Episode 23: How Campuses Can Encourage Racial Healing; the Future of Blockchain in Education


​​​Aired June 15, 2020​​​​​​​

Hosts Lorelle Espinosa and Jon Fansmith discuss the response to the murder of George Floyd while exploring how colleges and universities can encourage racial healing. Also, Senior Policy Advisor for the Department of Education Sharon Leu and ACE’s Chief Learning and Innovation Officer Louis Soares talk about the potential applications of blockchain in higher education and about ACE’s federally funded Education Blockchain Initiative.

Episode Notes

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show.

From the introduction:

From Conversation with Sharon Leu and Louis Soares:

Hosts and Guests
Sharon Leu - Senior Policy Advisor, Higher Education Innovation at the Department of Education - Guest
Sharon Leu
Senior Policy Advisor, Higher Education Innovation at the Department of Education

 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education podcast from the American Council on Education. My name is Jon Fansmith, and I'm a director of government relations here at ACE. And we're going to be joined shortly by Sharon Leu, senior policy advisor at the Department of Education, and Louis Soares, chief learning and innovation officer here at ACE to discuss the potential of blockchain in higher education. But before we do that, I think it's important that we address what's going on in our country right now. I'm here with my regular co-host Lorelle Espinosa, who is ACE's vice president for research.

Lorelle Espinosa: Hey, Jon.

Jon Fansmith: And Lorelle, we are recording this podcast the day after George Floyd's funeral, which is just a few short weeks after he was murdered by police officers.

Lorelle Espinosa: Yeah, yeah, this is wow, just a really dark time in our nation right now. It's filled with an array of emotions, anger, fear, but for me, I'm also holding onto hope, and I know we might talk about that, but I do see some hope for change and it's a bit of a roller coaster though, I have to say, emotionally.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. And there's many reasons I'm happy to be having this conversation with you of all people, but the optimism is a nice change from my general mindset. People who listen though, I'm not generally of the optimistic mindset. So you got to keep bringing that. And you mentioned we're here in DC. Obviously in DC, there's been a massive protest against police violence. And we've seen that in every state, hundreds of towns and cities across the country to bring attention to the issue of police violence against Black people and other people of color. And sadly, this is not the first time we've been here as a country. Frankly, it's not the first time we've been here as a country in recent memory. And while we're certainly hopeful that this may be the time that we make it abundantly clear that Black lives matter, there's certainly no guarantee that this is going to be the moment that serious, meaningful, structural change will happen. And so I think you look at that, and particularly in our corner of the world here in higher education, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of diversity, the importance of inclusion, how meaningful that is to the campus communities we want to build. But we also are really well aware that we don't always live up to those ideals. And again, and again, and again, I think we're disappointed to see things that we don't want to happen. So this is a podcast for college leaders in a moment like this where I think there's a lot of desire to reach out to students and faculty and staff too, who are hurting, like you said, angry, frustrated, scared, a range of emotions, very powerful emotions. And we want to see a college, university system that treats all people equally, builds a better system, responds to those calls for justice. What should college leaders be doing? What should they be doing? What should they be thinking about? You are, frankly, as I mentioned, academically, professionally, personal expertise, you are one of the best informed people I know, certainly in these areas. So please bring whatever solutions you have or if you don't have solutions, some thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Lorelle Espinosa: Well, thanks for saying all of that, Jon. I do have some ideas, you know that I'm always outspoken about those. But I have to say just real quick for me personally, I am really grateful and proud of the work that we've been doing at ACE on racial climate and the state of race and ethnicity in higher education on racial crises because it's really been in, like you said, recent days and weeks, a place to turn for ourselves, but also for our field. And I just feel really grateful to have had done that work so that we have something to share with leaders.

Jon Fansmith: Can I just say, I mean-

Lorelle Espinosa: Yeah.

Jon Fansmith: ... your leadership in your team has done a tremendous amount of work in this area, and I'll try and get you to talk a little bit about that, but I'd also just add ACE's president, Ted Mitchell, put out a statement. And just for me personally, it was such a great reflection of an organization that really cares, that a lot of times, especially recently we've seen statements by corporations and even some university presidents that frankly seem to fall short. And it's very encouraging that we work for an organization that's not just helping our leaders address these things, but clearly has a passionate commitment to these issues. Sorry, that was my sidebar. I'll let you get back to--.

