Blockchain Gains Currency in Higher Ed

When he was in graduate school and working toward a doctorate in computer science, Arthur Carvalho made a life-changing decision.“It was 2012, and my friend suggested that we invest some money in Bitcoin,” he recalled. At the time, one Bitcoin was valued at around $13. At its peak valuation in late 2017, the price had jumped to almost $18,000.

“I would be a millionaire now,” Carvalho said. “But I told my friend, ‘I don’t trust this thing.’ I thought it was a scam.”He didn’t get rich from Bitcoin, but he did become interested in cryptocurrencies and how they work.

“I followed the development of cryptocurrencies really closely,” he said. “I took a personal interest in learning more about the technology.”

Carvalho is now an assistant professor of information systems and analytics at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University in Ohio, where there’s a growing consensus among faculty that blockchain — the technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin — is worth watching.

Carvalho’s colleagues are not unique; interest in blockchain technology is growing fast in the business world — and universities and colleges are responding. Many professors are incorporating blockchain into their teaching, and several universities have developed full courses devoted to the technology. In the process, they are providing the emerging discipline, once seen as unserious, with intellectual legitimacy.

This summer Columbia University and Stanford University both launched blockchain research centers, following in the footsteps of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Digital Currency Initiative, which launched as part of the MIT Media Lab in 2015; MIT was among the first institutions to create such a program.

At Miami University, business school faculty members had started mentioning blockchain and cryptocurrencies in lectures, but it wasn’t until students from the Miami University Blockchain Club, one of the largest student-led clubs on campus, started asking for more detail about how the technology works that faculty members started to seriously consider creating a blockchain curriculum.

“We agreed that blockchain is a technology that is here to stay,” said Carvalho, “so we decided to develop a three-credit-hour course.”The course is scheduled to start in spring 2019 and will teach the theory of how blockchain works, as well as potential real-world applications. The course will be cross-disciplinary and cover topics related to business, computer science and mathematics.

Though several universities have introduced courses on cryptocurrencies, there are few that focus on blockchain technology for undergraduates, said Carvalho.“I don’t even have a textbook — everything has been developed from zero.”