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Understanding Blockchain Technology and how to get involved

Authors:

Abstract

Introduced in 2009 as the core mechanism for the Bitcoin, Blockchain technology enables the creation of a decentralized environment, where transactions and data are not under the control of any third party organization. Any transaction ever completed is recorded in a public ledger in a verifiable, secure, transparent and permanent way, with a timestamp and other details. In the first part of the paper, we explore the blockchain technology and platforms. Next, existing global and governmental initiatives, together with potential applications of blockchain in different domains, in education too, are presented. The need to learn about this emerging technology is discussed, together with pioneering cases in formal and informal learning settings. The paper draws also the first map the Romanian blockchain ecosystem, which is enlarged with educational projects developed by the authors, such as OpenEduChain, a blockchain system designed as a repository for open educational assets, but also for issuing digital certificates (RO-Certs). Offering a fresh perspective over blockchain technology, policies and projects, the paper could be useful for educational actors and policy makers wanting to explore and to integrate blockchain in institutional projects and curricula.
Understanding Blockchain Technology and how to get involved
Research Report
July, 2018
Carmen Holotescu, Professor PhD
“Ioan Slavici” University of Timisoara, Romania
carmen.holotescu@islavici.ro
Victor Holotescu, PhD Student
Politehnica University of Timisoara, Romania
victor.holotescu@student.upt.ro
Tudor Holotescu, Master Student
University of Nicosia, Cyprus
tudor@infinityness.com
Abstract: Introduced in 2009 as the core mechanism for the Bitcoin, Blockchain technology enables the
creation of a decentralized environment, where transactions and data are not under the control of any
third party organization. Any transaction ever completed is recorded in a public ledger in a verifiable,
secure, transparent and permanent way, with a timestamp and other details.
In the first part of the paper, we explore the blockchain technology and platforms. Next, existing global
and governmental initiatives, together with potential applications of blockchain in different domains, in
education too, are presented. The need to learn about this emerging technology is discussed, together
with pioneering cases in formal and informal learning settings.
The paper draws also the first map the Romanian blockchain ecosystem, which is enlarged with
educational projects developed by the authors, such as OpenEduChain, a blockchain system designed
as a repository for open educational assets, but also for issuing digital certificates (RO-Certs).
Offering a fresh perspective over blockchain technology, policies and projects, the paper could be
useful for educational actors and policy makers wanting to explore and to integrate blockchain in
institutional projects and curricula.
Keywords: Blockchain; Ethereum; Open Education; OERs; MOOCs; digital certificates.
I. BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY OVERVIEW
1.1 Definition
Blockchain technology enables the creation of a decentralized environment, where the
cryptographically validated transactions and data are not under the control of any third party
organization. Any transaction ever completed is recorded in an immutable ledger in a verifiable,
secure, transparent and permanent way, with a timestamp and other details.
The blockchain term, originally block chain, was first coined in 2009, by (the still unknown)
Satoshi Nakamoto, in the original source code for the virtual currency Bitcoin: Nodes collect new
transactions into a block, hash them into a hash tree”; when they solve the proof-of-work, they
broadcast the block to everyone and the block is added to the block chain” (Nakamoto, 2009).
The interrelated terms Blockchain, Cryptocurrency (currency that only exists digitally, using a
decentralized system to record transactions) and Initial Coin Offering ICO (the first sale of a
cryptocurrency to the public, conducted raising funds to support a start-up) were added to the Merriam
Webster Dictionary in March 2018 (http://twitter.com/MerriamWebster/status/970667988964831232).
1.2 Characteristics
A blockchain is characterized by censorship resistance, immutability and global usability, and
has a global network of validators called miners, who maintain it through block rewards, named
cryptotokens (Jeremy Gartner, in Shulman, 2018).
Vitalik Buterin (2017), the creator of Ethereum, states that decentralization assures fault
tolerance, attack resistance and collusion resistance. Also, that blockchain is decentralized on two of
the three possible axes in software decentralization:
politically decentralized - meaning that no one controls it;
architecturally decentralized - no infrastructural central point of failure exists;
logically centralized - there is one commonly agreed state and the system behaves like a
single computer.
Anyone has the autonomy to access a blockchain, to download a copy and play a role in
maintaining the blockchain, thus that computer becoming a node. The copy will be actively updated
along with every copy on every other node, edits can only be made to the blockchain with general
consensus among the individuals running a node (ConsenSys, 2018).
The process of adding a new block (containing thousands of transactions) to a blockchain, by
hash verification procedures, is named mining. The new block is linked to the last one in blockchain.
Each blockchain starts with the genesis block, containing its settings (Dhillon et al., 2017).
The advantages of the blockchain technology are the following (Grech and Camilleri, 2017):
self-sovereignty - users identify themselves and maintain control over the storage and
management of personal data;
trust - the technical infrastructure offers secure operations (payments or issue of
certificates);
transparency and provenance - to perform transactions in knowledge that each party has
the capacity to enter into that transaction;
immutability - records are written and stored permanently, without the possibility of
modification;
disintermediation - no need for a central controlling authority to manage transactions or
keep records;
collaboration - ability of parties to transact directly with each other without the need for
third-parties.
The main drawbacks are the high consume of hardware, energy and time needed for the
mining process, also the fact that the technology is complex and difficult to understand. Moreover, the
plethora of development platforms in continuous release and the novelty of associated languages still
keep the blockchain implementations as appanage of geeks, similar with sending e-mails using line
commands at the beginning of web.
Thus more friendly GUIs and tools are needed in order blockchain to enter in mainstream. As
underlined by Atchley (2018), blockchain needs to overcome its usability problem in order to impact
on the everyday lives of people. The usability and understanding issues make blockchain be the one
least heard about, as concluded by the “Trust in Technology” study (HSBC, 2017).
Greenspan (2015) listed specific conditions to be met in order to implement a decentralized
solution, thus avoiding “pointless blockchain projects”: needing shared databases with multiple
writers, having interactions between transactions, operating with an absence of trust, and without the
need of a trusted intermediary; for the other cases a regular database (Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL,
Postgres or NoSQL) should be used.
