Fight the Power: Decentralization and Ownership


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

To learn more check out my previous article: At the Turning Point: Web3 and Education

The Question at Hand

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

What’s Ownership Got to Do With It?

There are many components that make up the concept of “ownership.” This can include production, labor, commodities, and value. I won’t be pulling apart each of these pieces, but I can refer you to an extended Twitter thread by writer Li Jin in which she covers the idea behind an ownership economy.

For an even more extended deep dive check out this piece by Austin Robey, the co-founder at Ampled.

First, to examine the role of the creator in our schools, I’d like to reframe an idea by educator 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.

We Are All Creators

Creation is what has defined the recent evolution of education in our society. Increased access to computers and free creative tools like Canva, Scratch, YouTube, and Anchor has contributed to a shift away from passive content consumption.

Equity of access remains a barrier for many students, but 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 independently 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 shift demands that we figure out how to connect a student’s identity to the pieces of digital media that they create. An entire redesign of the architecture of our schools will need to be implemented.

A system of decentralized blockchain technologies that are flexible enough to apply various levels of identity to different pieces of digital media is one piece of this architecture. As teachers, we have a responsibility to familiarize ourselves with these technologies. Blockchain is an important tool that can help us 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?

Decentralization is one of three architectures, along with distributed and centralized, that can be used when building a network. A blockchain application 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.”

AWS identifies four major benefits of decentralization:

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

So back to the original question I posed: 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 of 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

Blockchain and decentralization aren’t a singular answer. It is one piece of a complex learning architecture that needs to be implemented. My goal is to inspire other educators to learn more about these technologies so they can help build these systems.

If would like to learn more about the future of education connect with me at my Twitter account @DaganBernstein or on LinkedIn.

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