ChapterPDF Available

Abstract

New problems emerge as digital space becomes not only a space for teaching and learning, but also for evaluating learning success and for storing and exchanging learning credentials. The paper discusses two strains of innovative education: (1) the merging of game-based learning with the game-based assessment of learning success and (2) the use of blockchain-based technologies to enable the secure storage and exchange of educational credits and learning credentials. First, different strategies of combining learning and assessment are distinguished, and the concept of “Integrated Game-based Learning/Assessment (GBL/A)” is introduced as the most promising, but also the most challenging form of game-based assessment. As moving already sensitive data like educational credits and learning credentials to digital environments heightens the need for security and trust even further, the paper takes a closer look at blockchain-based technologies and their promise to deliver secure and transparent storage of data, while at the same time giving users control over how this data is used in a specific context. The potential of blockchain-based technologies in the educational sector is discussed and put in relation to GBL/A. And finally, this potential (and probable success) of blockchain-based technologies is pointed out as a strong argument to strive, in good time, for an “Ethics of permanent storage.”
Savegame
Wilfried Elmenreich · René Reinhold Schallegger
Felix Schniz · Sonja Gabriel · Gerhard Pölsterl
Wolfgang B. Ruge Hrsg.
Agency, Design, Engineering
Perspektiven der Game Studies
Reihe herausgegeben von
Andreas Rauscher, Mainz, Deutschland
Perspektiven der Game Studies
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
Videospiele haben ihren Nischenstatus verlassen und sind im gesellschaftlichen
Mainstream angekommen. Mit dem Comeback der virtuellen Realität, diesmal
nicht als Science-Fiction-Gedankenspiel, sondern als Konsole für den Haus-
gebrauch ergeben sich neue Fragestellungen bezüglich der Erfahrung spieleri-
scher Simulationen und des Eintauchens in diese.
Die zu Beginn der 2000er Jahre begründete Disziplin der Games Studies steht vor
neuen Herausforderungen. Diese können nur im methodischen Multi-Player-Mo-
dus als Zusammenspiel zwischen einer zukünftigen Ludologie und anderen Diszi-
plinen von Film-, Kunst,- Literatur-, Architektur- und Medienwissenschaft bis hin
zu Sozial- und Kulturwissenschaften bewältigt werden.
Die Reihe bietet sowohl einen zugänglichen und informativen Einblick in die
aktuellen Forschungsaktivitäten in diesem Bereich, als auch Einsteiger freund-
liche Einführungen zu den prägenden Diskursfeldern der Disziplin. Besondere
Schwerpunkte bilden u.a. die Beschäftigung mit dem oft vernachlässigten
Bereich der Game-Ästhetik, die Ausgestaltung von Ansätzen zu einer
Game-Historiographie, sowie die medienspezifischen Austauschprozesse der
Videospiele mit anderen Kunstformen und kulturellen Praktiken.
Weitere Bände in der Reihe http://www.springer.com/series/15768
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
Wilfried Elmenreich · René Reinhold
Schallegger · Felix Schniz · Sonja Gabriel ·
Gerhard Pölsterl · Wolfgang B. Ruge
(Hrsg.)
Savegame
Agency, Design, Engineering
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
Hrsg.
Wilfried Elmenreich
Institute of Networked and Embedded
Systems, Universität Klagenfurt,
Klagenfurt am Wörthersee, Österreich
René Reinhold Schallegger
Department of English, Universität
Klagenfurt Klagenfurt am Wörthersee,
Kärnten, Österreich
Felix Schniz
Department of English, Universität
Klagenfurt Klagenfurt am Wörthersee,
Kärnten, Österreich
Sonja Gabriel
Kirchliche Pädagogische Hochschule
Wien/Krems
Wien, Österreich
Gerhard Pölsterl
Abt. V/5: Jugendpolitik, Bundeskanzler-
amt Österreich, Wien, Österreich
Wolfgang B. Ruge
Wien, Österreich
ISSN 2524-3241 ISSN 2524-325X (electronic)
Perspektiven der Game Studies
ISBN 978-3-658-27394-1 ISBN 978-3-658-27395-8 (eBook)
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-27395-8
Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek verzeichnet diese Publikation in der Deutschen Nationalbiblio-
grafie; detaillierte bibliografische Daten sind im Internet über http://dnb.d-nb.de abrufbar.
