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University of Arizona wins challenge with project to simplify transferring credits

Published: Feb. 16, 2021 at 6:32 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Transferring credits can be a frustrating process, but a team led by the University of Arizona is working to change that.

“Students lose about a year’s worth of college credits every time they transfer,” said Greg Heileman, vice provost for undergraduate education and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Arizona.

“There are thousands and thousands of universities out there that a student could be coming to us from and they are bringing credits that we have to evaluate to see if they are equivalent to some course we offer,” Heileman said.

Heileman is working on a project called UnBlockEd that would simplify the transfer credit process by computing those credits to quickly see if they will or will not transfer.

“You could take your transcript with all of your prior coursework, put it through the system and query it to say tell me the degree I am closest to learning at a given university, tell me the one that accepts the largest number of my credits,” Heileman said.

Liesl Folks is the senior vice president and provost at the University of Arizona and is working with Heileman on this project.

Folks said UnBlockEd will eliminate the need for students to rely on others or pay an institution for their own learning records, which is especially helpful during the pandemic.

“In some countries, to get a transcript of your record, you need to go into an office and physically turn up with your identification before they will hand you over a paper copy of your transcript. One of the side benefits of this technology that we are developing is that it would become an entirely digital process and would be even more trustworthy,” Folks said.

Think of this as a digital wallet for your educational records that you can easily send to universities or potential employers.

This project relies on blockchain technology, which is typically associated with cryptocurrency.

Folks said blockchain technology is hardened and proved in the financial markets, so the underlining technology needed to make this project possible is already in place.

This tamperproof technology will allow students to send educational accomplishments without the receiver having to worry about falsified records.

Folks said this project will offer transfer pathways for students who come in through any educational portal.

“To make it easy as possible for people to finish that degree and get that credential so they can accelerate their careers. That will be a win for Arizona and of course for her people,” Folks said.

The American Council on Education announced this project called, UnBlockEd is one of four winners for the first phase of the $900,000 Blockchain Innovation Challenge, funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Phase 1 winners, including the University of Arizona, received $150,000 to establish a minimum viable project in spring 2021.

The University of Arizona has partnered with Georgia Institute of Technology, Fluree and the Gardner Institute to create this open transfer exchange.

Heileman said the team will present its demo in April in hopes of winning a second round of funding.

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