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What’s the point of NFT in education and why should teachers care?

Most everyone has likely heard about NFTs but may not necessarily know what they are or how they can be used, especially in education. The creation and use of NFTs or (non-fungible tokens) are popular topics of emerging technologies. In addition to hearing about NFT in education, we are also hearing more about the metaverse, blockchain, and web3. There are so many changing trends and technologies in the world. As educators, we have to continue to keep ourselves informed. 

We don’t need to be experts; we just need to be prepared enough to help students navigate the constantly changing world. When it comes to NFTs, for many, it may seem like they are something new—however, the first NFT was launched in 2017. 

NFTs are used daily, and more people are creating them. This increase leads us to wonder what it means for the future. How will NFTs be used in the world of work and, more importantly for us, in education? What do we need to know to help students understand and even create NFTs?

What exactly is an NFT?

The basic definition is that an NFT is a nonfungible token (NFT). Nonfungible means that it has a unique digital identifier and it cannot be copied, subdivided, or substituted. In order to certify its authenticity and ownership, when someone creates an NFT, it has a unique digital identifier. A record of the NFT is then made on a blockchain which is a system that keeps a record of transactions. Nontangible means that an NFT is not a physical, tangible object but rather a form of proof that shows ownership and purchase. 

The NFT is an irrevocable digital certificate of ownership and authenticity for a given asset.

The records of NFTs are stored across multiple computers which are linked in a network. After they are stored, they can be sold or traded. NFTs are created through a process called “minting,” where digital files are converted into a cryptocurrency collectible. 

There are many resources available for understanding the process of creating NFTs and how they can be used. For instance: his five-minute video helps to explain what NFTs are and gives examples that make it easier to understand. 

Explaining NFTs to students 

The best example that helped my students was comparing money with art. If you take a $100 bill, you can divide it into different amounts and will maintain the same value. However, with NFTs, you cannot take a painting like the Mona Lisa,  divide it and end up with an equal distribution and value like money. The reason? There is only one original Mona Lisa. NFTs get their value because of the original, authentic work that it represents. 

While I can take a picture of something or make a duplicate, those additional versions will not hold the same value as the original. NFTs can be created to represent various things, including art, digital content, multiple forms of media, and more. 

How do you create an NFT?

There are a lot of resources available when it comes to NFTs. The process of creating NFTs is called “minting” which involves signing a blockchain transaction that provides the specifics or outline of the fundamental token details. When this happens, the information goes to the blockchain, which triggers a smart contract function that creates the token and assigns it to its owner. Each individual NFT has a unique identifier stored on the blockchain. An NFT does not have to be in any specific format. It can be a GIF, a photo, or a video. When the creator adds it to the blockchain, ownership is set, and its authenticity has been verified. 

Is NFT in education here to stay?

Yes! I teach a course called What’s Next in Emerging Tech to eighth graders. We spend a lot of time during the year talking about AI, AR/VR, and more recently, topics like bitcoin, blockchain, and NFTs. Students are curious to know about them, to design them, and understand how they might be used in the future.  We talk about what the NFTs can represent, benefits for use in education, and then find real-world examples to discuss. 

A few recent news articles share how some higher education institutions are starting to use NFTs for their credentialing. For example, Duke University has used NFTs for educational credentials for their Master of Engineering in Financial Technology degree. 

At Pepperdine University, NFTs have been used as a way to award students in a personal finance course. While the NFTs do not have a direct monetary value, they demonstrate that a student passed the course. Other universities like MIT have done the research and are advocating for the use of blockchain for authenticating college certificates and transcripts. 

Read more: Exploring Virtual Reality learning experiences in the classroom

NFTs in K-12 education

When it comes to K-12 education, there are some different ways that NFTs can be used. Here are some common scenarios:

  • keeping track of data related to assessments or student records— typically, there are a lot of papers or tools used for keeping track of this information.  Instead, this information can be authenticated, easily accessed, and cannot be falsified through an NFT; 
  • NFTs could also be used as diplomas and resumes, which help track what students have earned during their school careers. NFTs can serve as a permanent, unchangeable and unique “transcript” of learning and professional development;
  • having students create their own NFTs. For creation purposes, there are many possibilities. A friend, Rabbi Michael Cohen, educator and author, has been doing a lot of work in the area of NFTs. He sees the potential for using NFTs for creativity and in the arts. 

Read more: 6 Novel ways in which educators can teach creativity in the classroom

The value of NFT in education 

The value of NFTs is determined by the availability of a digital asset or what it is being created to represent. The lower the number available, the greater the value of the NFT. There have been some big sales of NFTs in the past year. For example, digital artist Beeple sold a collage of 5,000 images for $69.3 million. Jack Dorsey, former Twitter CEO, sold the first tweet he made as an NFT for $2.9 million

With NFTs, students can create digital art that is authentic,  collectible, and even sellable.  There is so much potential for creativity with NFTs. By bringing in entrepreneurial skills, we can provide students with opportunities to develop essential socio-emotional learning (SEL) and future-ready skills. 

While there is a lot to know about NFTs, we don’t need to be experts. Regardless of grade level or content area taught, there are ways to teach about and spark conversations about NFTs. Once we do this, students will continue in their own authentic and meaningful ways to create and learn.