Course on blockchain may return next fall

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By Taylor Haelterman

A new course often found within Ivy League universities wrapped up this week, but officials say after a successful first semester, they hope to offer blockchain to more Michigan State University undergrads next fall.

Blockchain is a decentralized, digital ledger of transactions. Each person or company involved in a purchase can hold their own digital copy to prevent fraud and increase security.

Blockchain is associated with bitcoin. Though the hype of bitcoin has died down, blockchain still has many useful applications outside of bitcoin trade. These applications are what Neil Kane, the director of entrepreneurship at Michigan State University, taught in his section of the management course MGT 491: Blockchain: Foundations and Applications, which was offered within the Eli Broad College of Business for the first time this fall.

“What I’m trying to teach is not just about blockchain,” he said. “But also about an ability to look at a business opportunity and think about how new technology could be applied … and then at the end of the day write a business plan and do a pitch.”

MGT 491 met for two hours, once a week. The rest of the assignments were done online, Kane said.

Kane said he had a unique opportunity with the blockchain course because he wasn’t locked into any specific area of study, so he could make the course multidisciplinary by bringing in professors from eight other academic departments to teach blockchain from different angles.

Spartan Blockchain is another opportunity for students on campus to learn about blockchain outside of the course. The student organization helps students understand blockchain and provides outreach to Michigan State University and the surrounding area to aid with adoption of the technology.

Andrew Marquardt, the vice president of internal operations for the student group said offering blockchain as a class was an “innovative idea.”

“Not a lot of colleges that are associated with Michigan State primarily host blockchain courses,” he said. “Normally it’s Ivy League schools or really prestigious schools. I thought it was a really cool concept.”

Spartan Blockchain Vice President of External Operations, Siddhant Chhabra said he believes blockchain will be an important aspect of future careers in many fields. He said knowing about blockchain will give graduating college students an edge on the competition in the workforce.

“I think it’s the wave of the future,” Chhabra said. “And I’d rather be on the front end of it than trying to play catchup when it’s already passed.”

Blockchain’s convenience and ability to adapt to any business model is helping lead to wider use of the technology, experts said. This diversity is what drew Sean Kennedy, Spartan Blockchain deputy technology officer to blockchain.

“There’s just so much innovation and creativity in terms of how it’s being improved,” Kennedy said. “And everyday there are different ways in which people are using it.”

Kane said he hopes MGT 491 can be used as a model for future classes with real-world applications to get students learning about these topics quicker.

That is exactly what Joshua Marquardt, the president of Spartan Blockchain, saw the course as, too. He said it could be a “stepping stone” for Michigan State to further blockchain education by creating more concentrated classes related to specific fields like business or engineering.

Critics of blockchain say it will die out like bitcoin. Kane said he can’t be 100 percent sure they’re wrong. He taught more than blockchain in MGT 491, so the course will remain useful for students if blockchain doesn’t explode in the future. Students learned how to form business proposals, and students in the entrepreneurship program taught blockchain to other students through workshops and earned distinction on their transcripts through the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Experiences Program.

The course will likely be offered again in the fall semester of 2019, Kane said.

Students interested in learning more about blockchain can go to the Spartan Blockchain website.

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