Some aspects to be considered when designing blockchain products are (Atchley, 2018; Baker
Mills, 2017):
engaging target users in interviews, surveys and usability testing, designing for trust:
transparent product’s information architecture, which is critical to acquisition, retention
and building trust;
visual consistency: clear visual style, familiar terms, flow and functions for product
interface;
constant and consistent feedback, active guidance to users because of the long duration of
validation and confirmation transactions on a blockchain network.
1.3 Platforms
There are many blockchain platforms, coin or smart contracts oriented, based on different
consensus algorithms, and with different developing tools and programming languages (Body, 2018;
Armasu, 2018), in this section a few of the most important are presented.
In October 2008, the Bitcoin (a compound of the words bit and coin) protocol, a fully peer-to-
peer electronic cash system, and the corresponding white paper were announced by Nakamoto (2008)
in the Cryptography mailing list (http://www.metzdowd.com/pipermail/cryptography/2008-
October/014810.html). Launched in 2009, Bitcoin (http://bitcoin.org) is the first and best known
blockchain network, mainly oriented on crypto-currency transactions. The network maintains
consensus using a hash-based proof-of-work (PoW) distributed algorithm (Nakamoto, 2008). At the
time of writing (March 2018), a new block is created on the Bitcoin network at each 10 minutes
(https://blockchain.info/stats), and around 12 thousand nodes participate in the blockchain
maintenance (mining process), almost 60% being located in the USA, China and Germany; in
Romania there are 45 nodes (https://bitnodes.earn.com).
Ethereum (http://ethereum.org), described in a white paper by Buterin (2013) and launched as
an open-source blockchain platform in 2015, defines smart contracts and is designed for a large variety
of decentralized applications (DApps). A new block is added to Ethereum at each 10 seconds
(https://ethstats.net), and the number of nodes is greater than 16 thousand, the USA, China and Russia
running around 60% of them (http://ethernodes.org).
The roadmap of Ethereum vision comprises four phases (Buterin in Obrist and Chu, 2018;
Prisco, 2017; Petrović, 2018):
Frontier - the alpha version released in July 2015, using command lines for blockchain
development and test;
Homestead launched in 2016 and being the functional phase in 2018, it came with a new
protocol, specific programming languages and tools;
Metropolis - will include features for privacy and efficiency improvement;
Serenity - will set the algorithm from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake; for the initial
algorithm, the security is managed by real assets outside the system, while in the case of
proof-of-work, there are inside virtual assets; an increased security will be obtained,
together with an important save of energy and much lower time per transaction.
This non-profit project comes with a new philosophy, aiming to give people opportunities to
build infrastructure for alternatives based on trust; also Buterin views the Ethereum community
members as facilitators who write the code, creating a mechanism so that the world can provide a
solution to itself, in opposition with the for-profits who think that they are the ones providing the
solution to the world (Buterin in Obrist and Chu, 2018). However, due to the increased adoption of the
Ethereum network and to the growth of data being added that all network nodes need to store, there
are ongoing debates about “rent fees” based on how long users would like their data to remain
accessible on the blockchain (Hertig, 2018).
Sidechain is a term that permits scaling and was recently defined as a custom ‘rule-set’ used to
offload computations from another chain, while relying on the mainchain for issues requiring the
highest levels of security (Konstantopoulos, 2017). It is envisioned to be possible to run efficiently
large-scale, decentralized apps (DApps), including games and social applications, on a DAppChain,
which is essentially an Application Specific Sidechain that runs in parallel to a mainchain like
Ethereum (Konstantopoulos, 2018), such a blockchain is loom (https://loomx.io).
The Ethereum main network is a public network that is open to anyone, but it is possible to
run a private Ethereum network, which allows for certain advantages, like faster processing and
private transactions within a permissioned group of known participants. Developed by JP Morgan,
Quorum (https://www.jpmorgan.com/global/Quorum) is such an enterprise-focused version of
Ethereum.
Hyperledger (https://www.hyperledger.org/projects) is a Linux Foundation Project and
incubates and promotes a range of business blockchain technologies, including distributed ledger
frameworks, smart contract engines, client libraries, graphical interfaces, utility libraries and sample
applications. Hyperledger Fabric (https://developer.ibm.com/blockchain), developed by IBM and
Digital Asset in 2017, is a fully integrated enterprise-ready blockchain platform designed for business.
A Fabric network comprises peer nodes, which execute smart contracts, called chaincode, access
ledger data, endorse transactions and interface with applications. Hyperledger Iroha was designed as a
mobile-first blockchain, to be simple and easy to incorporate into infrastructural projects.
The Microsoft Azure ecosystem proposes a cryptographically secure, shared, distributed
ledger, coming with scenarios as easy-to-deploy templates for the most popular ledgers
(https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/solutions/blockchain).
The IOTA blockchain (http://iota.org) was developed to enable fee-less micro-transactions for
the Internet of Things, as a solution for the interoperability and sharing of resources. The main
innovation of IOTA is the Tangle: the structure of blockchain is not any more linear, but peer-to-peer,
and the consensus is an intrinsic part of the system. IOTA comes with a platform for developing
decentralized applications for which value is transferred without any fees
(http://www.tangleblog.com/what-is-iota-what-is-the-tangle). It opens the door to the next
decentralized systems, which are not based on the blocks cryptographically connected in a linear
fashion (Murphy, 2018).
Nebulas (https://nebulas.io) is a self-evolving blockchain system with a decentralized
platform which provides a search framework for all blockchains”. Referred as the new “Google for
Blockchain”, Nebulas would search among decentralized applications (DApps), smart contracts and
user’s blockchain assets, thus turning of public data into private data (Gorsline, 2018).
A technology in development, called Hashgraph (https://hashgraph.com), is presented in its
white paper as a decentralized public ledger based on a new consensus protocol, that aims to boast
faster and cheaper transactions than the blockchain. The promissed 250,000+ transactions/second
would solve the scalability issue facing most blockchains today, but Hashgraph has yet to release
concrete technical details for its deployment as a public ledger (Jia, 2017; Holotescu and Vasiu, 2019).
Addressing the scalability problem, 0chain (https://0chain.net) is developing a solution such as
smart contracts execute within a sub-second using an n-dimensional, deterministic, Byzantine
blockchain system.
