courses as well as in-person courses is commonly referred to as online learning. Unlike distance learning, online learning does not necessarily happen far from the classroom walls; rather, online learning refers to a blended learning strategy that incorporates online learning tools into the classroom experience.

Image: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg

 

Online learning allows students to learn in a broader range of styles instead of simply sitting and listening to an instructor. It’s also the form of learning that is conducive to the advancements being made in artificial intelligence, and is arguably more effective for the needs of our modern workplace. But there are new challenges that come along with new approaches as well.

The Robots Are Taking Over…Our Brains?

As a recent WIRED article explored, some educators view tech tools in the classroom as a means of “cheating,” while others see that the very nature of learning has begun to evolve. The piece quotes David Helfand, a professor of astronomy at Columbia University, who puts it thusly: “The notion of education as a transfer of information from experts to novices — and asking the novices to repeat that information, regurgitate it on command as proof that they have learned it — is completely disconnected from the reality of 2017.”

This means that typical tasks associated with teaching and learning — like studying and memorizing information — have nearly become outdated thanks to the technological tools at our disposal. Today’s learners are able to outsource basic thinking tasks to tools like Wolfram|Alpha, a form of AI that uses language processing systems and a constantly expanding library of data sets to offer highly specific answers to typed user questions. And this just may be the beginning: Scientists have already begun to experiment with the use of embedded technology in our very brains to enhance our ability to create and store memories, which opens up questions about the possibilities of greater brain-tech connections impacting our need for time in the classroom.

So, what does the reality of the future actually look like, and how will that affect how students learn? According to some tech experts and scientists, technology may begin to play a much larger role in our ability to process and store information, and this could happen much faster than you might think.

A recent webinar presented by Dr. Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, and Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, revealed some startling predictions about AI and the brain. According to Kurzweil, “In the 2030s, we are going to send nano-robots into the brain (via capillaries) that will provide full immersion virtual reality from within the nervous system and will connect our neocortex to the cloud. Just like how we can wirelessly expand the power of our smartphones 10,000-fold in the cloud today, we’ll be able to expand our neocortex in the cloud.”

Image: Getty/ Brain Memory

 

If this sounds like science fiction, think again. Kurzweil has long published scholarly articles and books about his predictions regarding the pace of technological change, and the accuracy of his predictions regarding cloud computing, wearable technology and the breadth of the world wide web have been widely reported. Already, several entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk(Tesla, SpaceX) and Bryan Johnson (Kernel) are working to develop technological tools to connect our brains to computers for a range of purposes, including faster processing time and a greater capacity to fight neurological diseases. And researcher Mikhail Lebedev has worked to amass a growing body of research on the technological “augmentation of brain function.” To put it simply: The future is now, and our brains are the next frontier for tech’s impact on our lives.

Changing Technology, Changing Marketplace

A totally wired future might be closer than we could even imagine, but we don’t need to look too far afield to see the impact of technology, including AI, in our daily lives, classrooms and workplaces. As more and more industries continue to automate, the very nature of work is beginning to change. More front-line jobs are being replaced with automated workers, but the need for more advanced thinking around how to manage and synthesize AI in the workplace is also growing.

To best equip tomorrow’s leaders, we must provide students with technologically rich, dynamic learning tools that emphasize critical thinking and innovative problem-solving skills. In other words, we must prepare our brains to not just compete with technology but to coexist with it so that we can collectively move forward into an unprecedented and exciting shared future. This will ultimately impact when and how we are traditionally educated and how we’ll transfer and apply that knowledge in the workplace.

This article originally appeared in Forbes Community Voice™ on Aug. 7th, 2017.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…