Springer VS
© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2019
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und Institutionsadressen neutral.
Springer VS ist ein Imprint der eingetragenen Gesellschaft Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden
GmbH und ist ein Teil von Springer Nature.
Die Anschrift der Gesellschaft ist: Abraham-Lincoln-Str. 46, 65189 Wiesbaden, Germany
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
V
Vorwort
Der Umgang mit digitalen Medien und dem Internet ist heutzutage eine Kultur-
technik, sie bestimmt unseren Alltag und hat auch in das tägliche Familienleben
breiten Einzug gefunden.
Kinder und Jugendliche sind den Umgang im digitalen Raum quasi von
Geburt an gewohnt. Sie kommunizieren in Echtzeit mit Freunden am anderen
Ende der Welt, informieren sich auf Videoplattformen, teilen ihre Kreativität in
Form von Videos oder Bildern oder machen etwas, was Kinder und Jugendliche
typischerweise tun: Sie spielen. Seit der Verbreitung von Konsolen und Smart-
phones auch häufig digitale Spiele.
Diese Entwicklung sehe ich als Chance für junge Menschen ihre Kreativität zu
entfalten und Inhalte und Techniken spielerisch zu erlernen!
Doch jede Chance birgt natürlich auch Herausforderungen. Medienkompetenz
ist in unserer digitalen Gesellschaft eine entscheidende Schlüsselfähigkeit. Dies
bedeutet, dass man die einzelnen Medien kennt und auch nutzen kann. Dazu
gehören jedoch auch eine kritische Auseinandersetzung und ein realistischer
Umgang mit den Risiken.
Deshalb ist es umso wichtiger, im Sinne der Lebensrealitäten der jungen Men-
schen zu handeln und sie im Umgang mit digitalen Medien bestmöglich zu unter-
stützen. Dazu ist ein breiter Diskurs von allen jenen Personenkreisen notwendig,
welche sich direkt oder indirekt mit Jugendlichen und deren Hobby „Gaming“
auseinandersetzen wollen und müssen: Forschende, Studierende, Game Designer,
Game Developer, in der Jugendarbeit Tätige, Lehrende.
Um all diesen Personen eine Plattform zu geben, wurde gemeinsam mit
Expertinnen und Experten die internationale wissenschaftliche Fachtagung FROG –
„Future and Reality of Gaming“ ins Leben gerufen.
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
VI Vorwort
Und in diesem Sinne steht auch SAVEGAME, das vielschichtige Motto der
FROG 2018 respektive dieses Tagungsbandes: Es bietet Ihnen wissenschaftliche
Analysen und konkrete Praxisideen. All dies aus einem technischen und kultur-
wissenschaftlichen Blickwinkel.
Leiterin der Sektion V – Familien und
Jugend im Bundeskanzleramt
Bernadett Humer
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
VII
Inhaltsverzeichnis
Introduction .................................................. 1
Wilfried Elmenreich, René Reinhold Schallegger, Felix Schniz,
Sonja Gabriel, Gerhard Pölsterl and Wolfgang B. Ruge
The Potential of Digital Games for Learning and Teaching ........... 9
Sonja Gabriel
Video Games and the Education System .......................... 31
Thomas Kunze
Short Games ................................................. 41
Wilfried Elmenreich
Blockchain Technologies and Their Impact on Game-Based
Education and Learning Assessment ............................. 55
Alexander Pfeiffer and Nikolaus Koenig
The Player as Emperor ......................................... 69
David Praschak and Stefan Ancuta
The Importance of Being Playful ................................. 83
Nadja Springer, Nestor Kapusta and Nika Schoof
Virtual Rebellions ............................................. 95
Harald Koberg
Negotiating Fun and Seriousness in Commercial Videogames ......... 111
Daniela Bruns
Challenging Challenge ......................................... 129
René Reinhold Schallegger
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
VIII Inhaltsverzeichnis
To Save What’s Gone .......................................... 149
Felix Schniz
Gaming aus Frauenperspektive .................................. 169
Ricarda Götz
Challenges for Multimedia Research in E-Sports Using
Counter-Strike ................................................ 197
Mathias Lux, Michael Riegler, Pal Halvorsen,
Duc-Tien Dang-Nguyen and Martin Potthast
Game Preservation ............................................ 207
Emir Bektic
Zum Einsatz der Software Minecraft im technischen
Werkunterricht der Volksschule ................................. 225
Sonja Gabriel, Matthias Hütthaler und Michael Nader
TextSpielReisen ............................................... 253
Christoph Kaindel
Positive Gaming ............................................... 263
Gerhard Pölsterl
German Youth Protection in Games .............................. 281
Elisabeth Secker
PEGI, the European System of Harmonised Age Ratings for
Video Games ................................................. 289
Jürgen Bänsch
Continue? Excessive Gaming Behavior and Handling Related
Phenomena in Education ....................................... 297
Markus Meschik
Frauen in der Gaming und E-Sport Szene ......................... 313
Yvonne Scheer
Virtuality meets Reality ........................................ 327
Anna Maria Eder
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
55
Blockchain Technologies and Their
Impact on Game-Based Education
and Learning Assessment
Alexander Pfeier and Nikolaus Koenig
Games, Education, and Trust in a Digital World.