II. BLOCKCHAIN IMPACT AND DISRUPTED DOMAINS
2.1 Blockchain and the web of value
An analogy which is often made is that the blockchain technology is the new web and that it
will disrupt the online communication and applications, the same web started to do in the nineties
(Mougayar, 2015). In the web1.0 phase of personal communication (e-mail, simple websites,
discussion boards), towards web2.0 with self-publishing (blogs, RSS), e-commerce and the social
Web, the functions of post-office, print media, supply chains/physical stores, and the real world were
completely transformed. Now the blockchain promise phase is entering, with the key theme of
decentralization of trust and unleashing the flow of value without intermediaries.
A distributed ledger running on millions of computers and available to everybody would turn
the web of information to the web of value, where any assets, from money to music, could be stored,
moved, transacted, exchanged and managed without intermediaries (Tapscott, 2016).
Warbug (2016) speaks about the similarities between blockchain and Wikipedia, that is a data
infrastructure with composite view constantly changing and updated and all those changes could be
tracked. Similarly, the blockchain can be seen as an open infrastructure that stores many kinds of
assets - the history of custodianship, ownership and location for assets.
2.2 Global and national initiatives and polices
In the last years, the distributed ledger technology constitutes an important topic of research
and interest at institutional, national and global level, such initiatives are presented in this section.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has a Blockchain Community Group
(https://www.w3.org/community/blockchain), with the scope to study and evaluate new technologies
and use cases related to blockchain, showing the W3C’s intention to become more involved with
distributed ledger technology as a foundational element of tomorrow’s web. In June 2016, the group
and MIT Media Lab organized the exploratory W3C Workshop on Distributed Ledgers on the Web, to
determine opportunities and timelines for blockchain standardization (Prisco, 2016).
The European Commission (EC) considers blockchain as a strategic technology and
encourages governments, European industry and citizens to benefit from blockchain opportunities.
The EC organized an information day on 19 December 2017 to explain the different topics related to
blockchain and distributed ledger technologies in the Horizon 2020 Work Programme and Fintech
cooperation actions (https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/information-day-19-december-
2017-horizon-2020-blockchain-distributed-ledger-technologies-topics). The EC aims to develop a
common approach on blockchain technology for the EU in the international arena, thus in February
2018, the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum (http://www.eublockchainforum.eu) was launched,
in order to become a knowledge hub on blockchain, to map relevant blockchain initiatives, to share
experiences and pool expertise on blockchain and its related challenges, to promote European actors,
and to organise debates at the EU level. Also, the results of a study on the opportunity to pilot a EU
Blockchain Infrastructure (EuroChain) for the advent of an open, innovative, trustworthy, transparent,
and EU law compliant data and transactional environment are expected in 2018
(https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/blockchain-technologies). Also, on 10 April 2018 a
number of 22 European countries signed a Declaration on the establishment of a European Blockchain
Partnership, as “a vehicle for cooperation amongst Member States to exchange experience and
expertise in technical and regulatory fields and prepare for the launch of EU-wide blockchain
applications across the Digital Single Market for the benefit of the public and private sectors”
(https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/european-countries-join-blockchain-partnership).
Romania was not in that first group of countries, signing the document two weeks later.
Under the umbrella of the European Parliament, the conference "Blockchain - The Game
Changer of the 4th Industrial Revolution" (http://ep-blockchain-conference.eu) took place in Brussels
in 24 May 2018, gathering global decision makers, influencers and blockchain companies. The first
international Blockchain hub in Europe, Blockchain Centre Vilnius (https://bcgateway.eu), launched
in January 2018, contributed to its organization too.
The European Innovation Council (EIC) has launched the Blockchains for Social Good,
challenging the development of scalable, efficient and high-impact decentralized solutions to social
innovation leveraging Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology (DLTs)
(http://ec.europa.eu/research/eic/index.cfm?pg=prizes_blockchains).
Designed to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe, to protect and empower all EU
citizens data privacy and to reshape the way organizations across the region approach data privacy,
the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (https://www.eugdpr.org) of the European Union will
take effect on 25 May 2018. Data privacy protection is fully enabled by blockchains, but there are a
few issues that should be clarified in the blockchain ecosystem: the “right to be forgotten” is
contradictory to the blockchain property of immutable information; also the requirement to track what
data is leaving the boundaries of the EU is difficult to be realized as the blockchains nodes are located
worldwide; moreover, the GDPR assumes that corporate leaders are responsible for implementing
regulatory standards, but blockchain projects are usually run by a loose collaboration of worldwide
developers and entrepreneurs (Blechschmidt, 2018; Steinbeck, 2018).
A lot of countries and governments are starting to fund projects and to place regulations on the
blockchain technology; Estonia, USA, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Australia, North Korea, Canada,
UK, The Netherlands, Malta are among the countries that support digital currency (Smolenski, 2017;
Levis, 2018; Nelson, 2018; DF, 2018).
In Estonia, a leader in deploying advanced communication technologies, almost all public
services are digitalized and accessed through secure digital identities, provided to every citizen and
resident. A true blockchain nation, citizens and residents are in control over their own data, such as
medical records on the Healthcare Registry. The e-Residency program (https://e-resident.gov.ee),
enabling anyone with an online connection to establish a financial base in Estonia, is implemented on
blockchain too; some blockchain entrepreneurs set up their companies through e-Residency, and in
next future the cryptocurrency estcoin could be used for ICOs.
Switzerland provided political and regulatory support for blockchain-based start-ups, thus the
Zug lakeside town is known as Crypto Valley, attracting huge foreign investments in the blockchain
space.
The UK government’s BaaS (blockchain-as-a-service) is used to track welfare paychecks and
disburse student loan grants, while the technology development agency Innovate UK supports
blockchain-based projects.
Austria has devised a plan to support blockchain, including the creation of a cluster with
sandbox development for private and public players. Also the country plans to use blockchain for
personal identification, but also for banking and insurance sectors (https://www.blockchain-center.at).
Blockchain regulation in Germany will get a comprehensive strategy and a legal framework
from government, which encourages the blockchain industry.
The Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority declared cryptocurrencies as a means of
payment, while in Denmark there is a wide-scale adoption of digital currency too.