Lorelle Espinosa: No, well, it's true. I mean, there's been some really lackluster statements out there, right? I mean, and in moments like this communities look to their leadership and you realize how important it is to have culturally competent leadership. And not just that, but we need leaders that can be vulnerable with their community, can be honest with their communities, can be honest with themselves about the work they need to do. And nowhere did we sort of see this more than in the racial crisis that occurred at the University of Missouri in 2015 and '16. And that's one of the projects that I'm so grateful for that we conducted with Adrianna Kezer at USC and Sharon Fries-Britt at the University of Maryland and their research teams. We did with them or really they did the bulk of the work here on understanding, not just what happened at Missouri, but trying to understand what the recovery looks like. And that has, for me, again, really proven to be a place to turn in terms of what we learned from that project and are still learning because this racial crisis that we're in now is of course--.

Jon Fansmith: There's a lot of similarities. Right. Yeah.

Lorelle Espinosa: Yeah. It's just bigger, right? It's bigger scale, but a ton of similarities and the same lessons that we learned from Missouri, we can tell leaders to apply right now. I mean, just thinking about the statements thing, I think the often impulse for higher education leaders is to quickly write a statement, get it vetted, work with whoever they turn to on communications, don't say the wrong thing. And it just becomes really sterile in the process. And it has the potential to actually further the damage. What you want is leaders who can speak from the heart, who can act with their community. Like I said, who can be vulnerable. And you really have to think about this in terms of the trauma that communities are going through. And in that Missouri project, we uncovered ... and Sharon and Adrianna did a really good job talking about a trauma framework and all of the emotions that go into trauma and how leaders really need to address each of them. And there are several. We mentioned some of them earlier, fear, fatigue, anger, and that's not easy to do. It takes a skilled leader, but it's of course never too late to learn how to be that leader.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. And I think it dovetails so nicely because it's that kind of preparation and understanding that obviously there was immediate benefits to a campus, but then in a moment like this, you talk about sort of legitimacy and the connection people feel to who's speaking out. If you're speaking from the heart, I think there's a lot of connection to that. And that level of comfort comes from understanding. So that this is not a response to something, but a continuation of what your campuses' ideals are, what your leadership is meant to convey, how you choose to include students on your campus. So I think that's incredibly helpful.

Lorelle Espinosa: Yeah. There's another term that Sharon and Adrianna use called the Weaver leader. And I really love this. We'll put this all on our page of course, but we had this first report, like I mentioned, come out of this project. The second report comes out June 22nd and it couldn't be more timely because they really unpack the Weaver leader. And these are leaders that can identify where fragmentation exists amongst the community, that can connect those fragments, help to integrate ideas, beliefs, pursue the right activities, put the right people in place to lead those and do so while really feeling through the trauma and the other things we mentioned in terms of healing. And again, that's a really special type of person. And I know that every leader out there has it in them, but they have to look inward. Like you said earlier, what are leaders to do today? I think a first step is to just look inward and really examine who you are in this moment and who you need to be in this moment.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. And it's such an unusual time, obviously for lots of reasons, it's an unusual time, but campuses are mostly empty at this point. The enormous challenge is campuses face about reopening, whether to reopen, how they do so safely. But I think the point that you're making is really good, which is you also need to be very conscious of, if you are reopening the campus students and staff are returning to, what is the environment they're returning to? They're not going to be able to walk out of their communities and onto your campus and leave their emotions, leave their experiences behind no matter how inclusive an environment you built.

Lorelle Espinosa: Yeah, they're going to come back tired. Honestly, I think fatigue is going to be real and leaders should be under no illusion that students aren't going to come back with the same demands that they had before they left. Right? I mean, we've been in a cycle here in higher ed where we've seen a lot of students protesting, making demands, much of those demands having to do with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And they're going to be even more fired up, I think, even while they're tired from all of what we've been going through as a nation. So that's right. And building capacity around diversity, equity, and inclusion or DEI, couldn't be more critical. That's the other thing that leaders should be doing right now as they look inward is also looking outward at their infrastructure for DEI. And we go through what that infrastructure can and should look like in these reports. So I just really hope that people can check those out.

Lorelle Espinosa: So I might stop there, but I do want to mention too, that ACE has been making the case for why race matters, and other resources are our race and ethnicity in higher education project, and the website for that is equityandhighered.org. And I know that people in this moment, and this is why it's so gratifying, are looking at those data, the infographics there, the essays, we have some great videos, all tools to make the case for racial justice. And just ending on the optimistic point, Jon ...