Unlimited Virtual Worlds
For many decades, computerized media have continued to change our world through
their main characteristics of interactivity, digitalization, and virtualization (Kraemer
1998): being interactive, they have allowed us to engage with complex social, politi-
cal and economic processes in a meaningful way; being digital, they have made a
wide range of properties, actions and processes measurable and comparable and
being virtual, they have opened up alternatives to the restrictions of the material
world, creating spaces in which properties, actions and processes can be produced
and reproduced at will, and in which the limitation of resources does not apply.
This third characteristic of virtuality becomes vividly apparent in the seem-
ingly limitless possibilities of computer game worlds. When players of a com-
puter game have fulfilled the requirements to be awarded a specific kind of
resource, this resource can instantly be ‘produced’ by the game system, without
risking depletion of supplies. The volume of resources can be increased at any
time if more players enter the game. In a similar manner, space is not limited
in a virtual world: regardless of whether one player or a million players enter a
room within a game, each one of them can have their own version (a so-called
instance) of the room available, without the increasing number of rooms taking
up increasing space. And as these game spaces are virtual, they can be accessed
© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2019
W. Elmenreich et al. (Hrsg.), Savegame, Perspektiven der Game Studies,
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-27395-8_5
A. Pfeiffer (*) · N. Koenig
Krems, Austria
E-Mail: Alexander.Pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
N. Koenig
E-Mail: Nikolaus.Koenig@donau-uni.ac.at
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
56 A. Pfeier and N. Koenig
from anywhere in the material world, making it possible for players from all over
the world to ‘meet’ and interact within the same virtual space. In other words:
while resources in the real world (e.g. bandwith, server space or hardware afford-
ability) are still limited, the limitations of virtual elements (e.g. items, space or
experience points) are deliberate game design choices.
Digital Education Environments
All these features of virtuality have contributed greatly to the success of digital
learning environments. In these virtual spaces, learners can receive instant feed-
back for their learning efforts, regardless of whether their teacher is currently
engaged with another student. They can immediately access the resources which
best support their individual learning progress, without having to wait for another
student to finish using them. Virtual classrooms will never be crowded (except for
limitations like user licenses, which again are subject to limitations of the mate-
rial, not the virtual world) and learners can enter the learning environment from
any place in the world, as long as they have access to the internet.
However, while virtual environments leave behind certain limitations of the
material world, this can create problems of a different kind. Especially when the
uniqueness of items or matters of ownership are of particular importance, the pos-
sibility to reproduce items, actions or processes infinitely and without any loss
of quality can have unwanted effects like data piracy, copyright infringements,
identity theft and other kinds of online fraud. In the educational sector, similar
problems arise as soon as value is placed on the assessment of learning perfor-
mance and the grading of learning achievements. And even when the assessment
of learning success is not deemed important, the individual experience of achieve-
ment, and therefore the learner’s motivation, depends on the trustworthiness of
learning achievements, as it might not seem worthwhile to make an effort if the
same effect can be achieved more easily by cheating, or if the idea prevails that
others are awarded a good grade without the same effort.