France Stratégie, also called the Commissariat-General for Strategy and Foresight, has
launched a working group to explore various aspects of blockchain technology.
In March 2018, the Irish Government published a discussion paper on virtual currencies and
blockchain technology, and announced the creation of an internal working group to monitor further
developments (DF, 2018); the paper summaries actions taken by selected countries around the world
and sets out the technology key risks and opportunities.
Malta, with the vision of a future Blockchain Island, has regulations and pro-blockchain
legislation for cryptocurrency businesses.
Dubai Blockchain Strategy was announced by the Smart Dubai Office and the Dubai Future
Foundation in October 2016, with the objective to make Dubai the first blockchain-powered city by
2020 (https://smartdubai.ae/en/Initiatives/Pages/DubaiBlockchainStrategy.aspx). The strategy is built
on three pillars: government efficiency (visa applications, bill payments and license renewals),
industry creation (a system for enabling citizens and partners to create new businesses using the
technology) and international leadership (delivered through a Global Trust Network).
Based on the ideas resulted from the hackathon organized in January 2018, the Karnataka
government in India is expected to publish a white paper with the roadmap for the blockchain
implementation in e-governance.
Singapore is a hub for blockchain innovation, having plans to tokenize the country’s currency
on Ethereum and to integrate blockchain into government and financial services.
On 7 March 2018, the votes of the citizens of Sierra Leone were stored on the Agora
blockchain (https://agora.vote), in order to create legitimacy around the election.
Kenya intends to use the blockchain technology in order to reduce corruption in education and
land title registry.
Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC) will create an
advisory council to promote blockchain use for businesses in the country.
2.3 Disrupted domains
The blockchain technology is deeply interlinked with the foundations of society, government,
economy, education, culture, charity and even identity, reconsidering fundamental questions such as
“what is the definition of value?” or “what does society look like when authority is decentralized?”
(Obrist and Chu, 2018). Moreover, blochchain is categorized in the top ten strategic technology trends
which will disrupt business in the next five years, constituting an intelligent digital mesh, which
entwines people, devices, content and services (Panetta, 2017).
Initially predominant in the financial sector, taking advantage of its unique characteristics
presented before - such as being able to replace trust‐based systems, blockchain has the potential to
become a significant source of disruption. Thus, innovative applications have been already
implemented in a lot of domains, such as: humanitarian projects, business, management, finance,
banking, cryptocurrency, Internet of Things, education, smart property, energy, healthcare, digital
identity, Machine Learning, digital notary, food industry and agriculture, transport, carrier services,
mobile parking, social media networks, distributed cloud storage, travel, sport or games (Holotiuk et
al., 2017; White, 2017; Sumeet, 2017; Zambrano, 2017; Blechschmidt, 2018). An interesting insight
into the blockchain impact in different domains is provided by an interactive map of global
transformations, the key issued being considered: Decentralized Asset Management, Economic and
Social Structures, Financial Products and Services, Identity and Persona Management, Governance
and Law, Environmental Sustainability (WEF, 2018).
In humanitarian projects, blockchain allows faster intervention in difficult environments, in
emergency and disaster situations, or in vulnerable countries lacking financial infrastructure.
Therefore, charity could become more direct, peer to peer, with aid going to beneficiaries who receive
directly the aid, without the intermediation of a charitable organization. Innovative projects for cash-
based transfers, identity management and supply chain operations have been developed.
Such a project is Building Blocks, developed by the Innovation Accelerator of United Nations
(UN) World Food Programme (WFP). Through the Building Blocks Project (BBP), vulnerable
families in refugee camps from Pakistan and Jordan have received WFP cash, permitting them to buy
food, but also to inject much-needed cash in local economies. All the transactions are recorded on the
blockchain using biometric identification based on fingerprint or eye scan. This system is a solution
helping refugees retain their identity, considering 70 percent of refugees lack basic identity
documents. BBP replaced the banks and also is on track to create a global digital identification system
for refugees (BBP, 2017; WFP, 2017).
Game Chaingers (https://www.chaingers.io) is a UNICEF project for helping kids of Syria, in
which members of the PC gaming community have turned graphics cards (installing Claymore, a
mining software) into a humanitarian tool, contributing to the first ever blockchain fundraising by
mining Ethereum for UNICEF.
Blockchain is considered an important technology with a huge impact over the next ten years
by 55% of respondents of a survey conducted with banking and capital markets institutions
(Synechron, 2016). While major banks are exploring already the distributed ledger widely, it is
estimated that the blockchain will change core components in the industry in a decade (Campbell,
2017). Holotiuk et al. (2017) outline that in spite of the misuse of bitcoins which aroused some
skepticism in the payments industry, the blockchain technology has gradually imposed new services
fostering P2P, cross-border and cross-currency transactions, making current services obsolete.
Because the traditional sources of revenue will disappear, the financial structures of existing business
models will change, banks and other financial institutions will have to rethink their strategies and
operations, to provide user-friendly and secure platforms, creating new opportunities for fintechs
leveraging blockchain technology, such as OmiseGO (https://omisego.network) or BitShares
(https://bitshares.org).
The projects in the energy sector optimize old processes, giving users the possibility to buy
and sell (renewable-)energy from and to each other, thus creating the paradigm of peer-to-peer (P2P)
energy trading. Grid Singularity (http://gridsingularity.com) and Energy Mine
(https://energimine.com) are blockchains for energy industry.
Using blockchain and Internet of Things technologies in order to build an infrastructure to
store and access parking contracts and associated data, a few solutions for smart mobile parking were
implemented, such as Parkcoin (https://lab9k.github.io/ParkCoin), Psrkgene (https://parkgene.io) or
Parking Dapp (https://github.com/blakeberg/parking-dapp).
Distributed ledger technology has also the potential to make patients’ data fully secured and to
provide them full control over their sensitive information. Having already been piloted with 14 UK
surgeries, the blockchain-based Doctorlink platform (https://www.doctorlink.com) uses decision tree
protocols and an evidence based approach, and allows patients book appointments and access medical
advice via the doctor surgery’s own website. Docademic (https://docademic.com) is a blockchain
platform for patients and doctors, offering free Human Doctor-AI assisted video telemedicine service
already in use in 20 countries, medical update and health news, each user having access at the own
Electronic Health Record. Dentacoin (https://dentacoin.com) is the first blockchain concept designed
for the dental industry, assuring dental insurance, trusted dental treatment reviews and an interactive
aftercare assistance.