Jon Fansmith: This is what I waiting for a minute ago.

Lorelle Espinosa: This is the message of hope. Well, I personally have to hold on to that. Otherwise, I couldn't do this work of DEI if I didn't always have hope. But I have been inspired by the diversity of voices that I've seen standing up for this movement and that we've seen marching in Washington, DC, for example, protesting. And I went on to Amazon and saw that the number one and number two books were White Fragility by DiAngelo and How to be an Antiracist by Kendi. And I was like, "That is cool." I mean, that is a good step. Right?

Jon Fansmith: I remember seeing sort of a similar thing. I think that the New York Times nonfiction best sellers, three of the top five books this week were about race. Whereas in the previous week, none of them had been, and it speaks to that moment.

Lorelle Espinosa: It does. I think you have to hold onto these small things. I mean, I don't know about you, but, but my friends are seeking ways to be better allies in their community, how they spend their time in their community, how they educate themselves, their families, and their friends. My White friends in particular are really seeking ways to do that while also recognizing that they need to educate themselves, right?

Jon Fansmith: Right.

Lorelle Espinosa: That they can't rely on people of color to do that for them. So I don't know. I see that we have a lot of work.

Jon Fansmith: It's going to make you take that journey, right?

Lorelle Espinosa: Yeah. It's called emotional labor and many people are tired of that labor, but-

Jon Fansmith: Right. Doing that labor for others. Yeah.

Lorelle Espinosa: Yeah, yeah. So we have a lot of work to do, but-

Jon Fansmith: We do.

Lorelle Espinosa: ... I'm seeing progress.

Jon Fansmith: And with all the work we have to do again, I do want to thank you and your team for the work you've done, and again, not just in this moment, but years and years, a legacy built up of work in this area that is helpful to our campuses and helpful to the broader society. But like you said, lots more work to do. I guess this is an opportune time to say that we're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we'll be back with our guest, Sharon Leu and Louis Soares to talk about blockchain.

Lorelle Espinosa: And we're back with our guests, Sharon Leu, senior policy advisor in the office of educational technology at the US Department of Education. And ACE's own Louis Soares. He's our chief learning and innovation officer. Great to be with you both.

Louis Soares: Thank you for having us.

Sharon Leu: Thank you for having us.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. And thanks for joining us. I think I far more than Lorelle, I'm happy that you're joining us here because we are going to talk about blockchain and I don't really understand it. So you are two excellent people to start at the beginning with me and help me understand, not just blockchain, but what ACE and the Department of Education are thinking about blockchain and how that might apply to higher ed. So, like I said, let's start at the beginning. Louis, what is blockchain? Tell me about this.

Louis Soares: Oh, thank you, Jon, so much and I'm happy to give it a shot. So I'd like to start with some questions. How many times in the course of your career or Lorelle's career, have you had to order a transcript to be sent from one institution to another institution? Or even to an employer where you interviewed for a job, and one of the things they might've requested was your transcripts? Those types of transactions are increasing, number one, as more people have formal post secondary credentials, but also as we're seeing the growth of less formal credentialing, badging, certificate programs, both at colleges and non-colleges. So we're starting to have many more ways of documenting our human capital that need to be used by different stakeholders, employers, other colleges and universities, kind of like nontraditional education providers, like community-based work for agencies that they believe have a documented skill that might need to be recognized. We're starting to see more and more of those transactions. Generally, we were seeing it already. COVID-19 and the current crisis is also highlighting some of those issues in K-12 education for kids that might be changing school districts and how do you communicate that information if the school districts don't fully open. And this has a lot to do with ... given our technology, a hundred years ago and 50 years ago, we built very institution-centric ways of holding our information about what we've learned. And to fast forward to today, we're starting to have new technologies that allow us to hold that information and trust that it's valid without it being institution-centric. And that's what a blockchain is. A blockchain is ... the more mundane term is a distributed ledger technology and what it is, it's a database. So most of us are familiar with database that's distributed across many computers. So what you could imagine is for the four of us on the call and the wonderful ACE support team that's helping us, we would all have a copy of the exact same information on our computers. So Lorelle, if something happened to your computer, we wouldn't lose access to that information, right? Because other people would have the exact same information. The other interesting things about blockchain are that the data packets that are in the database, they're connected in chronological order and they each have a unique fingerprint. And that means that they're tamper-evident. And what that means is you can tell if the data has been tampered with in any way from the first time it was entered into the database. And once you start having a long enough blockchain of connecting all those blocks of data, it moves to being tamper-resistant, where you'd have to mess up so many of those blocks of data to change one that everyone in the network would know that a bit of data had been-

Jon Fansmith: Something is going on. Yeah.