The need to create trust, reliability and, in some cases, a sense of achievement
has therefore made it necessary to artificially re-introduce certain limitations
into the digital world to serve as safeguards against fraudulent behaviour. Most
importantly, these safeguards limit by whom and under what conditions data
can be changed. Just as I cannot simply edit the amount of money on my bank-
ing account, and not just anybody can make a transfer from my account, certain
data stored in virtual learning environments cannot be changed at will. Learning
achievements will be tied to my learning efforts, which are again tied to my per-
sonal, password-protected account; and grades can only be changed either by the
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
57Blockchain Technologies and Their Impact on Game-Based …
system, or by a teacher, whose account will again be password protected to pre-
vent unauthorized persons to tamper with the grades.
But even these safeguards are only as safe as the systems that provide them,
and as long as these systems are controlled by one centralized authority, they are
far from manipulation-proof. While these measures can in many cases prevent
manipulations within the system, it will still be possible to manipulate the system
itself. Even if I trust teachers to grade learning efforts fairly, the data can still be
manipulated by the system’s creators and administrators, or by people ‘hacking’
into the system and changing data without permission.
Games, Learning, Assessment
There is little doubt that the shift from offline- to online learning environments
goes hand in hand with an increasing use of gamification- and game-based learn-
ing strategies. The potential benefits of digital game-based learning (GBL) appli-
cations and strategies have been explored thoroughly (Annetta 2010; Bers 2010;
Koenig et al. 2014), as have their limitations (Wagner 2009; Linderoth 2010).
Today’s students grow up as digital natives who are basically using digital media
from early childhood years according to Prensky (2012), and games, gamification
and game-based strategies are at the core of many digital media experiences. The
impact of digital games on cognitive, motivational, behavioural, social and affec-
tive outcomes has been examined in various studies. (Green and Bavelier 2007;
Gee 2007; Tüzün et al. 2009).
However, games are at the verge of becoming significant elements in the edu-
cational sector not only as enablers of effective learning experiences: in recent
years, the assessment of learning processes through gamified and game-based
means has also become a growing trend (Bezzina 2015)1 that promises to trans-
form the educational sector even further.
Game-based approaches to learning assessment can take various forms:
First, game-based approaches to learning assessment can either rely on the
gamification of conventional testing situations, or on the creation of actual testing
game environments.
Second, game-based assessment approaches can either serve the sole purpose
of testing, or they can be part of a broader game-based learning approach, in which
game-based tolls are used for enabling as well as evaluating learning experiences.
1http://gameinformedassessment.com/.
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
58 A. Pfeier and N. Koenig
And finally, the difference between game-based learning and game-based
assessment can either be explicit or done in a way that is hardly noticeable by
learners.
We therefore suggest the following classification of game-based approaches to
assessment in the context of education:
Gamied Learning Assessment (GLA)
Gamified assessment concepts rely on existing psychometric science, they
include gamification characteristics like points and challenges. They should offer
content validity and are most of the time cheaper to develop than serious games
as assessment tools, as they are only a second layer on the existing real-world
environment. Just as in any ‘regular’ E-learning assessments, it is crucial that
such assessment tools can assure that the user taking the test is who they pretend
to be, and that the result (if not the test itself) is not prone to manipulations, espe-
cially those which are (a) easy to conduct and/or (b) hard to detect.
Game-Based Assessment (GBA)
Game-based assessments consist of testing environments that take the form of
an actual game, Apart from being also based on psychological methodology, the
main challenge here is to create a game that stays true to the curriculum by incor-
porating the testable skills and knowledge in a meaningful way, while at the same
time being designed in a way that is also entertaining, engaging and accessible. In
addition to gamified learning assessments, one also has to avoid glitches within
the game environment (especially when these glitches might distort the testing
results).
Combined Game-Based Learning and Assessment (GBL&A)
Due to the success of game-based learning, it makes sense to design game-based
assessment and game-based learning tools as complementary to each other. In
combined Game-based Learning and Assessment environments, a learning expe-
rience might take place in one level of a game, while another level serves as a
testing stage for the evaluation of learning progress. While the demands regarding
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
59Blockchain Technologies and Their Impact on Game-Based …
safeguards against identity fraud, cheating, and result-distorting glitches are the
same as in regular game-based assessment, an additional challenge lies in the fact
that the assessment segments must not only reflect the curriculum but must also
be synchronized with the learning segments.
