Fight the Power: Decentralization and Ownership


This is part 2 of a series of articles on the emerging concept of ed3.1 As a curious and creative educator my goal is to thoughtfully examine how web3 technologies will impact education in our changing world.

Check out my previous article:

The Question at Hand

At the conclusion of my previous article, I closed with two questions that educators need to consider as we transition into the web3 space. One was about ownership, the other was about pedagogy and equity. In this piece, I will focus on the ownership question. Specifically, how do decentralized technologies allow learners to own their education?

What’s Ownership Got to Do With It?

The concept of ownership can be rather complex. Production, labor, commodities, value, and all their related parts make up the ownership economy. For the scope of this article, I won’t be pulling apart each of these pieces. I can refer you to an extended Twitter thread by writer Li Jin in which she covers the relevant basic ideas.

Or for an extended deep dive check out this piece by Austin Robey, co-founder at Ampled.

First, let’s look at the role of creating in our schools. I’d like to reframe an idea by education thought-leader and originator of the term “ed3” Scott David Meyer. Meyer mapped Chris Dixon’s thoughts on web3 onto education to introduce the idea of ed3 with the following tweet:

Here’s my spin on it.

Creation is the defining characteristic of the second wave of education in our society. There has been a shift away from passive content learning towards active creation. This has been supported by increased access to computers and free creative tools like Canva, Scratch, YouTube, and Anchor. Students have been repositioned as creators in their schools. While equity of access remains a barrier for many students, in general, there has been an exponential rise in how students and teachers use these tools to facilitate learning experiences.

This active environment in which students are creators introduces the question of ownership. Digital products that are student-created commodities are now the output of the learning experience in schools.

If a student creates a podcast in school using microphones, computers, and lesson plans owned by the school, does the student own that piece of digital work? Can a student distribute that creation independent of the school and monetize it for their own financial gain?

The same question applies to teachers. If a teacher creates a YouTube video building a lesson plan from a curriculum that was designed by the school do they still own that piece of media? Are the original creators of that curriculum owed compensation as contributors to the intellectual property?

This evolution of teaching and learning will require us to decide how to best connect a student’s identity to these pieces of digital media that they create. This means that the architecture of our schools needs to be redesigned.

It requires a system of decentralized blockchain technologies that are flexible enough to apply various levels of identity to different pieces of digital media. As knowledgeable professionals in this field, we have a responsibility to familiarize ourselves with the technologies being developed that address issues around ownership and identity.

Let’s Talk Decentralization

If decentralization has such an important role in helping to solve the ownership question then what is it?

First, I want to point out that decentralization is one of three architectures, along with distributed and centralized, that can be used when building a network. When using a blockchain application it isn’t either decentralized or not. There is a spectrum of features of the network that put it on a sliding scale of decentralization.

Here is a definition of decentralization from the Amazon Web Services website:

“In blockchain, decentralization refers to the transfer of control and decision-making from a centralized entity (individual, organization, or group thereof) to a distributed network.”2

AWS identifies four major benefits of decentralization:

  • Provides a trustless environment
  • Improves data reconciliation
  • Reduces points of weakness
  • Optimizes resource distribution

So let’s circle back to the original question I posed at the beginning of this piece: how do decentralized technologies allow learners to own their education? We can use each of the benefits of decentralization identified by AWS to craft some answers.

It provides a trustless environment. A decentralized blockchain doesn’t require a third party to determine who owns what part of a piece of digital media. As students increase their use of digital media to represent their learning, the blockchain can encode all the necessary information needed to identify ownership of these creations.

It improves data reconciliation. Questions of ownership can be resolved by what has been encoded onto the blockchain. There can be clarity about what specific things a student did and didn’t create or learn. True ownership will help facilitate authentic student agency. This extends not only to the output of the learning but the learning as a whole. We have the technology to determine the how, what, and where of a learning experience that can be included in an immutable chain of data.

It reduces points of weakness. Systemic failures that burden students can be eliminated. Inefficient institutional operations and ineffective nodes in the learning ecosystem can be addressed. DAOs within schools or even schools as DAOs can empower members of a learning community, specifically students.

It optimizes resource distribution. By reducing the points of weakness, decentralization can lead to optimizing structures. Learners are no longer passive victims by the limited capabilities of our institutions A trustless system allows everyone to decide what level of control they would like to have around how the resources of the school are allocated.

The Point Is

Are all of my statements above absolutes? Absolutely not (see what I did there?) The outcome I am aiming for is to start some dialogue. I am being transparent in my process of examining how ed3 tools can be used to redesign teaching and learning to support students. My goal is to inspire others to lean into this space. These are complex questions and we could use your help to think through them.

I am open to any and all feedback, ideas, or suggestions. The best place to do that is on my Twitter account at Dagan | dagan.eth (📚,🌐) (@DaganBernstein) / Twitter.

You are also welcome to join other educators interested in ed3 by checking out the DAO for educators, by educators at Ed3DAO (@Ed3DAO) / Twitter or check out a project of generative NFTs celebrating the MAGIC of educators at Ed3 Educators (@Ed3educators) / Twitter.

If you’re not interested, don’t worry, it’s probably nothing.