Louis Soares: Something's going on. And then finally, because of those elements that it's transparent to everyone on the network, that it's very difficult to tamper with, and if you have, we can talk about it later though, the different types of blockchain, everyone on that blockchain can trust the information. Because one of the challenges with moving away from an institution-centric approach is how do you trust the data that's on the blockchain? Blockchain begins to get us to a place where an individual can control their human capital record, over 20, 35 years of experiences, and the person that might be receiving it, the entity that might be receiving it for the next job or the next attempt to enter college, they don't have to go request the information from all those five or six or 12 employers to verify that it's true. So let me stop-

Lorelle Espinosa: They would just go to this one place?

Louis Soares: Yep.

Jon Fansmith: Sorry Lorelle, to interrupt you, but I think this is an interesting point because we've heard sort of what blockchain is and the value of privacy, the fact that it's secure, that it's distributed. So I think I'm clear on that, but Sharon, what is the interest of the Department of Education in this? I think that's the reason we have the two of you on. I think it's great to cover both ends of the spectrum. So talk a little bit about why the Department of Education is involved here and what their interest is.

Sharon Leu: Great. So I'll just give a little bit of context. So at the Office of Educational Technology, our job is not just to get to play with fun, shiny objects as they come out and thinking, "Yes." But we get to think about a really important question, which is for underserved students, is there a way that technology gives us the tools to actually close the opportunity gaps? Is the direct implementation of technology actually going to further exasperate the disparities for those students or could it actually help us to provide additional opportunities? And so I'll just talk a little bit ... I'll plus one what Louis said about what is unique about blockchains. One of the things that you all were just discussing is the number of institutions and I'll use the little "I" institutions that you have to approach to get a very comprehensive view of all of the information about yourself. So maybe I took a class on edX, maybe I went to college for two semesters, maybe I got some training on job, but every time that I want to explain to you why I'm valuable for my next opportunity, I have to approach multiple of the institutions because they all hold a copy of my data. And what's interesting about the way that the data is distributed on blockchains is that it's actually a tie to an individual's identity. So all of the information about myself resides with myself. So instead of me approaching you, my college, and saying, "Please send a transcript. Here is $20." I say, "Here's all the information that I know I have about myself. I give you permission to look at it for the purposes of screening me for suitability for this next academic program or for this next job." So we are very curious about that element as well, thinking about how can it actually change the way that we think about protecting privacy, about giving opportunities, especially to individuals who lack, I guess, community or social capital to navigate some of these things that are inconvenient for all of us and are kind of annoying and cost us $20 bucks every time, but which actually systematically exclude those students from opportunity. So we, as we had been thinking about it, really thought this was an opportunity to actually recreate the education to employment infrastructure and think about the ways that this technology can support students as they travel between education and employment and back and forth across their lifetime.

Lorelle Espinosa: Yeah, that's so interesting. What I was going to say earlier, or just maybe to reinforce that is that the information follows the individual, and that makes a lot of sense. So this all sounds really fascinating and interesting in theory. I wonder if you could talk to us about some actual examples of institutions, big "I" or small "I", that are doing this right now.

Louis Soares: One specific example that seems to...makes sense for folks is the experience of the Dallas County Community College District. And this ties into one of the findings from the paper we call Ecosystems First.

Lorelle Espinosa: A paper that did the ACE just put out.

Louis Soares: Just put out, sorry.

Lorelle Espinosa: Talk about-

Louis Soares: We'll talk about in a moment.

Lorelle Espinosa: No, we're going to talk about the project later, but just to let readers know that this is out there.