In food industry and agriculture, blockchain projects track products and supply chains, among
such projects are Carrefour, which launched Europe's first food blockchain in March 2018
(http://www.carrefour.com/search/site/blockchain), Skuchain (http://www.skuchain.com), Provenance
(https://www.provenance.org), and also facilitate fair payments to producers, an example being
Bitmari (https://www.bitmari.com).
Recently there has been formulated a lot of concerns and criticism about popular social media
platforms and applications, such as Facebook and Google, because of the user data they own and
exploit (Streitfeld et al., 2018). Thus the decentralized social media platforms have gained attention
and have attracted many new users: Minds (https://www.minds.com), Steemit (https://steemit.com) or
Matchpool (https://www.matchpool.com) are blockchain-based rewards platform for content creators
and journalists to monetize contributions and grow community, based on the up votes received from
readers for quality content, while Indorse (https://indorse.io) uses models of tokenization and
decentralization to change the shape of professional social networking. dock.io (http://dock.io) is a
decentralized data exchange protocol that lets people connect their profiles, reputations and
experiences across the web with privacy and security. Knowledge.io (https://knowledge.io) lets
advertisers identify and reward advertising and IT experts with tokens so they can identify ad bots and
safeguard systems; in exchange, experts can earn, trade or spend tokens in a marketplace.
Using the Blockchain technology, distributed cloud storage (such as Storj - https://storj.io)
keeps encrypted data with multiple parties, allowing also the rent of personal excess hard drive space,
thus increasing the size of cloud storage with reduced cost.
For travel industry, blockchain offers new opportunities: management of flight,
accommodation, transportation and tour reservations through smart contracts, and earning money by
travelers for sharing their experience; TravelChain (https://travelchain.io) and Winding Tree
(https://windingtree.com) are blockchains of this category.
The open-source Sport Alliance platform (https://beat.sportalliance.com) for sport and health
market aims to track users sport activities and to reward them with the BEATs tokens, for paying
goods and services inside the ecosystem.
Blockchain has also interesting applications in the game industry, making possible multiple
games with interlinked environments, safe storage, proof of asset scarcity, micro-transactions or
digital assets in an augmented world (Kertonegoro, 2017). Playkey (https://playkey.io) is a
decentralized cloud gaming platform, projecting the access to an Nvidia server. Game Machine
(https://gamemachine.io) proposes safe investment in game projects. Launched in December 2017,
CryptoKitties (https://www.cryptokitties.co) is a popular application on Ethereum, whose players buy,
sell, and breed digital cats, a kind of Tamagotchi game. A similar game can be created starting from
the open source Doroidotchi project (http://www.genesisbloc.com/doroidotchi-the-tamagotchi-smart-
contract). loom (https://loomx.io) is a blockchain platform for large-scale online games and social
applications, implementing Ethereum sidechains optimized for scaling data rather than financial
transactions.
III. BLOCKCHAIN IN EDUCATION
3.1 Educational applications
Education is another domain registering many national and institutional research and projects
for integrating the blockchain technology. The blockchain technology and smart contracts can be used
in education in interesting and innovative applications, such as: proof of learning, management of
credentials and transcripts, management of student records, management of reputation, and payments
(Grech and Camilleri, 2017; Watters, 2016; Esposito, 2018). During the annual summit of the
Groningen Declaration Network (https://www.groningendeclaration.org) held in April 2018, in Paris,
the experts spoke about blockchain as a “key to a future of secure, portable academic credentials for
students, particularly relevant for cross-border mobility” (Stacey, 2018).
Based on the blockchain property of serving as a decentralized permanent unalterable store of
all types of information or assets, a group of pioneering universities started to experiment and issue
cryptographically-signed, verifiable certificates on blockchain, which students can access or share
with employers: the University of Nicosia in Cyprus (offering digital certificates since 2014 -
https://digitalcurrency.unic.ac.cy), Massachusetts Institute of Technology - MIT (project developed by
Media Lab Learning Initiative and Learning Machine - http://certificates.media.mit.edu,
https://www.blockcerts.org) and Open University UK (http://blockchain.open.ac.uk). These projects
are open source and could be adapted by interested universities and training institutions.
There are also other free or open source projects for digital certificates, such as: Open
Certificates (http://opencertificates.co), BadgeChain (a research group on open badges and blockchain
- https://medium.com/badge-chain), APPII (https://appii.io), uPort (https://www.uport.me), Educhain
(https://educhain.io) or Smart Diploma (https://smartdiploma.io).
Following the agreement signed with Learning Machine (https://www.learningmachine.com)
in September 2017, Malta has become the first nation-state to deploy blockchain technology in
education, issuing digital diplomas, training certificates and equivalency statements, using the
BlockCerts standard (http://connectedlearning.edu.mt/news). Many other universities worldwide offer
digital certificates, among them there are: Central New Mexico Community College
(https://www.cnm.edu), British University in Dubai (http://buid.ac.ae), also three Greek universities
will use the Cardano platform (https://www.cardano.org).
In 2017, Sony Global Education implemented a project on the Hyperledger platform to
maintain and manage transcripts and high security data, such as learning history
(https://blockchain.sonyged.com).
Several universities, including the University of Nicosia, The King’s College in New York,
Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, or Varna in Bulgaria, accept the digital currency for
tuition payments.
The management of reputation on blockchain-based ecosystems helps participants to access
remuneration appropriate to their skill and service level. A project for ePortfolios and reputation was
developed by Open University UK (Sharples and Domingue, 2016), while in the case of bitJob
(https://bitjob.io), the peer-to-peer connections are between employers and students, and Vanywhere
(https://vanywhere.com) connects people seeking and offering skills.
