MSU Blockchain Class Is a Pioneer

Creating a college course is a lengthy process but creating and teaching one on a subject matter that’s growing and evolving by the minute is another challenge. That’s exactly w…

Creating a college course is a lengthy process but creating and teaching one on a subject matter that’s growing and evolving by the minute is another challenge. That’s exactly what Michigan State University (MSU) Director of Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Neil Kane is doing, along with fellow MSU professors. MGT 491 is a management class focusing on the foundations of blockchain and applications of the digital cryptography database.

The class was first offered in fall 2018, labeling MSU as a leading force. The Eli Broad College of Business became the first in Michigan to offer a course on the cutting-edge technology, blockchain. Blockchain is the ledgering system behind bitcoin, a rapidly growing digital currency.

According to Kane, the class is set up with multiple guest teachers, lecturers and even classmates teaching fellow students. Kane referred to MSU School of Law professors Carla Reyes and Daniel Barnhizer as instrumental in helping put together the blockchain course.

“About a year ago, when the price of bitcoin was going through the roof, all anybody could talk about was cryptocurrency,” Kane said. “As a result, in the winter of last year, nine or so months ago, a lot of universities started developing courses in blockchain as a result of student interest and the very real possibility that this new technology was going to have a very profound effect on business, banking, economics and so forth.”

After reading a New York Times article on the upcoming college course, Kane brought it up to MSU faculty. “I wanted to see MSU do something progressive, forward-thinking and state of the art,” Kane said, “and I knew that our entrepreneurship students would have an interest in it.”

Faculty developed the course in just four months, compared to the years it usually takes to develop a university course. In an attempt to break molds and models of the past, Kane believes part of what makes this course special is how it’s run.

The course technically falls under the MSU entrepreneurship program, but it is an interdisciplinary class, with applications stretching across varying majors, minors and uses.

“We have to recognize that a topic like blockchain encompasses a lot of different domains, and for that reason, it can be challenging within existing university structures to develop a course in it,” Kane said. “So, my goal was not only to develop a course in blockchain, but also to address this other hypothesis that was ‘could we do a course that has lectures from seven different backgrounds, and other students from different studies?’ The answer was yes.”

Reyes also teaches in the course, which includes law students as well as undergrad and graduate students from all areas of study.

“For my discipline as a lawyer – and there are several law students in the class – it’s good to work with them, because that’s their future clients,” Reyes said of the wide-ranging student body. “That is the work they will undertake for the rest of their lives; translating legal concepts to folks who don’t know the law. It’s a really unique opportunity for law students in particular.”’

The class includes lessons and interactive sessions on entrepreneurship, law, computer science, economics, accounting and supply-chain management – displaying applications in various professions. Real-world cases are shown by guest presenting companies, including IBM, JPMorgan, and AJ Boggs. Clarke Anderson, CEO of AJ Boggs and Co., an East Lansing computer software developer, has attended most of the course.

AJ Boggs and Co. has an interest in blockchain and was invited to judge the student presentations at the end of the class. The company is currently working on blockchain software regarding payments using open ledgers, which increase efficiency, innovative financial transactions, health care agencies and other sectors.

“Even though bitcoin has gone down 70 percent or more this year, the blockchain technology that bitcoin was built upon has been adopted across the industry,” Anderson said.

According to a Barron’s article, the research firm Gartner stated “blockchain will generate $5 billion in business value in 2018 and grow to over $3.1 trillion in 2030.  That’s more than Britain’s entire annual economic output today.”

Other futurists are predicting a big impact via blockchain too, according to Anderson. While it will likely change and adapt in a moment’s notice, Anderson said, “It’s just like a lot of other software technologies that can be really powerful, like social media and software technologies. Understanding the market and risks, students learn a lot of things about other technologies that are constantly coming out in this industry.”

Blockchain technology’s ability to create a distributive ledger to methodically store information is being used with trading, in real estate to avoid middle-man transaction fees and even in managing health records.

“There are dozens and dozens of potential applications where the blockchain and this underlying computer architecture can not only solve problems,” Kane said, “But take a lot of costs out of the traditional method.”

Lansing-area marketing professional Devin Pringle received his Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan and believes this class would benefit all finance or economics majors, preparing them for a fast-paced Fortune 500 companies.

“I think blockchain is a new technology and students learning about it today will have a leg up on old-timers like me,” Smith said. “Computer industry titans Steve Jobs and

Bill Gates were both born in 1955, and today’s bitcoin industry titans were born about 20 years ago. MSU’s blockchain course gives these students a shot being giants in an emerging industry.”


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