Assessing on the Blockchain.

This year I am again teaching junior science and one thing that I reflected on last year was the nature of assessment. Most assessment I used last year was in the form of a written test at the end of units, essentially I was seeing how they understood the scientific concepts I had taught them over the unit. 

Two things concerned me when I considered these assessments, first, is knowing stuff about science the only thing that is worth measuring when it comes to assessing scientific ability and second, I had a large number of neuro-divergent learners in my classroom and was this the best way to even assess their understanding? 

Over the last 20 years, there has been a marked change in the direction of students learning about science and about how science works (the processes, practices and people of science) as well as learning science content (the products of science). Due to the enormity of the task, I cannot as a science teacher provide all the science knowledge that they will need, but I can develop a more accurate understanding of how science is a particular way of  looking at the world - and something we struggle to assess.

It is my view and that of the New Zealand curriculum that a robust understanding of the scientific way of thinking enables my students to be capable of looking at socio-scientific issues like the recent COVID pandemic and critique what is plausible and meaningful in the ‘scientific’ arguments presented. Students would leave with an awareness of the role and status of scientific knowledge, an appreciation of its history and development, an understanding of the process of scientific inquiry and the awareness that the people who engage in science are part of that society and influenced by it. However, at present this is not what is being assessed, so no potential employer knows that a potential employee has these skills. In particular that students:

  • Understand how science works.
  • Investigate using science
  • Communicate and evaluate scientific ideas.
  • Apply their scientific knowledge in real world contexts and in relevant socio-scientific issues.

I needed a mechanism for students to get credit for building on their prior experiences, collaborating to share, communicate and examine their own and others’ scientific knowledge. Credit for asking questions, finding evidence, exploring models, and carrying out investigations and developing simple explanations. Credit that they were engaging with a range of contemporary scientific ideas and were questioning the purposes for which these ideas are constructed and using their growing science knowledge to consider issues of concern to them and making decisions about possible actions - all critical scientific skills.

These skills were not being explicitly assessed and there was no record that students have developed these skills. Take the example of my electronics class, a student may not pass the present assessment, but they may be able to use a multimeter - an important skill - which an employer may not know about as this is not an explicitly shown as being assessed. This is what motivated my idea to use non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as micro-credentials in the form of digital badges.

NFTs are all the rage at the moment and are at a most basic level, a digital artefact in the form of a jpg file for example. However, to truly answer the question of what NFTs are and why I thought they would be useful tool to solve my problem, lets contrast NFTs to traditional credentials

Both are visible either as a scan of the original document on your screen or in the form of the NFT, meaning that you can see them for what they are just as a  potential employer can see them. If that is the case, and it obviously is, what is the point of an NFT rather than a scanned document? Simply put, original traceability, which leads to authenticity.

With NFTs, all of that is handled automatically by self executing code between the giver and receiver of the NFT called smart contracts that are contained within a blockchain. A blockchain is a shared, unchangeable ledger that facilitates the process of recording and tracking assets. An asset can be tangible (a house, car, land) or intangible (patents, copyrights, certifications). Smart contracts mint that digital artefact as a non-fungible token — an NFT. This means that digital media is reborn and begins its journey on a blockchain — a decentralized digital ledger that is incorruptible, unfalsifiable, and indestructible.

Once an NFT is minted, it becomes a part of blockchain a digital asset with its ownership uniquely identifiable and traceable. Therefore, for both creating and receiving NFTs, you must have a place to store them, called a digital-wallet.

So in my particular situation, I had to find a suitable digital-wallet for creating NFT based micro-credentials. Fortunately, another teacher at my school had began experimenting with digital-wallets for gamifying his classroom and was using Accredible. This digital-wallet also allows you to design the badges within the platform. Another potential digital-wallet which is free is POAP where you can set up lessons as events and then if students meet the assessment criteria, you can provide them with a link to their NFT based on their email address and their own wallet. Making sure that the students use an email address that will be with them after they graduate. Due to my school using Accredible already, I have gone with the first option. Though the advantage of POAP is that students can carry their NFTs in a portfolio, though app smashing Accredible with an application like Wakelet can negate this somewhat and allows the teaching of digital curation skills - another badge!

So far the project has peaked some students to get more interested in cryptocurrency, but it has also meant that students who traditionally have not seen science as 'their thing' can now see tangible (ironically, through a non-tangible badge) ways in which they too are indeed scientists. It will also I hope allow them and others that science careers are for them too.

However, this is just the beginning as learning is not just about passing assessments but is a process. The first time a chemist does a titration is when they have really learned how a titration works. That is a learning moment. What if these moments can be captured as NFTs? What if someone can look at a person’s digital wallet in the form of tokens, and get a deeper insight of their learning history. NFTs are just in their infancy. It will be really interesting to see how this concept progresses.


Popular posts from this blog

Branching Out in Physics Lessons with Decision Trees

Digital learning, putting the cart before the horse

The Rise of the Machine Learning