From education to employment

Bitcoin Blockchain technology to replace paper qualifications?

Alan Woods OBE is the CEO of VTCT

Education technology firm Digital Assess is bringing Blockchain technology to the vocational skills market for the first time, with its Skills Blockchain project. Funded by the Ufi Charitable Trust, the project is part of a five-year strategy that aims to deliver an increase in the scale of vocational learning.

The project aims to demonstrate how – and more importantly why – Blockchain technology should be used by an accreditation organisation to replace traditional paper certificates.  Blockchain means that anyone can readily check, via an online portal, the validity of a certificate. This is of immense value to universities and employers, as it provides quick assurance of the academic credentials of a candidate.

Within the further education sector itself, the Skills Blockchain project aims to provide learners with a digital audit trail of their achievements via work and home learning, as well as formal learning through existing providers and awarding organisations.

Digital Assess will partner with awarding organisations including its own parent company Vocational Training Charitable Trust (VTCT), opening up access to the 4.5 million students completing Further Education in the UK. 

Tony Wheeler, head of innovation, at Digital Assess said: “The current system of accreditation is not fit for purpose, and it is time to bring it in line with the technology of the 21st century. Paper based qualifications can be lost, stolen or even fraudulently reproduced. Using Blockchain technology can give learners a digital audit trail of achievements and gives employers the transparency and trust that they desire.”

He went on to say, 

“The vocational education sector continues to pioneer cutting edge learning and assessment models, and employers need to be confident that qualifications can be truly relied upon. Blockchain technology is commonly associated with the financial sector, so this project is another example of the vocational education sector driving innovation, with the needs of the learner at the forefront of the project.”

Alan Woods, CEO of VTCT, partners on the project added: “The vocational, technical and professional end of the education sector has always led the way in embracing technology and innovation. We hope that this concept will prove itself and become accepted as standard, from schools all the way through to lifelong learning. 

The bigger picture to this project is that anyone, whether they may be from an employer or university, will have the ability to check the validity of a certificate giving people more confidence in the qualifications.”

The proof of concept was completed in 2017 and it is hoped that Skills Blockchain will provide an international ledger of educational achievement that can be mined, verified and distributed securely across the vocational market.

A ‘Blockchain’ is a distributed database that maintains a continuously-growing list of records called blocks, secured from tampering and revision. Each block includes the ‘hash’ of the prior block in the Blockchain, linking the two. The linked blocks form a chain.

It is most commonly used in the financial sector with the creation of cyptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. Unlike other databases, a Blockchain database preserves the history of every individual change ever made, is fault tolerant, encrypted, and immutable. Changes need to be approved by multiple parties, while any hacks or unauthorised changes are declined. These key features are what provides the trust in the database.

About Digital Assess: Digital Assess is an education technology firm that specialises in assessment technology. Working with some of the world’s most trusted education brands, its digital tools are designed to capture and assess skills, to support and improve the whole learning process.

Digital Assess pioneered the use of Adaptive Comparative Judgement (ACJ), a new, fairer and more accurate model of exam marking developed with academics from Cambridge University, and Goldsmiths, University of London. In 2016, it led a Government-backed trial to utilise Artificial Intelligence in classrooms. 

Digital Assess’ innovative technology was also recently recognised at the 2017 E-Assessment Awards: 

  • Innovation award – won by Mentor (FormativeAssess)
  • Best use of Formative Assessment – won by Mentor
  • Best use of Formative Assessment – highly commended for Adaptive Comparitive Judgement (Collaborate)

About VTCT: Vocational Training Charitable Trust (VTCT) is a specialist awarding organization (AO).It offers vocational and technical qualifications, including the new Professional Apprenticeship Standards, in a range of service sectors from hair and beauty to finance.

VTCT began awarding in 1962, and aims to advance education, research and the public dissemination of knowledge, helping to introduce new initiatives into the education system, to improve the employability and career prospects of learners.

It acquired education technology specialists Digital Assess in 2016, adding value for training providers with technology that can digitally capture and assess learners online, amongst other innovations.

More than 800 approved centres now work with VTCT, and the ever-expanding list extends across the UK, Ireland, and internationally. It acquired the internationally recognised AO and examination board ITEC in 2016, adding to VTCT’s international footprint.

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