Louis Soares: In the Dallas Metro area, a group of stakeholders, a variety of them, the community college district and local employers, the K-12 school district, some of the four-year schools, they were trying to address the challenge of better educational and economic outcomes for first-generation, low-income students. And they realized that one of their challenges, not their only one, but one of them was that all the information they had, the education information they had about these folks in their skills was all in siloed verticals. And they were never talking to each other. And the student oftentimes didn't remember what they did seven years ago in high school and things like that. And so they formed a ... it's called a College Promise. So this predates the blockchain. They formed a regional initiative called the College Promise, which is becoming more popular around the country, where they would find resources and combine resources to help people complete college. And when they turned to the data challenge, they realized that blockchain could allow two specific things. One, it could allow them all to have access to the same data, but also allow the student to control that access to the data. And these were two things that they were interested in exploring because of course, to Sharon's earlier point, as education is becoming ... whatever our initial kernel of it is at the beginning of our lives, as it's becoming more episodic where we keep having to get more little chunks of education, having the learner be the person that largely controls the record of that, has some benefits, both for the learner and others. And so Dallas Community College District, I think about a year and a half ago, maybe two, they stood up one of the first more comprehensive looking blockchains that we've seen that bridges an ecosystem, employers, K-12 schools, the community college district itself, and four year schools, to share the data about the student. So Sharon, does that sound about right? And other thoughts you have about the ecosystem and how it's working.

Sharon Leu: Yeah, I think that one of the findings that I was the most excited to read about was something that we did do called the ecosystems first design approach. And as we talk a little bit more about the challenge, we'll talk about that as a requirement. But we, I think in the education policy space or as practitioners or other stakeholders that are interested in higher education, often make this claim that education is how you access opportunity. It is like the engine of the economy. It is all of these things, but there are so many times, and for so many students, for which this is not true. And so what strikes us about some of the examples we call out in the report, including the Dallas County Community College District project, including the ASU Trusted Learner Network that looks at reverse transfers and some of the others is that there is a design approach that looks specifically at the mobility of the learner in that context and thinks specifically about how do we get that learner to the next place they need to be? Or I guess put another way, how do we empower that learner to be able to get to the next step? So if you think about reverse transfer, for example, it doesn't seem wholly significant. Like it's just credits moving around. But in the data and in a lot of anecdotal evidence, we know that if you walk to an employer and say like, "Hey, I have like six out of eight semesters of school, or I'm just one credit away from something." It's basically binary. You either have your degree or you don't, and there's a huge earnings gap, right? So you can't be at that "I have a bachelor's degree level," but if you are able to say, "Hey, my bachelor's degree is on its way, I'm on the path. But along the way I earned an associates degree." So it's not as if I wasted all of my time and didn't finish, right? Because maybe I didn't finish because of something in my home that I need to take care of or other obligations in my life. I'm not a complete and abject failure and I'm not systematically excluded, right? I am just on my way. I will eventually get there, but for now, let me tell you all of the things that I can do. So this is an approach that we think really does empower individuals. And we hope that as we invest in pilots to look at more implementations, that we will continue to see people drawing the community of stakeholders around the individual, and then using this blockchain as a technology that can support the connections and to really increase the mobility for that student.

Jon Fansmith: And you just mentioned the idea of investing in pilots on this area. And I think that it gets us to the Blockchain Innovation Challenge that ACE's doing with the Department of Education. I think we've teased a little bit of what's involved in that, but maybe Sharon, you could just give us sort of a quick overview of what the Challenge is and where it stands right now, and then what are next steps or what are sort of the key elements of the Challenge, certainly not just from your perspective, but Louis I invite you to join in as well.

Sharon Leu: Well, we're really excited. One of the things that the report showed us is that, although there are about 70 plus, I guess, early implementations of blockchains in education across a variety of use cases, not just credentialing, but also in scholarship, in identity, in aid, et cetera, they're all very new. And because they're very new, I think that we don't know enough information about what about that implementation makes it work and whether it actually increases mobility for individuals. So we will be running a challenge, or actually not me, we. We, meaning Louis. To see, we'll be running a challenge that will hopefully get us three pilot projects that will demonstrate implementations that lead to mobility for individuals. And we will be using our ecosystems-first design approach. So thinking about firstly, who are all the stakeholders that need to be part of this team that solves the problem. So not just an app developer or a blockchain provider, but who interacts with the student at the different stages of their experience and what data do they need to share, and then thinking about interoperability of the data as well as the technologies that are being used because we don't know if your next employer uses the same blockchain. So how do you know if your data will be missed if you move to the next job or your next school? And the way you know is if everyone uses open data that can be linked in crosswalks. And then the third element that we'll really be sort of hoping the teams look into is how do we deploy this to students in a way that is not just giving more technology to students who already have access and privilege, but thinking about if we are trying to reach the students who are in disadvantaged populations that may not have access to the internet broadband or personal individual devices, how we make this type of ecosystem available to them?

