MIT issues recipient-owned, blockchain-based diplomas to graduates

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The Blockcerts Wallet app enables graduates to curate, access, and share their credentials.

This year marks the first time MIT issued digital diplomas through their Blockcerts Wallet application—a project that records student credentials on the blockchain, and surrenders full control to students so they can share a verifiable, tamper-proof evidence of their achievements to other schools and prospective employers.

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

The application works using MIT’s authentication service provider, Touchstone. The digital diplomas are part of a pilot program launched by the MIT Registrar’s Office in partnership with Learning Machine, a software development company focusing on digitizing official records by putting them up on the blockchain. Although they may not be the first to issue blockchain-based diplomas, they’re the first to focus their efforts on giving autonomy to record owners themselves. In case the issuing institution for some reason ceases its existence, the student’s records remain intact and verifiable.

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

But although this is a pleasant development, as with any new technology, it may take time for common users to adapt. At their pilot program website, MIT warned students that about losing their passphrase—a common problem when using blockchain-based mechanisms.

“It’s a huge roadblock to tell students to go generate public-private key pairs for the Bitcoin blockchain,” Jagers said. “Nobody has any idea what you’re talking about.”

Despite the hurdle, Jager regrets nothing. “We believe it’s still the right choice for official records that need to last a lifetime and work anywhere in the world,” he said.

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