designing an academic certificates system

04Jun16

from medium

What we learned from designing an academic certificates system on the blockchain

Overview of our digital certification architecture

Over the past year, we have been working on a set of tools to issue, display, and verify digital credentials using the Bitcoin blockchain and the Mozilla Open Badges specification. Today we are releasing version 1 of our code under the MIT open-source license to make it easier for others to start experimenting with similar ideas. In addition to opening up the code, we also want to share some of our thinking behind the design, as well as some of the interesting questions about managing digital reputations that we plan to continue working on.

You can find links to our source code, documentation, and discussion on our project homepage: http://certificates.media.mit.edu.

The overall design of the certification architecture is fairly simple. A certificate issuer signs a well-structured digital certificate and stores its hash within a blockchain transaction. A transaction output is assigned to the recipient.

Working on this project, we have not only learned a lot about the blockchain, but also about the way that technology can shape socioeconomic practices around the concept of credentials. We hope that sharing some of the things we have grappled with and the decisions we made (and why) will be useful for other developers and institutions interested in developing digital credential systems that make use of blockchain architectures.

Many of the most interesting challenges we encountered were not technical in nature, but they cannot easily be separated from the technology because small design decisions can fundamentally shape behavior. That is why we have taken small experimental steps, tested our system with actual users, and continue to make changes based on what we are learning. The blockchain is a relatively new technology and its complexity and immutability make it even more important to carefully consider the long-term effects of design decisions.

 

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