As originally posted via Michigan Virtual's Blog July 18, 2023
What in the world is web3? You may have heard this term online, in the news, or from a colleague but may not be familiar with it.
Web3 is a collection of technologies that enable us to interact with the internet in fundamentally different ways. More on what this looks like in action later!
This shift may leave you with some questions like:
How did we get here?
What changes might bring the next evolution of the web to life?
What does web3 mean for education?
To better understand, let’s take a quick look back at the previous generations of the web.
If you have been in education for 10-15 years, you probably remember your first interaction with the web.
Often likened to a giant library, web1 was the ‘read-only’ era of the internet in the 90s and early 2000s, where only a select few could add new content to the web.
Pages were static, and interaction was minimal. Search engines like Google acted as cataloging systems, helping users find what they needed among a wealth of information.
As users desired more from their web experience, a shift was sparked towards a more interactive and dynamic internet, setting the stage for web2.
Web2, the ‘read-write’ era of the internet, made users active participants, akin to a student-centered classroom where everyone contributes to the learning process.
This era heralded the rise of interactive platforms like Facebook, blogs, wikis, and YouTube, facilitated by technological advancements that made the web more engaging. Just as a library card holder suddenly had keys to the library, users could now add their own ‘books’ to the web’s vast collection.
Now, we are transitioning into the era of Web3, the ‘read-write-own’ web. This decentralized internet resembles a fully collaborative learning community, empowering users to make their own rules and manage their data.
The promise of web3 is that users will be able to own and control their data, like personal information, personal records, or even data like credentials. Using web3 technologies like blockchain, users can also verify the authenticity and provenance of information.
Just as educators adapt to new teaching methods and challenges, we must adjust to the unique challenges web3 presents while embracing its exciting possibilities.
What does this mean for education?
Many of you reading this article will recall how the shift from web1 to web2 changed many aspects of daily life, including education.
Social media, video communications, online shopping, and online learning are many examples of how the last shift impacted our world. History doesn’t always repeat itself, but it often rhymes. So, we may infer that the shift from web2 to web3 will bring an equally significant impact to our world.
While web3 technologies are still in their infancy, some potential use cases and shifts in teaching and learning are beginning to emerge that leverage this technology to create new infrastructure for learning. Some examples include credentialing, peer-to-peer learning, and digital literacy and skills.
Using new technologies like blockchain, we may realize the ability to issue verifiable, immutable digital certificates for course completion or degrees. We’ve talked about the promise of personalized learning in education for nearly a decade. However we still haven’t developed new architectures for empowering learners to demonstrate their understanding to others, including potential employers.
Why is this a big deal? Systems of recognition like progress reports, report cards, and transcripts have been left largely unchanged for decades and generally offer a limited view of learner accomplishments.
Blockchains and the ecosystems built around them could provide new ways for us to empower learners through tools that allow educators and educational organizations to issue learning credentials for a much broader range of student success metrics.
A substantial amount of work has been done in the last decade around durable skills and competencies, and we have still yet to find the right tools to recognize these essential learning outcomes.
Blockchains may offer a path forward in creating new structures for recognizing learning that shift power back into the hands of the learner.
Through blockchain technology, teachers can establish peer-to-peer learning networks with other educators around the globe. These networks can serve as platforms for sharing teaching resources, strategies, and best practices.
Teachers can “trade” these resources using a token-based system, which rewards those who contribute valuable content to the network.
Such shifts could ultimately lead to a global, decentralized marketplace for educational resources, fostering a more collaborative and efficient education community.
Digital Literacy and Skills
Just like the shift from web1 to web2, the next leap we make from web2 to web3 will require us to reimagine the critical skills and competencies that will become essential in the new digital frontier.
The big push to adopt digital citizenship courses and training across K-12 is still relevant but may need a facelift as the web continues to change. While we are still grappling with our understanding of how the web will be impacted by technologies like blockchains, digital assets, and the metaverse, trends in the technology suggest that we will also need to double down on the following:
Critical and computational thinking
Emergent financial literacy skills, and
Preparing learners for a future of complexity marked by radical agency.
The Road Ahead
Now, while the future of web3 seems bright, it’s also crucial to acknowledge the challenges it might bring.
Issues like equity in access, cybersecurity, the environmental impact of blockchain technology, and general trust in the underlying technologies are essential conversations we must have as we move toward the next generation of the web.
There is no better time than now to begin holding conversations about the impacts of web3 technologies in education, and I look forward to further exploring this intersection with you all.
In the coming installments of this series, we will look at some examples of this technology in action to help us further understand the impacts of web3 on education. We’ll explore such topics as verifiable credentials, learner employment records, critical skills, digital organizations, and the intersection of web3 and AI.
If you find these topics interesting, we invite you to check out Ed3 DAO, a pioneering community dedicated to reshaping education in the era of decentralized technologies. By joining Ed3 DAO, you’ll get the opportunity to engage with like-minded educators, technologists, and innovators, participate in enlightening discussions, and explore the frontier of teaching and learning.