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UArizona-Led Project to Improve Transfer Credit Process Wins Blockchain Innovation Challenge

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UArizona-Led Project to Improve Transfer Credit Process Wins Blockchain Innovation Challenge

Feb. 11, 2021
Phase 1 winners will each receive $150,000 to apply emerging technology to empower social and economic mobility.

The American Council on Education today announced four winners for the first phase of the $900,000 Blockchain Innovation Challenge, funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The projects all identify ways that blockchain technology can help disadvantaged learners more equitably access education and economic opportunity. The winners are collaborators involving K-12, higher education, technology providers and public agencies. All will pilot new applications of the nascent technology to facilitate more secure, streamlined sharing of learning records and create stronger connections between education and work.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the urgency of exploring new solutions that can better serve learners at every stage of their educational journey," said Kara Freeman, senior vice president and chief operating officer of ACE and a member of the Education Blockchain Initiative Steering Committee. "These initiatives seek to reach underserved populations and improve economic mobility with a more just, equitable system by leveraging new technologies to improve information-sharing and expanding access."

UnBlockEd is led by Greg Heileman, vice provost for undergraduate education and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Arizona, along with partners from Georgia Institute of Technology, Fluree and the Gardner Institute. The team will create an open transfer exchange to empower college students by streamlining transfer credit recognition, leading to more efficient and equitable transfer articulation processes.

Graphic of four dark blue squares stacked up, with a light blue graduation cap on top.
The UnBlockEd logo.

The other winners are Student1, which aims to create comprehensive learner records for K-12 Nebraska students; Texas Woman's University, which will develop a platform that allows students to store and share educational records with colleges and employers; and The Lifelong Learner Project, Powered by Teachers, which will build a digital wallet in which teachers can store, access and share their credentials, certifications and learning resources.

The Blockchain Innovation Challenge is part of the Education Blockchain Initiative, which launched in 2020 with funding from the U.S. Department of Education. The initiative aims to explore the potential of distributed ledger technology to equitably empower learners to translate their educational outcomes into economic opportunity. ACE is partnering with the Presidents Forum, which managed the application review and selection process, to provide technical assistance to the winners. 

"Now more than ever, our nation must be willing to explore and implement new innovations that help underserved learners more seamlessly transition between education and employment," said Paul LeBlanc, the president of Southern New Hampshire University, chair of the ACE Board of Directors, and member of the President's Forum. "These projects demonstrate the potential of blockchain as a new and promising tool to do just that: empower learners to share their skills and pursue opportunities for economic mobility, while also forging tighter connections between education providers and the world of work."

Phase 1 winners received $150,000 to establish a minimum viable project in spring 2021 that demonstrates the potential to implement their solution. Those selected to continue to Phase 2 will share an additional $300,000 to fully implement their pilot projects.

View KOLD 13's coverage of UnBlockEd.

Greg Heileman talks about using data to improve equitable access in higher education.