76: MIT Offers Digital Diplomas in the Blockchain w/ Mary Callahan

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Mary Callahan, Senior Associate Dean and Registrar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joined the podcast to talk about the fraud prevention and student empowerment benefits of offering digital diplomas through the blockchain.

You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollments growth university, a proud member of the connect Edu podcast network. I'm Eric Olsen, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with Mary Callahan, senior Associate Dean and Registrar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mary, welcome to the show. Thank you, Eric. Really excited to talk with you today about the benefits of offering students digital diplomas through the block chain. Before we dig into that, Mary, can you give the listeners a little bit better understanding of both Mit and your role? They're sure so.

I'm senior Associate Dean and Registrar, very much involved with the various curricular programs at the institute, scheduling classes, scheduling class rooms, taking care of people's records, tuition and a lot of work with the faculty in their governance and in their roles as teachers. And Advisors, and MIT is, the course, of very special place, one of the premier in Stud atitudes of science and technology in the world and a very active, engaged community of learners, awesome married. Just to kick us off as a definitional level set, can you give us a high level, boilerplate understanding of what the blockchain is? Sure, it is a buzz word, but it's also a real fact. So what it is is it's got a lot of different parts to it, but it's much if you can imagine the World Wide Web, it's it's a decentralized public network that isn't controlled by any single authority. And the way it's...

...special for us is it's figured out a way for people to safely transact digital assets, with each storing the history of the transaction into a new data structure, and it's called the blockchain. So it's it's a linear timeline of transactions stored across a network entirety in a manner that is essentially for us, tamper proof. And so when MIT is use a digital diploma to a graduate. That is a transaction between parties that is registered on the blockchain and can be checked anytime validated is required. And and it acts kind of like a global notary, if you will marry. What made offering digital diploma is so interesting to you at MIT and and how do students benefit from having their credentials in the blockchain? Yeah, great question. So, you know, I think there's a confluence of things. What got me interested in this was on campus...

...there was a development of what we call block cert wallets by a research scientist in our media, arts and science area called Philip Schmidt, and I got connected with Philip and then a partner in learning machine, which is a vendor that was working as well with Philip on verifiable credentials and in a digital economy. So that had intrigued me because the security, the ability to share information in a verifiable way that's so secure. I was intrigued. And then I started to think about how might we use it in the world where paper no longer matters as much and digital transformations are occurring. I was very psyche to think about how could we do this for our students, where would be a sweet spot and why it would matter to them it. To me, it's in in the empowerment of allowing them to own their own records. So when...

I talked about placing the diploma on the block chain. It doesn't sit anywhere. It is empowered to the student. The student has total control about where it goes. It's their record. They earned it. I didn't take quantum physics that. They took quantum physics. So for them it's their record and for me, one of the benefits I would see is how it reduced, it can reduce frauds. So, as you probably know, in higher it in other places, there are a lot of different ways that we see fake diplomas coming in. Some of them are easy to spot, some of them are very close to actual diplomas we do indeed offer. So this enables us to feel very sure because we've created, through this effort, mit branded degree verification portal where an individual can God drop in the information and get it immediately...

...verified through this portal. So, from a verification standpoint and a fraud standpoint, those are efforts that I feel in this world, that where technology is evolved to a place that sharing this infrastructure and ways of communicating seemed very advantageous. So I come at it from how do we help the students and how do we ensure the integrity of academic information, and a third peg would be we know students are lifelong learners. Now there's different ways they can express their their education and their ability to display what that learning chain is. It's the learning cloud in some ways. So from a degree to a certificate, to badge, all of this can be placed in this block chain in a way...

...that they're building this portfolio of credentials. So I think this will be a great ongoing benefit to those who engage with us in this and there's no cost to the student. It's simple to do. So we think we're on to something that I think can be very much more on of an impact for learners across the world. You've spoken about the benefits to the students, about having access to what they've earned. You've spoken about the fraud prevention benefits of the diploma living in the block chain. There's also some some PR novelty about being able to do this, especially given your market position is an institution. Talk about what you can, specifically from the pain point of a registrar in terms of a time management help us understand the transcript request process, both incoming and outgoing, and and what this digital blockchain solution might help on both sides of that right. So you know, and it cross we get graduate there's about...