Blockchain (or distributed) universities and learning communities constitute a category of
innovative educational applications, bringing a new model of learning, where there is an exchange of
ideas and concepts coupled with a tracking system for learning results. The blockchain technology is
used in the regulation of contracts and payments, to assess learning and to record academic progress, a
kind of Uber for learning. Tuition payment could be done by peer-teaching other students. Such
projects are:
Woolf University (https://woolf.university) - set up by a team of Oxford academics,
blockchainedu (https://www.blockchaineducation.school) developed by blockchainedu
Foundation on the NEM blockchain platform (https://nem.io);
fathom (https://fathom.network) - a decentralized system on Ethereum, for creating and
assessing meaningful credentials through the consensus of knowledge communities,
aiming to build identities based on qualifications;
BitDegree (https://www.bitdegree.org) there are many online courses on different topics,
including Solidity and game development on blockchain (Space Doggos); the platform is
also a tool for businesses to recruit tech talent and shape global education to their needs;
ODEM (https://odem.io) - a beta-phase platform aiming to revolutionize how educators
and students plan, connect, and book educational programs; it uses artificial intelligence to
seamlessly manage complex requests, organizing complete educational programs;
SuccessLife (https://successlife.com) - the platform aims to be a global marketplace for
personal and professional development and education; it is designed to offer digital
content and services, rewards and incentive programs, but also live events and workshops.
Blockchain for Science (https://www.blockchainforscience.com) is a project supported by an
active community and has as aims to bring science towards reproducible results, autonomous and free
data handling and incentivisation of true innovation, to support scientific communication and
education, and also to free science from any kind of censorship or central point of failure.
Disciplina (https://disciplina.io) is a new blockchain platform for projects in the educational
and recruiting spheres, aiming to provide the transparency of work and to maintain confidentiality and
reliability of information added by system participants.
3.2 The need for instruction
If 2017 has brought new tokens and funds, and the largest increase in the global blockchain
participation, this year demands the education of new participants in the blockchain ecosystem, the
understanding of the opportunities as a matter of empowering human rights and the involvement of
diverse communities in the creation of all blockchain products (Mehrain, 2017).
Considering the variety of the numerous current and projected blockchain applications, in the
last months there are many evidences for a high demand of workforce specialized in the decentralized
applications paradigm.
On LinkedIn, blockchain-related job adverts have tripled in the last year, in a single week
around one thousand are published, while ten thousand people list blockchain as a skill (Arnold,
2017). The ConsenSys company, one of the leaders in Ethereum development, states that there are
currently 5,000 blockchain developers worldwide, while in 2020 500,000 will be needed
(https://consensys.net/academy/developer).
Last year, blockchain and bitcoin-related skills (together with robotics) were the fastest
growing in the labor market (http://www.upwork.com/press). The blockchain careers comprise
specialty areas such as product design, data analysis, development, machine learning, legal and public
service, ICO advisory services, consultancy or subject matter expertize (Stein, 2018). Job offers can be
found on dedicated portals such as UpWork, CryptoJobsList, CryptoJobs, BlockchainJobz,
BlockchainJobs or HiredCrypto (Zhao, 2017).
Because this technology is expected to disrupt almost all domains in the next future, learning
about blockchain is better to be done from childhood; Warburg (2017) has demonstrated that the
notion could be explained to persons at any age and with any background: a child, a teen, a college
student, a grad student, and an expert.
Therefore, considering the continuous growing need of blockchain-related jobs in a variety of
domains and for different specializations, there is a real need for courses on the blockchain
technology, with an interdisciplinary approach (Appleby, 2015). The following section will discuss
some interesting initiatives of blockchain instruction in formal, informal and continuing education.
3.3 Teaching and learning initiatives
The involvement in research and the readiness in teaching blockchain technology are indicated
by the fact that more and more scholars set up blockchain as an area of interest on their Google
Scholars profiles: in March 2018 there are around 420 scholars, while three months before there were
only 270 (https://scholar.google.ro/citations?view_op=search_authors &mauthors=label:blockchain).
As business schools are constantly updating their offers to meet employers' needs and market
demands, already blockchain is one of the topic on the MBA curriculum in 2018, together with Big
Data, Sustainability, Soft Skills and New Business Models (De Novellis, 2018).
The University of Nicosia (https://digitalcurrency.unic.ac.cy) offers an online Master program
in Digital Currency since 2014, the first course being free. Recently, the university extended its
programs with a broad range of blockchain professional certifications, such as business analyst,
financial analyst and developer. Many other universities included blockchain in their curricula,
courses: Stanford University, Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Johns
Hopkins University, Duke University, Cambridge University, University College London, Frankfurt
School of Finance and Management, IT University of Copenhagen and Moscow State University
(Coinify, 2017; Trustnodes, 2017; Mearian, 2018).
Students initiatives related to blockchain education include the Blockchain Education Network
(BEN) (https://www.blockchainedu.org), with over 3,000 students in 60 countries or clubs at Tufts
University USA (Tufts Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Club) and Berkeley University
(https://blockchain.berkeley.edu).
Blockchain Research Institute (https://www.blockchainresearchinstitute.org), Institute for
Blockchain Studies (http://www.blockchainstudies.org) and European Blockchain Center
(http://ebccenter.eu) are specialized research institutes with a large area of projects.
Blockchain is the topic of a few MOOCs offered by well-known platforms: Coursera - Bitcoin
and Cryptocurrency Technologies, and IBM Blockchain Foundation for Developers, EdX -
Blockchain for Business - An Introduction to Hyperledger Technologies, and FutureLearn -
Blockchain in the Energy Sector.
Companies and organizations offer courses for blockchain development: Blockchain
University, which organizes also hackathons (http://blockchainu.co) or ConsenSys Academy with the
2017 Developer Training Course including an 8-week online course, followed by a 3-day in-person
coding event for more than 100 participants (https://consensys.net/academy/developer).
CryptoZombies (https://cryptozombies.io) is an ingenious online course for learning smart
contracts in Solidity through building games on Ethereum. The course comprises six lessons
developed by the loom team (https://loomx.io) and it has around 150,000 participants. It can be
considered a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), the interactions between team and participants
taking place on a Telegram channel. In March 2018, after six months from launching, the creators
announced that the course will evolve into blockchain Zombies, forking CryptoZombies onto its own
DAppChain. Thus the participants will be rewarded with tokens and their profile and progress in the
course will be registered on blockchain, with the possibility to “prove” their knowledge in Solidity to
anyone, including employers (McLovin, 2018).