Integrated Game-Based Learning/Assessment (GBL/A)
The most promising, but also the most challenging form of game-based assess-
ment is the actual integration of learning assessments as interlaced parts of
game-based learning experiences. Contrary to Game-based Learning & Assess-
ment, there is no noticeable switch between learning and testing, as the system
tracks and maps learning progress as it happens, and learners do not have to step
out of their learning experiences for the purpose of testing. While all forms of
game-based assessment call for measures that ensure security and establish trust,
GBL/A approaches are especially demanding not only regarding data volumes,
but also regarding the criteria under which a constant assessment of even the
smallest actions and decisions can occur.
However, in all these cases the examiners as well as the examinees should
have faith regarding the validity of the test outcome and fairness of the testing
tool.2 Furthermore, it should be impossible to manipulate the results, e.g. altering
the txt, .csv or .json file storing the data (which may include personal identifiers,
time and date, results, steps to results etc.). In this sense, non-blockchain based
approaches can hardly ensure the required level of trust and immutability. This
raises the question whether blockchain-based approaches are better suited to do
so, and if they are, in which way?
Blockchain as a Solution?
Blockchain-based technologies are usually promoted as just the long-sought answer
to these challenges. Grech and Camilleri (2017) describe Blockchain as “a distrib-
uted ledger [with entries that] are permanent, transparent, and searchable (at least
the proof of transaction), which makes it possible for community members to view
2See e.g. Alan Redman’s talk about game-based assessments: https://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=WPU_8ip26ew.
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
60 A. Pfeier and N. Koenig
transaction histories in their entirety. […] With blockchain, cryptology replaces
third-party intermediaries as the keeper of trust, with all blockchain participants
running complex algorithms to certify the integrity of the whole.” As decentral-
ized systems, blockchains should offer by design little opportunity for tampering
attempts, and especially in the case of sufficiently established, public, and per-
mission-less blockchain systems (e.g. Bitcoin, Litecoin or NXT), manipulation
becomes virtually impossible.
When information is stored on the blockchain, it cannot be altered retroactively.
In addition to giving users full control over how their data is used and providing
unambiguous information about the provenance of this data, it is this immutability
that makes blockchain systems the perfect technology to secure critical informa-
tion like personal data, finances, but also learning achievements and educational
credentials. Once learning achievements and credentials are stored in a blockchain-
based system, neither teachers nor learners, and not even system administrators
or the designers of the system can change entries, remove success criteria or add
additional milestones. And as this system is de-centralized, there is nobody who
can be approached and ‘convinced’ to change data entries retroactively.
If one is to believe (and there are good reasons to do so) that blockchain-based
technologies will play an essential part in making future learning environments
trustworthy and secure, while at the same time providing enjoyable learning
experiences, it seems worthwhile to think about how blockchain-technologies and
digital education can be combined in a meaningful way, andas such combina-
tions will in all likelihood be implemented in the near futureto consider the
implications of such strategies. In the following, a short introduction to block-
chain technologies and their possible value for the field of education will serve
as a starting point for such considerations. It will be examined in which way the
advantages of blockchain technologies in education also create their own prob-
lems, and it will be discussed how these problems can either be overcome or must
at least be considered.
A Short Introduction to Blockchain Technology
In the early 1980’s, Lamport, Leslie and Shostak (1980, 1982) described the Byz-
antine generals’ problem and outline possible solutions in their papers “Reaching
Agreement in the Presence of Faults” and “The Byzantine Generals Problem”.
The name refers to the attack on Constantinople in 1453 AD, during which
the city had to be attacked simultaneously from several sides due to its strong
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
61Blockchain Technologies and Their Impact on Game-Based …
fortifications. The generals who were to coordinate the attack communicated with
each other by messenger, as they could not be in the same place at the same time.
However, some of these generals were prone to send false and contradictory mes-
sages to other generals on purpose, as they wanted to gain a personal advantage
by discrediting their fellow combatants in the eyes of the sultan. In effect, while
there was a constant flow of messages in all directions, the receivers could never
be sure whether they could trust the message and the person who had it delivered
to them.