Jon Fansmith: Can I ask a little bit about that too? Because I know there was some discussion that we had seen about the equity challenges and whether blockchain is something that actually addresses the digital divide or might exacerbate it. And I know the report has, I think, 29% of students don't have a smartphone, and 46% of students, I might be getting these numbers on, don't have a personal computer. Is this something that you are very conscious of? I think back to a sort of my original formation, is this something that you think will improve equity, reduce the digital divide, or simply be very convenient and helpful to those students who are already in some ways advantaged?

Sharon Leu: This is a very complex problem, and I'm not going to be able to give you a 30 second response. So I'll try to hit a couple of things. So first, if we can make it so that the knowledge that students acquire during their educational experiences can correspond with the skills that employers are demanding and create some sort of, I guess, Rosetta Stone is a common way that people describe it between the learning outcomes as well as the workforce demands skills and create that connection with the individual at the middle, then that is an opportunity for individuals that would normally have to navigate some sort of social construct to get an interview or a job. So one of the elements in that Dallas Community College example is that employers are able to look at the data in the system, if the student gives them permission to, about the skills and then specifically target individuals with those skills. So they don't see anything else about the individual, except they have a skill. And because it is recorded on a blockchain, they know it's true and that there is evidence. So that's one element. The second is I think that the blockchain is early. Many of the wallet apps, they're like wallets or backpack apps where people store this information, they currently are on mobile devices, but there's actually no reason why that needs to be the case. This all lives on the internet. So you can imagine any number of implementations where, for example, like you don't only have to check your Gmail account on your phone or on a Google phone, you can check your email from any web based portal anywhere in the world. And obviously that leads us to the other point that you made about broadband access. And I will completely agree with you that this is a big problem. It's pressing, not just in post-secondary education, but a lot of data from the Department of Education shows a big homework gap for students in fourth and eighth grade in their performance on testing based on whether they just have internet at home. So this is part of a lot of interagency work and community work that the federal government is involved in right now. In one sense, the COVID situation has really highlighted the need to and the importance of acting on that immediately, but it's a little out of scope for our blockchain project.

Lorelle Espinosa: Yeah. But it's good that you're keeping it in mind certainly. And I can appreciate all the things that are going on in parallel that inform the project. Yeah, Louis.

Louis Soares: And also just to add just a tiny bit of texture to what Sharon was saying, that we in two ways, the way we structure our questions of potential projects that would like to be a pilot, the ecosystems first approach that Sharon is describing, we're asking them what problems they're trying to solve and for what populations they're trying to solve them. So in some ways we're trying to get at ... the example that I use far too often is the one of, if you were a middle schooler whose parents were migrant workers working up and down the front range of the Rocky mountains, depending on the season of the year and which crops are being picked, how could a blockchain make sure that there was no delay in you being able to enroll in a school district in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, depending on the season of the year? So in that way, by asking them what kind of problems they're trying to solve, we'll be able to look at the range of projects that we get that help us test against equity questions how blockchain might be helpful.

Lorelle Espinosa: That's great. Thanks. So let's talk for a minute about the ACE project in terms of what's coming, what's ahead. So we've got this report out that you mentioned, Connected Impact: Unlocking Education and Workforce Opportunity Through Blockchain. And that came out, I think, last week. Right, Louis?

Louis Soares: Yesterday.

Lorelle Espinosa: Oh, yesterday.

Louis Soares: Monday. Came out Monday.

Lorelle Espinosa: And we're recording this on the 10th. So that's the date, June 9th, it came out. But what's ahead? What else do you want to tell us about this project and what we can expect, what our listeners can expect?

