Research Project

Research lead: Mag. Dr. Alexander Pfeiffer, MA, MBA
Recipient of a MAX KADE Fellowship / Austrian Academy of Sciences at Comparative Media Studies/Writing (The Education Arcade), Massachusetts Institute of Technology.Head of Center for Applied Game Studies at Danube-University Krems (DUK) (on sabbatical)

Blockchain Technologies and their impact on game-based Education and Learning Assessment.

Introduction:

Once information is stored on the blockchain, it cannot be altered retroactively. This immutability makes blockchain systems the perfect technology to secure learning achievements and educational credentials. Keeping data trustworthy, secure and manipulation-proof has become an increasing issue in education due to the rise of digital learning environments, which often combine learning experiences, testing procedures and educational credential management. 

Currently, most digital learning environments safeguard their data using safety systems (e.g. password protection) that are not blockchain-based but controlled by a centralized authority. While these centralized systems provide a certain level of security against unauthorized access from outside the system, manipulation from within the system cannot be excluded. Users with high enough access rights (teachers, administrators, system managers) can still add, change or delete entries. 

This becomes an even greater problem when learning achievements are to be reflected in fair and transparent credit systems, and especially when these educational credits are to be valid across different institutions or even countries. 

Due to their ability to store data in a de-centralized, transparent and manipulation-proof way, blockchain-based technologies can provide solutions to this problem. However, it is necessary to first gain a sound overview of the different ways in which these technologies can be used in the educational sector and to assess the expected merits and drawbacks of these respective strategies.

Methods overview:

The study will mainly be based on qualitative research methods consisting of literature/whitepaper reviews, the generation of case-studies and interviews/focus groups with researchers, developers and educators. 

The reason for focusing on qualitative research methods represents a pragmatic approach as blockchain-as-technology in combination with gamified/game-based learning/assessment in particular and education in general is still in its very infancy. Collaborating with educators, researchers and developers based on extensive literature review, desk research and prepared test use cases seems to be the most suitable strategy for addressing the proposed project’s research questions effectively.

Furthermore online questionnaires are intended to support research, for example to clarify attitudes towards blockchain of persons working in the education system. 

Key Areas of Investigation 

The goals of this research are to explore...

I. the current strategies to store and secure learning achievements, in particular the access status of potential manipulative interventions especially from within the security system;

II. the effectiveness and limitations of 'off-blockchain’ strategies in face of an increasing demand for globalized learning credit systems and the parallel demand for increased data security and privacy; 

III. the critical evaluation of existing and potential strategies which already make use of blockchain technologies through the identification and further improvement of good-practice examples and development of novel prototypical concepts in cooperation with the experts of the host institution through state-of-the-art concepts and technologies. 

leading to the main research question:

IV. what are the requirements to make blockchain-based systems for storing and managing data accessible for developers of digital learning environments, and game-based or gamified learning environments in particular?

Expected outcome:

The goal of the project is to develop a conceptual model of current and emerging strategies to use blockchain systems for safeguarding learning achievements and educational credentials, aimed at researchers, educators and developers. Based on state-of-the-art educational as well as technological insights and making the requirements, merits and drawbacks of each strategy tangible and comparable, this model is intended to serve as a basis for design decisions as well as further considerations and research.

Research Institution

As one of the leading universities worldwide, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) focusses its research on the terms and conditions of technological development and the implication of these developments for societies and individuals. MIT’s Comparative Media Studies / Writing  (CMS/W) Program is committed to the art of thinking across media forms, theoretical domains and cultural contexts. The Education Arcade (part of CMS/W) focuses on creating playful, powerful learning experiences using the affordances of new educational technologies. 

Besides the CMS Program, the MIT also offers possibilities like the Blockchain initiative, and the MIT Media Lab (including Learning Machine / Blockcerts). MIT can be counted as one of the leading university regarding blockchain research. 

Further Partners

LIVE Lab - Texas A&M University will co-create the prototype used to explore the game-based learning & assessment part of this project (besides other blockchain & game related topics like gamification & blockchain or in-game items & blockchain).

Center for applied game studies - Danube-University Krems co-organises a hackathon particulary dedicated to this topic. 

Department of Artifical Intelligence - University of Malta will assist to investigate  how digital agents (AI assistants), government-issued digital identities and blockchain technologies impact future solutions of grading and verification of results, especially, but not limited to oral exams. 

Picapipe GmbH (Austria) will co-create the prototype used to explore the e-learning & assessment part of this project, creating a new tool, which stores final results and partial-results of an assessment on blockchain, which includes exploring rights-management and privacy concerns. 

B & P Emerging Technologies Consultancy Lab Ltd. (Malta) will disseminate and test the prototypes with educators, experts and learners on the island of Malta. Malta is very open-minded and well-advanced in the field of blockchain-technology in general. 

Limesoda GmbH (Austria) will help to disseminate online-surveys that are conducted within this project that reach to the general public with the goal to achieve a large accumulated sample. 

Ardor (Ignis) will be the blockchain-as-a-service platform used for the first prototypes being developed within this project.

Call to action

If you are a researcher, or involved in a research institution that likes to participate in this project. Please to not hesitate and reach out to Alexander Pfeiffer:  alex_pf – at – mit.edu