Just like the Byzantine Generals more than 500 years ago, today’s digital
society, too, is struggling with severe trust issues. We have to trust the retailer
when shopping as private individuals on eBay, willhaben.at or even from large
corporations such as Amazon. Apart from the transfer of monetary-values, we
need to build trust in e-mails and other electronic correspondencee.g. via Inter-
net forumsor the belief that the sender is in fact who it is supposed to be. And
when it comes to game-based-assessment in classroom, the teacher also needs to
trust that e.g. the set of information that is delivered from the game engine/gami-
fied e-learning system has not been altered. This is where Blockchain technology
comes in:
From a social perspective, blockchain technology offers significant possibili-
ties beyond those currently available. In particular, moving records to the block-
chain can allow for:
1. Self-sovereignty, i.e. for users to identify themselves while at the same time
maintaining control over the storage and management of their personal data;
2. Trust, i.e. for a technical infrastructure that gives people enough confidence in
its operations to carry through with transactions such as payments or the issue
of certificates;
3. Transparency & Provenance, i.e. for users to conduct transactions in knowl-
edge that each party has the capacity to enter into that transaction;
4. Immutability, i.e. for records to be written and stored permanently, without the
possibility of modification;
5. Disintermediation, i.e. the removal of the need for a central controlling author-
ity to manage transactions or keep records;
6. Collaboration, i.e. the ability of parties to transact directly with each other
without the need for mediating third parties (Grech and Camilleri 2017).
These features of Blockchain as technology also have great value for the field of
education. Especially in combination with digital identity management, Blockchain
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
62 A. Pfeier and N. Koenig
technology unfolds its full power. When MIT Media Lab developed blockcerts,3
they decided on building it upon the Bitcoin Blockchain for the following reason:
The easy answer is that when we started out, Ethereum was a mere whiff of an idea
(no pun intended). The other part of the answer is that Bitcoin has been the most
tested and reliable blockchain to date; in addition, the relatively robust self-interest
of miners, and the financial investment made into Bitcoin (and Bitcoin related com-
panies) make it likely that it will be around for a good while longer. Our solution is
not locked to one particular blockchain–it would be easy to also start publishing our
credentials to other blockchains, but for most of what we want to do, the functional-
ity of the Bitcoin blockchain continues to be sufficient. That is not to say that we are
not curious about the potential of smart contracts, and we are discussing the poten-
tial of Ethereum-based side-chains to reduce transaction cost and expand functional-
ity. (Juliana Nazaré on Medium.com)4
Challenges (and Possible Solutions) for Blockchain
Technologies in Education
The aforementioned blog posting was made in June 2016. Less than two years
later, the blockchain “Ethereum” had a market cap of 62 billion USD (26th
of April 2018), which is more than double of the market cap of all blockchain
systems, including Bitcoin, had when Juliana Nazaré from the MIT Media Lab
wrote her article. Apart from Ethereum, many different Blockchain Systems have
entered the market. Some of them allow to create Tokens/Assets and Cryptocur-
rencies upon them (like the ERC20 Tokens on Ethereum). All these new systems
and applications built on them lead to a number of new problems:
(I) In the near future, there might be a number of different educational credit
systems similar to blockcerts, built upon a large variety of different blockchain
systems, and different institutions (universities, colleges, schools…) might also
use different credit systems. A possible solution to this problem would be an
independent mediator that can collect and validate the credentials issued on the
various systems. Such a mediating system could serve as a “collection point”,
compiling and validating the results of the various credential systems and con-
necting them to the users digital ID (e.g. the “A-Trust ID Card” issued by the
4https://medium.com/mit-media-lab/what-we-learned-from-designing-an-academic-certifi-
cates-system-on-the-blockchain-34ba5874f196.
3https://github.com/blockchain-certificates.
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
63Blockchain Technologies and Their Impact on Game-Based …
Austrian government), making it possible for users to access their own data and
share it as proof of achievement (e.g. as a link in their CV).