Louis Soares: So let me do just the three kind of operational data points, but then step back a little bit with ACE's role. So operationally, we did the environmental scan, the research report to kind of help give us a sense of what's going on in the world. And we've mentioned some of it in details, but in sporadic moments. But it's worth noting again, we identified about 70 experiments of blockchain in education. Many of them are proof of concept, so they're very early going. The three themes that we identified throughout the research in terms of, both open questions and how blockchain could impact education, it's the ability to have better control and data agency and data privacy, the ability to enable stronger pathways of lifelong learning, and then the value of connected ecosystems, that ecosystems-first approach where there were stakeholders already coming together to solve a problem and blockchain helps solve that solution. Get that message out. We're going to get that message out. We're going to run the competition. Essentially, we opened ... there is an early interest forum on the ACE website where you could already email us and tell us that you might have a project and might want to apply for the blockchain innovation challenge. We're excited. We've already gotten responses. So this is cool.

Lorelle Espinosa: Oh, that's awesome.

Louis Soares: And we will run that challenge through most of the summer. And I think we'll select finalists. We have a steering committee that we've guided ... sorry, I should have said that first. We have a steering committee from K-12 employers and higher education helping guide our thinking on this work. They will help us select from those submitted projects. We're thinking about three pilots that would probably begin running early next year. So that's the cycle we're on right now. And then the last piece is to do ongoing community outreach. And I think as we go deeper into the project and work with our partners, I think that one of the things that ACE can do is ... higher education is like many sectors of the economy, institutions. We have the slow and steady wins the race community members. We have the outlying roadrunner folks that are leading innovation all the time. And hopefully ACE's role where we're kind of an umbrella organization that has a lot of higher ed institutions, hopefully we can encourage those that are roadrunners and are going to move fast anyway, but also bring what would be a more outlier innovation closer into the center for people to touch it and feel it and not be as worried about it or things like that. There's that opportunity for ACE in terms of a longer term sustainability.

Lorelle Espinosa: That's great.

Jon Fansmith: Great. And obviously it gives us a lot to look forward to over the next few months. I really appreciate both of you educating me up at least. Like I said, Lorelle may be better informed.

Lorelle Espinosa: Both of us now.

Jon Fansmith: Okay, good. All right. You're allowed in with me on the uninformed side. I appreciate that Lorelle, will assist. Before we sign off for the day though, and I was wondering if there are any other elements that we didn't touch on that we didn't ask you guys about that you think are really important, and especially for college leaders who are the audience of this podcast to know about this, either the initiative itself or the technology and maybe what they should be thinking about in terms of how they get involved.

Sharon Leu: So the department is also working on a number of things simultaneously to this. And I would love to share some resources that we have, or are going to be creating. So we have created a very short, like three or four minute long video about what is blockchain and what does it mean for educators? So I'll share that link. And that's part of a larger policy exploration that we have. Obviously, putting students in control of data, fundamentally changes how we view data and privacy. It's definitely a different interpretation than what we traditionally see in FERPA. So we have been working with our Office of Student Privacy Policy to start thinking about some of the implications of self sovereign identity, and individual control, and lifelong learning records, and interoperability of data. So we'll be putting out a series of white papers that address that topic, but meanwhile I would love to just open it up so if anyone in the education space ... I know it's very popular to blame the FERPA police to ... as a way of not doing something. I would encourage you to reach out to us and ask your hard FERPA questions or ask your hard policy questions because we would like to think about them with people so that they don't become inhibitive to exploration.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. I think that's a great offer. And I worry that by now saying that on this podcast, you might get hundreds of direct calls with specific FERPA questions. But I'm sure you're more than capable of handling that. I should also note any links or things that you would like to share with our audience, we always post them on the website page for this podcast. So for people listening, that's the way to get some of the resources, see some of the paper or the links that have been mentioned on the episode. So any final thoughts before I thank you both profusely and then go back to reading a little bit more about this?

Louis Soares: No, it was excellent. Thank you guys. It was a lot of fun and hopefully informative for your audience.

Sharon Leu: Thanks.

Lorelle Espinosa: Thank you.

Jon Fansmith: All right, well, thank you so much, Louis. Thank you so much, Sharon, and have a great day.

Sharon Leu: You as well. Bye.

Jon Fansmith: And for those of you listening, we really appreciate you tuning into the podcast. We know there are a lot of demands on people's time and attention these days. As always we welcome your thoughts and suggestions as to topics and guests. And once again, appreciate you listening. You can find ACE's podcast at acenet.edu/podcast. That'll be the page that will have the links we mentioned. And you can subscribe to this podcast as well as leave favorable comments, only favorable comments remember, on Stitcher, Apple podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Once again, thanks for listening. And we'll talk to you later. Bye.

About the Podcast

​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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