C-Lab aims to restructure higher ed using blockchain tech

Nonprofit and government holding program launch meeting Jan. 30

Casey Van Divier
cvandivier@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/27/20

For those working in higher education, there’s no shortage of possible solutions when it comes to inequity or student debt said Taylor Kendal, chief strategy adviser at education nonprofit Learning …

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C-Lab aims to restructure higher ed using blockchain tech

Nonprofit and government holding program launch meeting Jan. 30

Posted

For those working in higher education, there’s no shortage of possible solutions when it comes to inequity or student debt, said Taylor Kendal, chief strategy adviser at education nonprofit Learning Economy.

One example: A digital diploma that lists every course a student has taken and every certification they have earned. An employer who could look at that diploma, recognize a student’s qualifications and offer them an entry-level job, even if the student has only spent one year — or maybe even less — at a university.

The trick is figuring out which solution will work best and then rallying the manpower to make it happen, Kendal said. That’s where C-Lab comes in.

The new state initiative is a partnership between the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) and Learning Economy, which is funding the initiative.

Launching this January, the program seeks to address education concerns using new technologies, including blockchain technology. Blockchain is essentially a method through which data can be verified, stored and become “more transportable,” said Spencer Ellis, the director of educational innovation at CDHE.

The CDHE brainstormed the Colorado Education Work Lab (C-Lab) to meet its strategic goal to increase educational equity, after having been part of the state’s former Council for the Advancement of Blockchain Technology Use, Ellis said.

“We’re really thankful for the governor’s support; he has this agenda for bold ideas, and our executive director (Angie Paccione) does as well,” he said. “It was inspiring for all of us to say, `let’s go out there and see if we can make these practical applications of blockchain.’”

The C-Lab also aims to address the skills gap between the skills that graduates have and the skills employers expect them to have, Kendal said.

According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s 2018 Skills Report, 33.5% of employers do not believe their job applicants have the occupational skills required for the position; 22.6% do not believe applicants have the interpersonal skills required.

To address this, C-Lab seeks to bring universities, employers, blockchain experts and the government together. The lab has invited stakeholders to a free event on Jan. 30 at History Colorado, 1200 N. Broadway.

Attendees will include faculty from institutions across the area such as Arapahoe Community College, Red Rocks Community College and the University of Colorado.

The all-day event will include panels and activities explaining what the C-Lab is and allowing groups to join the C-Lab network, Kendal said.

Groups in the network will download the app, which will allow them to weigh in as the lab selects its first endeavors. The digital diploma, which could be feasible through blockchain technology, is just one example of what the groups might ultimately decide on, Ellis said.

How students could benefit

Courtney Dale, Arapahoe’s BAS Instructional Designer, said the college would like to use this record-keeping technology for students in the school’s bachelor’s programs, which are exclusively online, she said.

The students could earn digital proof, known as badges, for specialized skills they gain through the program. Potentially, they could post those badges on sites like LinkedIn. Adobe runs a similar program, awarding digital badges for Adobe certifications.

“It is a good way for a student to prove that they have a particular skill,” she said. “I’m excited to see a way we could move the badges offered only within our learning management system to something that the student can take with them into the workforce.”

She also believes the C-Lab will help the school expand its opportunities to use open educational resources (OER), such as free online texts. Through a state grant promoting the use of OER, ACC students saved more than $85,000 in textbook costs last semester, she said. By networking with other C-Lab members, she believes the impact could be even greater.

Rachel Newlon, an open education ambassador and English professor at ACC, said that the network could also allow colleges to form new connections with employers who could offer work or volunteer opportunities to students.

Additionally, the C-Lab could pave the way for real-world projects to be tackled by students in CU Boulder’s Technology, Cybersecurity and Policy program, said Garrett Schumacher, the program’s communications director.

Students and faculty could potentially conduct research projects on the development of C-Lab and help shape the program throughout its early stages, he said.

Those projects “could not only provide immediate learning and research opportunities, but change the future of higher education for the better,” he said.

Individuals can register for the January meeting at learningeconomy.io/rsvp/clab.

The timeline

Currently, the C-Lab is in its research phase as it selects a potential solution to pilot, Kendal said. By the second half of 2020, the lab aims to have three universities and three employers piloting the selected solution; by the end of 2022, the goal is 100 universities and 100 employers.

The nonprofit has set a budget of $13.85 million for the next three years.

It’s a big goal: to potentially reorganize education so students are “not necessarily working to a four-year degree, but accruing skills and knowledge,” Kendal said.

He added that the department and nonprofit have embraced the fact that they’re “dreaming big.”

And for many faculty members around the area, that’s exactly what has inspired them to get involved, Newlon said.

“We can work together to create something that benefits all institutions,” she said. C-Lab “is a blank canvas, and we all have tons of paint.”

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