Another reason why such an independent mediating system might be useful
or even necessary is the possible dependency on the provider of a blockchain-
based application. This is mainly due to these credential systems not being based
on open-source, public, permission-less blockchains, but on centralized, con-
trolled blockchains, owned by private companies, who intend to sell their systems
to governments and universities (for instance, the Sony corporation has recently
developed such a system, based on a patent the company holds, and is currently
marketing it to schools and universities).5
While this company might successfully sell its system to an educational insti-
tution and might even provide an excellent service in handling this institution’s
processes regarding test results, credentials, admissions, etc., it is still possible
that, for whatever reasons, the company decides to shut down its centralized per-
missioned blockchain at a later point. Without an independent mediating system,
the data would almost certainly be lost, defeating the purpose of using a block-
chain-system altogether. If, on the other hand, the data was compiled at a univer-
sal “collection point”, together with the data from all the other credential systems,
a verified copy of the results would still exist on a public permission less block-
chain and could be stored on this (de-centralized) blockchain potentially forever.
Such a system would provide the security of a decentralized blockchain even for
centralized-blockchain applications, enabling anyone to run a full node on low
costs that acts as a public ledger, and ensuring that the blockchain and its entries
will exist unless everyone in the world including yourself is shutting down the
node.
(II) Another potentially challenging issue (technologically as well as finan-
cially) is the number of transactions that can be handled within a certain period,
the transaction costs and who is responsible in payment terms (because on a pub-
lic blockchain transactions usually cost a certain amount of money, commonly
paid in the native token of the specific blockchain).
As a university using blockcerts, one might only have to issue the learning
credentials twice a year to each student. In this case, the number of transactions
is still easily manageable, and the transaction fees (amounting to two times the
number of students, multiplied by the fees payable to the network), will be in the
affordable range.
5https://www.coindesk.com/sony-and-ibm-team-to-secure-education-data-with-blockchain/.
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
64 A. Pfeier and N. Koenig
While blockchain-technologies even for basic E-Learning and E-Assessment
applications already leads to a much higher number of transactions, as not only
the final grades would be entered in the blockchain, but the results from each sin-
gle test, and maybe even the answers to specific questions.
The greatest number of transactions, however, incurs when game-based
assessments (and especially Integrated Game-based Learning/Assessment solu-
tions) make use of blockchain-systems. In this case, any single step learners take
might be stored, in addition to milestones they reach and badges that signify a
specific competence gained, even before all this data leads to a test result which,
again, is reflected in a final grade. This enormous amount of transactions is neces-
sary to reach the goal of immutable and continuous learning environments and
the possibility of learning credentials that do not only show the results at the end
of the semester, but also record all steps in between that lead to the final grades.
Due to this enormous amount of transactions, game-based learning assessment
calls for especially robust blockchain systems, and as these transactions will need
to be nearly instant as well as cost effective, strategies that enable more efficient
transaction management (using, for instance, mechanics like bundling, pruning,
proof-of-existence-secure timestamps using merkle-trees) will be in high demand.
In all mentioned cases it should also be possible to make the without the
player/learner having to hold tokens him/herself and the system has to offer an
interface which can easily be used by 3rd parties (e.g. educational software pro-
viders) while still being immutable at the same time.
A blockchain-based system must therefore be extremely robust in order to
handle the enormous amount of transactions that occur using game-based assess-
ments (and especially GBL/A) approach. Any system that is strong enough to
handle this volume of transactions will easily handle more simple demands like
e-Learning assessments or storing the final grading results at the end of each
semester. Hence, focusing on blockchain solutions for GBL/A as a long-term goal
makes sense, as this will ensure that its findings will also be applicable for less
demanding applications, making them highly relevant not only for the educational
sector as a whole, but also for blockchain-developers who are interested in stable
and sustainable strategies blockchain-applications.
(III) Yet another issue that differs, but cannot be dealt separately from tech-
nological problems, is the human factor, or more specifically, the question what
role humans play in the process of creating, storing and managing data on the
blockchain. While safekeeping data on a blockchain is primarily a technical pro-
cess, the data itself (at least some of the educational data, like grades) is often
produced by human agents.