Another interesting project is Kauri (https://kauri.io), a decentralized technical support
network to serve Ethereum developers at all levels and organizations.
Conferences (Blockchain in Education 2017 - https://www.bcined2017.nl, Blockchain,
Credentials and Connected Learning, organized by Commonwealth Centre for Connected Learning, in
May 2018, in Malta - https://3clevents.com) and hackathons (Global Blockchain Challenge in Dubai -
https://www.futureblockchainsummit.com/the-blockchain-challenge, Blockchaingers Hackathon 2018
in Groningen - https://blockchaingers.org or Unlock The Block Blockchain Hackathon 2018 in South
Africa - https://unlocktheblock.io) complete an ample blockchain learning ecosystem.
IV. ROMANIAN INITIATIVES
4.1 Romanian blockchain ecosystem
Based on an extensive research of online resources and without claiming exhaustiveness, this
is the first attempt to map the Romanian blockchain ecosystem (Table 1).
In Romania, there is an important interest for cryptocurrency, exchange and ATM network
operators exist, and startups, events, publications related to blockchain appeared lately.
Action
Initiatives and Projects
Regulations
There are no governmental regulations and support related to digital currencies
and blockchain, only the official position of the National Bank of Romania.
In March 2018, in a press release, the National Bank of Romania strengthens its
position expressed in the March 2015, drawing attention to the high risk of
investments in digital currency, discouraging any involvement in them
(http://www.bnr.ro/page.aspx?prid=14338).
Blockchain
projects
WebDollar (http://webdollar.io) Cryptocurrency Native to the Web is a
blockchain running directly in browser, developed on Ethereum, in Bucharest, by
a group coordinated by Alexandru Ionut Budisteanu. Webdollar is using the mini-
blockchain scheme with Non-Interactive Proofs of Proofs of Work (NiPoPoW)
consensus.
At the beginning of 2018 Restart Energy Democracy (https://restartenergy.io) was
launched, being a blockchain-based energy ecosystem developed in Timisoara by
RED Restart Energy, which is the fastest growing private energy and gas
provider in the EU.
TEND (http://tend.swiss) permits the co-ownership of special objects and assets,
being developed on Ethereum by a company in Cluj-Napoca.
GoHelpFund (https://gohelpfund.com) is an alpha-phase project on fundraising,
developed on Ethereum by a company in Iasi.
Scienceroot (https://scienceroot.com), with some team members from Romania,
aims to be a blockchain-based scientific ecosystem, which will host a
collaboration platform, a funding platform and a journal. In May 2018,
Scienceroot became a strategic partner of Open Science MOOC
(https://opensciencemooc.eu).
Mobzoid (http://mobzoid.com) is a mobile application that allows users earn
virtual coins for displaying advertisements.
Piconet (http://tpark.ro) is developing a solution for mobile parking on
blockchain.
In the first two months of 2018, around 26 ICOs were launched in Romania, with
the scope to finance projects or business ideas (EY, 2017; EY, 2018).
Companies and
Start-ups
Qualitance (qualitance.com), Cegeka (www.cegeka.com/ro), Tremend
(http://tremend.ro), Digital MOB (http://digitalmob.ro), BlueDrive
(https://bluedrive.ro), Product Lead (https://productlead.me), Under Development
Office (https://udevoffice.com), CFT SOLID (http://www.cft.ro), LEW
(http://lew.ro), DAPPSolutions are Romanian companies specialized in
blockchain development.
The well-known international company ConsenSys, specialized in Ethereum, has
a development team in Bucharest (https://consensys.net/locations).
Mining
In Romania there are 45 nodes of the Bitcoin network, the country being on the
30th position in a top of 100 countries (https://bitnodes.earn.com).
Media and
News
Bitcoin Magazine (https://bitcoinmagazine.com), co-founded by Mihai Alisie and
Vitalik Buterin in 2012, is now operated by BTC Media USA and is ranked the
eighth on “Top 100 most influential companies in blockchain”
(https://richtopia.com/top-lists/top-100-blockchain).
Romanian journals specialized in cryptocurrency are Bitcoin Journal
(https://ibitcoin.ro), Bitcoin Romania (http://bitcoinromania.ro/blog), Running
after Bitcoin (Goana dupa Bitcoin - https://goanadupabitcoin.ro).
Crypto-Friday (Crypto-Vineri - http://buhnici.ro/?s=crypto-vineri) is a series of
video clips about cryptocurrencies and blockchain.
Conferences
and Events
In February 2017, Alex Tapscott delivered a presentation on Blockchain
Revolution at the “Meet Global Thinkers” Conference.
Blockchain - Disruptive Innovation” was an event organized by the Romanian
Chamber of Commerce, in June 2017.
d10e - The Leading Conference on Decentralization (http://d10e.biz/bucharest-
dec2017) was organized in December 2017.
Blockchain Talks (http://blockchaintalks.ro) was organized in February 2018.
All events took place in Bucharest, the capital of Romania.
Hackathons
In October 2017, the first eHealth hackathon was organized in Romania
(http://health-hackathon.see40.org). The winner was MedNet, an eHealth project
based on blockchain, aiming to protect patients personal data.
Payments
BTCxCHANGE (https://btcxchange.com), CryptoCoin (https://cryptocoin.pro)
are exchange operators, and ZebraPay (https://www.zebrapay.ro) kiosks could be
used for digital currency purchase.
Netopia mobilPay (https://www.mobilpay.ro) integrated mobile payments using
Bitcoin in 2014.
A series of Romanian e-shops accept payments in bitcoin
(http://faturl.com/shopsbtcro).
Communities
In 22 March 2018, the United Blockchain Association (UBA RO)
(http://www.unirom.io) was launched, having 40 members, with the aims to
inform and educate the Romanian public, and to provide the necessary tools to
invest safely in a friendly legislative environment.
In the same month, a few days after the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum
was launched, the Romanian group of this forum was created
(https://www.meetup.com/EU-Blockchain-Observatory-and-Forum-in-Romania),
gathering tens of persons interested to promote this technology and to collaborate,
the first author being a member too.
