Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Issues First Blockchain Diploma

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has distributed Blockchain-based diplomas to 111 graduates as part of a pilot program.

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Mary Callahan
Mary Callahan

“From the beginning, one of our primary motivations has been to empower students to be the curators of their own credentials,” says Registrar and Senior Associate Dean Mary Callahan.

“This pilot makes it possible for them to have ownership of their records and be able to share them in a secure way, with whomever they choose.”

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The graduates became the first to have the option to receive their diplomas on their smartphones via an app.

The app is called Blockcerts Wallet, and it enables students to quickly and easily get a verifiable, tamper-proof version of their diploma that they can share with employers, schools, family, and friends.

To ensure the security of the diploma, the pilot utilizes the same blockchain technology that powers the digital currency Bitcoin.

It also integrates with MIT’s identity provider, Touchstone. And while digital credentials aren’t new — some schools and businesses are already touting their use of them — the MIT pilot is groundbreaking because it gives students autonomy over their own records.

The Institute is among the first universities to make the leap, says Chris Jagers, co-founder and CEO of Learning Machine.

Chris Jagers
Chris Jagers

“MIT has issued official records in a format that can exist even if the institution goes away, even if we go away as a vendor,” Jagers says.

“People can own and use their official records, which is a fundamental shift.”

Learning Machine works with governments, companies, and education providers to issue official records in a secure format that is tamper proof, shareable, and independently verifiable.

Both Callahan and Jagers agree that the blockchain technology has enormous potential.

“We’ve just begun to scratch the surface of where this will lead. It’s really an exciting time,” Callahan says.

One possible application is creating stackable certificates on the blockchain, which would enable an individual to link credentials from different institutions — for example, an undergraduate degree from one university, a graduate degree from another, and a professional certification.

Jagers says he believes it will soon be possible to embed links or IDs of other pre-existing digital records into a new meta-record.

“It’s not just about solving a problem,” he adds.

“It really is transformative. And it could be as big as the web, because it affects every sector. It’s not just academic records. It’s being able to passively know that digital things are true. That creates a whole new reality across every sector.”

The Registrar’s Office has expanded the digital diploma pilot to include a cohort of students who graduated in September.

Over the long term, Callahan hopes to explore the possibility of offering digital records for other learning credentials MIT students may obtain from programs such as MIT Professional Education, the Kaufman Teaching Certificate Program, and the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program.

Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz calls the new ability for MIT to issue robust and portable credentials “exciting, and necessary, to keep up with the demands of our on-campus students and learners around the world.”

Ian Waitz
Ian Waitz

“It’s also gratifying to see how innovation happens everywhere here, especially in places where you might not expect it like our Registrar’s Office,” Waitz says.

“I applaud their creative experimentation and see their approach as a model and source of inspiration for others to push academic boundaries.”

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