If you had asked me about Blockchain a year ago, I would not have been able to tell you a great deal. In fact, I assumed Blockchain was synonymous with cryptocurrency, and that was about it. It wasn’t until a chance social media encounter with a former student that my eyes became open to the true potential of Blockchain technology.
Before I dive into my current perspective on Blockchain technology, for those that are new to Blockchain here is a little breakdown on what exactly it is. A Blockchain is, in the simplest of terms, a time-stamped series of records of data, which are not able to be altered, that is managed by a cluster of computers not owned by any single entity. Each of these blocks of data (i.e. block) is secured and bound to each other using cryptographic principles (i.e. chain). In essence, a Blockchain is a digital ledger that stores transactional history. It can be used to record any type of exchange, for example the distribution of a will, health records, or property sales.
Here are a couple of introductory videos on Blockchain technology to explore further:
Understanding the Blockchain in Two Minutes
What is Blockchain Technology?
What has been fascinating for me, is learning about the possibilities of this technology, and reading about current success stories. Furthermore, this technology has the potential to level the playing field in a number of industries and sectors. What I mean by that is Blockchain has the capacity to eliminate certain social and economic barriers that have existed for some time. Imagine a world where citizens have true access and control over their personal information. This information, could then be shared on decentralized apps (eliminating the middleperson), and allow information to be transferred to financial, insurance, or health institutions. Or, imagine charitable organizations or fund raising campaigns being able to eliminate intermediary banks which take valuable funds away from these institutions, which are intended to help those in need. Or, imagine property and car rentals that are executed through a digital ledger, with immutable conditions being set by the owner, again eliminating the middleperson. The possibilities for this technology are immense.
Below are a couple of articles outlining successful use cases. I believe these are worth sharing and exploring further:
Inside the Jordan refugee camp that runs on blockchain
Refugees at the camp do not have to worry about carrying cash, as Blockchain technology is being used to move digital currency vouchers. This system has significantly improved efficiency as well as reduced costs of managing the system.
Starbucks testing blockchain to empower coffee farmers
The use of Blockchain technology will allow Starbucks to track the origin of beans and confirm authenticity throughout the supply chain. Additionally, this will improve on the financial compensation that farmers currently receive.
Blockchain In The Classroom
Life is truly amazing. As I mentioned at the start of this post, my foray into Blockchain started with reconnecting with a former student through LinkedIn. He had posted an article through LinkedIn about Blockchain, and I was interested in what he was doing, so I reached out. This led to a Zoom chat, and further discussions. He currently works for the Blockchain Learning Group. The Blockchain Learning Group is an organization out of Toronto that specializes in education programs around Blockchain technology. From their website: “The Blockchain Learning Group facilitates experiential learning-based education programs to support the innovation and design-thinking objectives of schools and organizations globally. Our programs not only help to build a strong technical foundation but also provides the opportunity to make an immediate impact with the lessons learned”. The Blockchain Learning Group is the sister company for Convergence Tech, a digital transformation company, also based in Toronto. Convergence Tech has worked on some tremendous projects utilizing Blockchain technology. For example creating an app to allow goat herders in Mongolia to register their cashmere bales. The app also utilized Blockchain technology to allow users to trace the source of cashmere and ensure sustainable production.
Besides running hackathons and workshops for high school students, the Blockchain Learning Group has developed an online course for students to learn about this technology, through the lens of social justice by utilizing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. At the International School of Curitiba, in Brazil, we decided to offer the course as an elective for grade 9 and 10 students. We have four grade 10 students who are currently enrolled in the course. They will learn about the origins of Blockchain technology, current uses, how the technology works, and programming skills. The students are also responsible for identifying a current problem related to the UN SDGs, and developing a solution involving Blockchain technology. We are excited to offer this to our students, and see this as an opportunity to teach for the future.
I have focused on the positives of this technology, and there are many, but no new technology comes without risk. I am sure that many people are thinking of the word trust. For the Blockchain to function, there has to be a great deal of trust put on the system managers and developers. Additionally, the standards are underdeveloped and there are no mature standards addressing distributed ledger technology. These are currently in development, but nothing has been solidified yet. Another risk is the maturity of the code itself. In a distributed ledger technology environment, smart contracts are executed based on the code that they contain, in most cases as agreed to on the date executed with little room for future amendment. Although this unalterable nature is the core strength of this technology and enhances trust amongst parties, it also needs to be mature enough to be well understood by all parties as well as enforceable by law.
With all that being said, I am optimistic about this technology. I admit, I am very new to it, and am continuing to learn, but if it can help level the playing field in a variety of industries, then it is worth exploring. Some of the use cases have given people on the margins of society a voice, and this is a game changer. I am most eager to hear what others think about Blockchain and experiences that they may have had.
Note: a special thanks to @adamjlemmon and @akme_c who provided some of the above resources.