Blockchain Romanian Community (https://blockchainromania.ro) is another
community, set up by BlueDrive (https://bluedrive.ro).
It is worth mentioning that the Digital & Distributed Technology Moldova
Association (http://www.dtmoldova.md) was created in January 2018.
Training
There are companies and organizations that offer courses about blockchain:
NobleProg (https://www.nobleprog.ro/curs-blockchain-entrepeneurs-and-
managers), Crystal Mind (http://blockchain.crystalmind.ro), IntelDev
(https://inteldev.ro/course-category/blockchain/), Life University
(https://www.life-university.ro/curs-bitcoin-si-criptovalute), Hubs Education
(http://hubs.education/home-2/), InnoHub Academy (http://innohub.academy).
Research
Tens of research papers written by Romanian authors could be found searching
the terms “romania intitle:blockchain OR intitle:bitcoin OR intitle:decentralized”
on Google Scholar.
Also EU funded research projects with partners from Romania are revealed by the
search of the terms “Romania AND blockchain” on the CORDIS Projects page
(https://cordis.europa.eu/projects).
Table 1. Romanian blockchain ecosystem
The ecosystem comprises a large typology of initiatives and is possible the number to have an
important increase in the next years, following the specific EU blockchain project calls.
It should be noted that Romania doesn’t have any governmental initiative to develop
blockchain projects based on EU funds. Currently 65 projects are under development in Romania,
representing less than 0.8 percent of over 8,200 active blockchain projects at European level, as shown
by the Initiative for Competitiveness (INACO) (Posirca, 2018).
4.2 Educational initiatives and projects
A series of initiatives and projects have been initiated and implemented lately by the authors
in order:
to improve the awareness of scholars about the potential of blockchain in education,
to develop the students’ knowledge about the decentralized applications programming,
to pilot and introduce blockchain applications in Romanian education system.
The Romanian blockchain ecosystem could be enlarged with these educational initiatives, in
the following categories:
Action
Initiatives and Projects
Educational
Blockchain
projects
There is an implementation a blockchain system called OpenEduChain
(http://openeduchain.io), designed to store open educational assets (Open
Educational Resources - OERs, Massive Open Online Courses - MOOCs, open
pedagogies and scenarios), but also to issue certificates and open badges by
universities and other educational and training institutions, using the subsystem
called RO-Certs.
At university level, OpenEduChain, implemented on Ethereum, is used to store
data about the open educational items created by faculty members and students.
Also digital certificates or open badges are provided to the participants in the
trainings and workshops. After a period of tests, OpenEduChain usage could be
extended at national level, but also for new purposes such as e-portfolios or
assessment.
In the summer of 2018, using RO-Certs, “Ioan Slavici” University of Timisoara
was the first Romanian university that issued digital certificates for students.
Educational
Conferences
and Workshops
In March 2018, the workshop “Open Education Week”
(https://elearning.upt.ro/workshop-open-education-2018/n-32-70-233/d)
organized by the eLearning Center of Politehnica University of Timisoara
included the presentation “Blockchain and Open Education” delivered by the first
author (Holotescu, 2018a).
The workshop “Open Education”, co-chaired by the author and co-located with
the International Conference “eLearning and Software for Education” in April
2018, in Bucharest, has Blockchain in Education as one of the topics
(http://elseconference.eu).
Academic
Courses
The students in the last bachelor year at Faculty of Engineering of “Ioan Slavici”
University of Timisoara learn about the potential of blockchain and how to
develop decentralized applications on Ethereum and Hyperledger, in the
Blockchain course taught by the first author, some of the laboratories being
conducted by the other two authors.
This is the first such course in Romania; a few of other universities only have
modules on technological and financial aspects of blockchain and digital
currencies.
For the next months the course is projected to be developed as a MOOC, in order
to broad students’ participation.
Student
Hackathon
A hackathon for blockchain development is planned to be organized in the
autumn of 2018, for the students at universities in Timisoara.
Table 2. Educational initiatives in Romanian blockchain ecosystem
V. CONCLUSIONS
In less than a decade, blockchain has surged from a technology with narrow applications
related to digital currencies, to one with important applications in many domains, drawing attention to
policy makers at different levels too. In spite of the evidences that blockchain could solve some of the
most pressing problems in business and society today, there is a gap in turning many use cases into
reality, particularly from a strategic viewpoint.
The article has mapped the Romanian blockchain ecosystem, highlighting many interesting
projects, in spite of the lack of governmental regulations and initiatives. The coordinated exploration
and research should be supported, also the awareness of scholars and business practitioners should be
improved.
The evaluation of the educational projects implemented by the author will make possible
conclusions for their extensions in other universities and for specific recommendations related to
blockchain technology adoption for the Romanian Ministry of Education.
We believe that the fresh perspective over blockchain technology, policies and projects,
brought by this article, will be useful for educational actors and policy makers in taking concrete steps
to explore and to integrate blockchain in institutional projects and curricula.
Note
This Report is an extension of our previous work (Holotescu, 2018b).
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... There are already specialists in blockchain technologies, as evidenced by the courses organized for several years by the Universities of Nicosia and Oxford [10]. New programs and courses are starting all the time at various universities around the world -Stanford University, Berkeley, the University of Timisoara "Ioan Slavici" -Romania, programs in the United Arab Emirates, Austria and others. ...
... • Self-confidence: Users have the opportunity to control the storage and management of their personal data [10]. ...
... the achieving of "excellent" results. [10]. Using the systems described in area 3, people can have their official records, enrich them and share them with third parties for immediate verification. ...
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... Furthermore, B-Rand operates in a completely decentralised manner, without the need for participants to be identified before participating. Since B-Rand is designed to function within permissionless blockchain systems, the term decentralised means that it operates between disintermediated parties [44], [45] over a peer-to-peer network and relies solely on algorithmic trust [46], [47] to decide the validity of claims. For example, the value of a random number calculated by a participant for use in a blockchain process can be checked by any verifier from publically available information encoded on the blockchain and computation alone. ...
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What are the benefits of interdisciplinary study? OpenLearn
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Appleby, M. (2015). What are the benefits of interdisciplinary study? OpenLearn. Online at http://www.open.edu/openlearn/education/what-are-the-benefits-interdisciplinary-study.
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