EduCoin: The Digital Currency That Makes Us Smarter

Journalist:
May 9, 2014
EduCoin hopes to shake up an imperfect education system with the help of novel digital transactions.

Our education system needs an update. This is no secret. Students can no longer pay college tuition with summer jobs, like students did 40 years ago. When college students graduate they face mountains of debt and a grimmer-than-usual job market. EduCoin poses an enigmatic challenge to the dreary status quo. While many education reformers aim to help students with fat reform packages, charities for poorer students, and awareness programs, EduCoin aims to cut directly to the heart of education finances—to become the standard global currency for education. The developers dream of a time when educational attainment will be independent of how parental income.

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[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]hile the Bitcoin spinoff’s goal is to affect the broader education economy, the EduCoin community is using the cutting edge technology realm as a launching pad. The community has awarded 177 million crowdfunded EduCoin to  students at hackathons across the United States. The idea is similar to the MIT Bitcoin Project. Students Jeremy Rubin and Dan Elitzer have raised half a million dollars, which will be divvied up amongst all MIT students, giving our future technological thinkers access to the developing crypto-currency. Hackathon winners of all ages now have EduCoin to experiment with or cash in on at a later date.

EduCoin is built very similarly to Bitcoin. When Bitcoin becomes adopted on a massive scale, it will affect all sorts of payments. I had the pleasure of interviewing the lead developer, Satoshi Edumoto, to learn how EduCoin will provide the tailored tools for students and educators.

Why does our current education system need EduCoin and why can’t Bitcoin fulfill this need?

In the U.S., college students have passed $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, and education as an institution has not changed in a century. EduCoin is a rallying point for students, educators, and startups to re-think how we pay for education, including whether the $400 billion we spend annually on higher education even makes any sense. As the cryptocurrency ecosystem takes shape, EduCoin reminds us of the dawn of the internet’s top-level domains in 1985. We can make the comparison that Bitcoin is the dot com network of digital currency, whereas EduCoin is the dot edu network of digital currency for education.

Is there a specific event that prompted you to launch the currency?

The trigger for creating EduCoin was “Hi Mom, Send Bitcoin”. Perfect strangers sent a college student enough small donations to cover a year of college. That event showed me there was a new paradigm taking shape around digital currency crowdfunding. EduCoin was created as a bucket to help students draw from all that internet-based goodwill.

I see the latest EduCoin-sponsored  hackathon was at NYU last weekend. How did that go?

While I didn’t attend NYU Hacks personally, I have been in contact with organizers and teams that received EDU. One of my favorite hacks was created by a high school team led by Daven. His team made a Google Glass app that listens as the wearer describes a word at the tip of his tongue, and then it displays the correct word. What’s the word I’m looking for to describe this hack? Awesome.

Why the emphasis on hackathons? What does EduCoin gain from it?

The core devs and I are active members of the startup ecosystem, so it was easy for us to reach out to hackathons. These events attract the kinds of talented students who are “ready to hack their future” and are not going to wait for schools to figure it out for them. If Satoshi Nakamoto were a teenager today, we would probably find him at the upcoming High School Capture The Flag, an online cryptographic competition for middle and high school students. With eight hackathons funded and a ninth on the way, EduCoin has surrounded itself with people whose allegiance is to nothing else but change itself. One event at a time, we are picking up talented student-hackers who can help disrupt education on their way to the top.

How have people—educators, policymakers, sponsored hackers–responded to the project?

While it is too early to tell, educators and policymakers understand EduCoin enough to embrace the need for experimentation or a wait-and-see period. We have even messaged key leaders of Congress to get their staff oriented in EduCoin’s direction. The easiest three weeks for us was when we crowdfunded and distributed 180 million EDU directly to students. They immediately saw the intrinsic potential value, going with the logic that the EDU they received was worth at least a pizza –or it could one day be worth a lot of pizzas plus a college education.

Could you explain how EduCoin will interface with modern tools like crowdfunding, MOOCs, and charter schools?

I’ll preface my answer by saying that, as a decentralized open source project, we want to foster a development ecosystem that results in these kinds of outcomes. For instance, a similar version of Dogestarter would enable students to crowdfund specifically for their educational activities. As for MOOCs, Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun could achieve higher than 7% course completion rates if his learners were able to give each other EduCoin tips. Schools, funds or alumni endowments that want to improve their fundraising yields could follow Dallas Makerspace’s example by accepting Bitcoin, but if education is truly their commitment then they could also accept EduCoin.

What other EduCoin use cases are you most excited about?

I am most excited about the EDU QR code, which can start happening today. Already, students everywhere are using QR Codes to retrieve information. This means that students can also begin to receive EduCoin with something as simple as a QR sticker on their iPad covers. Over a decade of accumulating EDU as in-class rewards, as an analogue for grades, as prizes or scholarships, and students will never have to worry about borrowing to pay for college.

Is this a global tool or is it geared toward education in the U.S.?

EduCoin is a de-centralized and global digital currency, but the adoption curve starts in the US. I am focusing my efforts on New York, Texas, and California where nearly $275 billion is spent on education.

Why do you choose to remain pseudonymous?

Bitcoin’s creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, has been precise about everything he has done. This was reason enough for me to follow his example. I am hidden in plain sight until Satoshi Nakamoto reveals himself. This may take 30 years or less.

Do you think there’s any danger in giving higher education institutions management of the coin, rather than a broader community?

A future organization that mimics the roles of the WC3 consortium and Educause.edu may offer EDU a durable organization where it can thrive. However, as a decentralized open source digital currency, EduCoin stakeholders may prefer independent development along the lines of peer-to-peer file sharing.

What do you have planned for the future? Short-term? Long-term?

Our immediate plans are to continue distributing EduCoin through grassroots measures, so that we can attract more student developers. We are also continuing to speak with charter schools, startups, non-profits, and other agencies in order to establish use cases or experiments with EduCoin. In the long-term, we just have this very simple end state where high school students no longer have to think twice about paying for college. How we get there is entirely up for discussion, and I look forward to being a part of it.

Photo courtesy of Peter Weis / Wikimedia.

Last modified (UTC): May 18, 2014 13:25

Tags: education
Alyssa Hertig @AlyssaHertig

Alyssa earn a B.A. in history from the University of Minnesota. She's written for Motherboard, Reason, and PolicyMic. Get in touch on Twitter: @AlyssaHertig