Blockchain is now a senior capstone course in North Carolina community colleges

Wake Tech's North Campus (Cgb628 / Wikimedia)

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Wake Technical Community College, North Carolina’s largest community college system, is partnering with IBM to take the lead on blockchain education in one of the nation’s premier research regions.

The college, which operates campuses and education centers throughout the state, is launching its first blockchain-focused course as a senior capstone class this fall. Blockchain is the distributed recordkeeping technology that backs cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Just seven students, most of whom are studying computer programming and data science, will take the course, but officials are optimistic that it’s the foundation for a larger statewide course to come.

IBM researcher Bob Dill developed the course, which is titled “ Zero to Blockchain ” and available for free online , but it will be taught by a Wake Tech professor with whom students will meet intermittently throughout the semester. Students will spend the first eight to 10 weeks learning the basics of blockchain and IBM’s blockchain environment using the company’s “hyperledger composer” software, and they will spend the final quarter of the semester designing a blockchain-based application to solve a hypothetical need of a local business or project.

Along the way, they’ll also receive mentorship and guidance from faculty and IBM professionals working in the field. Final projects will be judged by IBM blockchain executives — potential future managers of the students.

“Our objective is not only to provide technological training, but also to provide some of these soft skills that people who go through this course can use to either work and get a job with IBM or with other technology companies,” said David Post, Manager of IBM’s blockchain accelerator.

Students will progress through the module-based course in three phases, earning badges, which IBM calls a form of “micro-credentialing.” After learning the basics of distributed ledger technology, they will receive a “blockchain ready” badge. The next, a “blockchain builder” badge, will be given after students demonstrate experience in creating blockchain applications in IBM’s blockchain environment, and the “blockchain developer” badge will be given upon completion of the capstone project.

The course, according to Wake Tech Dean of Computer Technologies Keith Babuszczak, is a “technical” look at the distributed ledger technology that other four-year universities have embraced with partners like IBM in the past.

The partnership was initially proposed by IBM, Babuszczak said. When IBM came to the school to recruit students for its “ New Collar ” job initiative, the school didn’t have any curriculum dedicated to blockchain. So, Post said, they became a model for the future of higher ed, and built a class to prepare for the future of the workforce. Ideally, the course will be a first step in promoting a pipeline of talent from North Carolina’s Research Triangle region, but the course does not have statewide approval just yet.

“We’ve started conversations with other community colleges to propose a course detailing the fundamentals of distributed ledger technology, where this naturally moves into what an actual course would look like in a statewide course,” Babuszczak said.

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