...at on the current world there's about eleven pouns and plus students at Mit. So the verification of WHO's the student is an important dimension, both in terms of an employer or government or our education institutes, of a students applying for Grad School. So knowing that they actually received a degree is the step in a process for many of these activities. So we currently outsource some of that effort to the national clearinghouse and they do on my behalf as acting as an agent, confirmed if there is an inquiry as to it whether an individual received a actual mit degree or not. But from the employer side that's time consuming. From the government side that would be time consuming. So I see where the value may becoming a lot from the external parties that wish to quickly in...

...this world of needing immediate application of information, by having the student, in an employers sake situation, be able to provide a Jason file that contains that they indeed that's verifiable, that they indeed graduated from Mit. That eliminates a middle step that takes both time and effort in sometimes money, because I outsource it as a registrar. I'm not seeing particular gains in time here, although we do spend a lot of time when we do see a case where thereby be fraud, of fraudulent diploma, really trying to track down what happened there. So from a time saving standpoint it's more on the fraud side. The verification side. It definitely benefits the employers, the student education occasional institutions if they're applying to Grad school governments. In fact, we have a step, because we're very international population, called the APP of steel and there's a workflow that I've done up a diagram which current world for a student requires eight or...

...nine steps. If we continue to penetrate in the acceptance of a digital credential, that eight step becomes just one. So we feel a given from a service standpoint and from the government in this case, for an APP of steal of country international they if they accept that again, their work is reduced. The students work is reduced in the immediacy and the verification. Again, I go back to a trusted source becomes very much then powerful for the individual who can benefit from it, in the person who is actually confirming something so exciting, Mary. And when we're talking about the employer, is that the primary value for them as well? Why they're so excited about it? Is that verification and Fraud Prevention reality? I think it's. It will catch on. To be honest with you, it's a new concept we're culturally yet we're still finding that it hasn't you know, ton there is not yet a full adoption...

...of it, but where it has gone it does seem to matter. So we will grow that enterprise, if you will, because it's somewhat cumbersome. So there's a self interest, I would assume, from these employers and educational institutes. So it will grow in by virtue of the ease of use in the trusted, verifiable digital records, and I think those will just grow because again, some more activity will come in, whether it's a student again doing a particular certificate or others will start to see the value in shaping this way of engaging with digital academic credentials. It's such an exciting step forward. I'm personally grateful for you and your team for leading the way. Any next steps? Advice for other institutions? Listen to this, excited about the possibilities. How do they take that next step in considering issuing their diplomas in the blockchain?...

Yeah, no, great question. So there's some things less you know. I will share some lessons learn. You know, we we spun this up really quickly with our vendor learning machine. So it was not a lengthy time from conception to delivery to implementation to operation. But we did learn some things and our students have very technical but they had to figure out how to interact with the APP right. So that took a little bit and that's a communication effort should be spun up by the business to reach the students. We worked with our vendor around a dashboard and data reporting in a direct data exchange. So the those integration features should be part of what people consider. I would say there is still a financial consideration. So in higher it as I mentioned, are our agent is the national clearing house. The way that the business model at some schools are set up is that they get a slice of...

...the verification that comes into the clearing house because the employer or others are paying for that. So there's a model that they then receive a benefit from that type of verification. So by not having been a middle person and the agent. There is not that funding model in place, it disrupts that. So institutions have to think about that consideration. So I think those are just things that are workable. It just has to be in view so that, in a both a strategic and operational direction, that this leads you to a commitment and the sustainability to allow that venture to be fruitful for all. I think it's it's exciting to think about and it's easy to start to articulate and taking that dive is worth the benefit to to the student and I keep always stressing that that's a cultural change that is worth considering. For sure. You have...

...me excited about it and I'm sure a lot of our listeners to marry. Thank you so much for your time today. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you they have any follow up questions? Oh, absolutely, and I'd be happy to answer any questions or speak to them at any point. My email is Calahan at mit dot Edu and I'd be happy to receive any question, follow up, whatever people wish to talk about. That email would be the best mode reach me and appreciative if people feel free to do that. Awesome. Thanks against so much for joining us today Mary. Thank you, Eric. Appreciate your time as well. Thank you. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment...

...growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Download it today for free at Helix Educationcom. Playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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