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The Blockchain Era Is Coming, and CNM Is on Higher Ed’s Leading Edge

Here’s how CNM is moving quickly to harness the power of Blockchain
The Blockchain Era Is Coming, and CNM Is on Higher Ed’s Leading Edge

Jul 09, 2018

In December 2017, CNM became the first community college in the country to issue student-owned digital diplomas through Blockchain technology, giving students lifelong power to manage their own hard-earned credentials from the palm of their hand. Now, CNM is among the first higher education institutions in the country to accept Blockchain-based cryptocurrency payments, another higher education frontier.

How Blockchain Works

There’s no easy way to explain Blockchain. But in over-simplified terms, it’s an online system where data is stored on a network of decentralized computers that each track and verify all the new data or changes added to the network.

The most well-known Blockchain technology is called Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that runs over the network, can be directly exchanged between two parties, and is verified and tracked by all the participating computers (which number in the thousands). This networked, multi-verified system eliminates fraud and the potential for any hacking, plus it cuts out the middleman like a bank.

Blockchain Diplomas at CNM

Bitcoin is only one way Blockchain technology is being harnessed. Here at CNM we’ve already started using Blockchain to issue digital diplomas that are securely and easily accessed on a student’s smartphone. These diplomas, which have been issued to students in the CNM Ingenuity programs during a pilot phase, can never be tampered with, will never disappear, and can easily be sent from a student’s smartphone to, and verified by a potential employer. As of the Summer Term, Ingenuity had issued about 300 total diplomas. Pending a successful testing phase, all CNM students could be eligible for digital diplomas as early as Fall Term.

“Today, in 2018, we’ve seen the vulnerabilities of the internet, and Blockchain is definitely the future because the data that lives there is not only verified, but also immutable and totally trustworthy,” said Bill Halverson, the Senior Technology Advisor to CNM Ingenuity.

And, digital diplomas are just the start to leveraging blockchain technologies in education. A pilot focused on digital badges is also being developed at CNM to create and issue “micro-credentials” that students can earn inside and outside of class. Those credentials verify specific and measurable skills they gain along their educational path, including soft skills like proficiency in email communication. The badges can reinforce value both for students preparing for a job search and employers looking for specific knowledge and practical workplace skills in a candidate.

Block Fiesta

In October, CNM Ingenuity is co-sponsoring an event called Blockfiesta!, where CNM and Blockchain companies in Albuquerque will come together for a one-day conference to discuss the future of the technology.

As part of the event, CNM Ingenuity will allow registrants to pay with Bitcoin through GloBee, a global cryptocurrency payment provider. CNM will be the first higher education institution to accept Blockchain-based cryptocurrency through that specific portal. The GloBee partnership is a big deal because it’s the first and only cryptocurrency processing system to support the Lightning Network for Bitcoin transactions. The Lightning Network allows Bitcoin transactions to process in seconds, even faster than a credit card, as opposed to the 10 to 15 minutes it can take on other systems, making it more consumer friendly and avoiding fluctuations in Bitcoin value. This sets the stage for students to be able to pay for classes with cryptocurrency in the near future.

Smart Contracts

For three days preceding the conference, CNM Ingenuity will also offer its first Blockchain class. In that class, trained developers will learn how to build smart contracts using Blockchain Ethereum Solidity protocol.

Smart contracts, like everything Blockchain related, are complicated, so an example will help. Say you have a hospital that needs a temporary nurse to fill a very specific position in a very specific department. That hospital could use Blockchain technology to scan for a nurse with the needed credentials, then set up a smart contract with the nurse in which her credentials would be verified through Blockchain, and her contract agreed to on Blockchain. No third parties such as colleges or recruitment agencies would need to be involved, but the hospital would be able to trust the nurse’s credentials. The nurse would also have a simple way of finding a job and agreeing to compensation.

CNM and the City of Albuquerque Blockchain Partnerships

Finally, CNM Ingenuity is also working with the City of Albuquerque on a longer-term Blockchain program. Through grant money, five CNM Ingenuity employees and five city employees will get trained up so CNM can develop a Blockchain Deep Dive Coding bootcamp and the city can start using Blockchain to track and verify everything from business transactions to utility performance issues.

“Blockchain really is the future of the internet, and how business, cities, and nearly everything else is going to operate,” Halverson said. “We’re excited to be at the forefront of this change and we look forward to seeing how Blockchain will improve the educational experience of our students here at CNM.”