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
65Blockchain Technologies and Their Impact on Game-Based …
Regarding the human factor, the following issues must at least be kept in mind
when developing future blockchain-in-education scenarios:
Humans as a source of error: especially in the educational sector, even the
most sophisticated digital environments will not make human interaction
obsolete, as learning and education are inherently social processes. This also
means that any application that involves learning and assessment must deal
with problems caused by human error. Some of these problems can effectively
be countered or excluded by blockchain-based technologies. Especially in the
case of retroactive manipulation of data, non-blockchain systems are prone to
manipulation, as even the most advanced safeguards cannot prohibit users with
high enough access rights to manipulate existing data entries (this may be a
mere annoyance when a well-meaning teacher edits a favorite student’s attend-
ance times, but it can quickly become a large-scale problem when the recogni-
tion of diplomas is tampered with on an institutional level). As data stored on
the blockchain cannot be altered retroactively, the problem of tampering with
existing data could easily be ruled out.
However, even when a blockchain-system secures the storage and management of
data, there are still humans involved in the process. Especially when blockchain
is used only for the final storage of grades, there is still plenty of room for error:
when a professor takes an exam, tells his assistant to note the grade, which is then
dropped off at a secretary’s desk, who emails the grade to the blockcert-depart-
ment for secure entry in the blockchain, this process offers many opportunities for
human error, ranging from unfair grading by the professor, to the assistant mixing
up U.S. and European grading scales, to the secretary mistyping when copying
the grade, to the blockcert-clerk assigning the grade to the wrong student.
This problem can be reduced when a whole (basic, gamified combined or even
integrated game-based) E-learning and -assessment system is based on the block-
chain, as this allows to store test results immediately, and to ensure that grades
are calculated based on a fixed key and in real time. While the initial creation
of the test (including how answers and actions are evaluated, and determination
of the grading key) is still subject to human error, it is the system that provides
transparent testing conditions for every student, saves the (intermediate and
final) results immediately and securely, and safeguards this data from retroactive
manipulation.
Dealing with faulty entries: while blockchain-based systems can ensure the
immutability of data, this also creates problems when it turns out that this data
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
66 A. Pfeier and N. Koenig
has been created based on faulty premises. The more obvious reason for faulty
data entries has already been described on the example of systems which only
use blockchain-technologies to store final grades, as there is a great number of
reasons that can lead to a wrong grade being entered in the blockchain. And
even when a sophisticated E-learning and -assessment system ensures that
grades are always correctly calculated in accordance with the grading key,
mistakes in determining the grading key or in setting the correct and incorrect
answers in a test cannot be ruled out.
If it turns out that the wrong grades have been saved, they still cannot be changed.
Instead, additional entries must be made that contain not only the correct grade,
but also the information that the previous grade has been entered incorrectly into
the system, because corrections cannot made as edits, but only as additions to
existing entries. In this sense, blockchain-based systems might require a radical
re-thinking of educational credentials, as these systems no longer highlight the
learner’s successes, but a comprehensive learning biography, in which successes
and failures are equally reflected.
However…
So far, it seems that blockchain-based technologies have the potential to drasti-
cally change the way we think about learning assessments and educational cre-
dentials in the digital age by greatly improving the way we measure learning
progress, store our grades and manage the distribution of our academic achieve-
ments.
However, despite all the enthusiasm the blockchain-based technologies seem
to warrant, the authors want to point out that the greatest advantage of block-
chain technologies might also be considered their biggest weakness: when the
unique selling proposition is the guarantee that stored data can never be deleted
(except when the whole blockchain is abandoned), this raises obvious concerns
(most notably in regard to questions of data privacy) as this permanence can be
in direct conflict with the desire to control what digital traces of our life are kept
on record, a desire which is increasingly anchored in our society by legal con-
cepts, like the Right to be Forgotten, or regulations like the European Union’s
General Data Protection Regulation. In place of a conclusion, we would therefore
like to emphasize that a broad and thorough discussion of what might be called
alexander.pfeiffer@donau-uni.ac.at
67Blockchain Technologies and Their Impact on Game-Based …
the Ethics of permanent storage will need to precede any final decision on how
to use blockchain-technologies, and that such a decision must be very precise in
determining what kind of data we want to store using blockchain technologies at
allprecisely because it seems that Blockchain technologies will be able to keep
the promises they make.
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