> EDUCATION
USE CASES

Tamper-proof university diplomas

Background

Suspicion of fraud leads an increasing number of companies to set up verification procedures, creating a backlog of work for education institutions. Blockchain technology makes it possible to issue trusted digital documents that can be verified by employers independently.

Use case exploration

Over the course of Summer 2018, a discussion was engaged with Professor Dr. Schär, Managing Director of the Center for Innovative Finance at the University of Basel in Switzerland, who presented a basic solution design showing how university diplomas could be certified on the Ethereum blockchain. A project was initiated to prototype his idea within a one-week timeframe using the Proxeus framework.

Implementation

The project comprised the deployment of a new Proxeus instance, the collection of requirements, the design of a diploma template, the configuration of the diploma creation workflow as well as some fine-tuning and front-end improvements. The team started by creating the template, which allowed to review and validate the required data entry fields based on the university feedback. The diploma looked similar to the following example:

The next step was to create a series of input forms allowing the university staff to enter the relevant student’s information (personal identification data and grade).


Once the templates and forms were done, bringing everything in the right order was just a quick drag & drop exercise. The template to be filled comes first, then the data entry forms that guide the user through the process.

A workflow with two forms to fill one template

Finally, a verification interface was built into the Core allowing non-technical users of Proxeus to easily verify the authenticity of documents created using the platform.

Result

Following a successful first test, Prof. Dr. Schär proposed to go beyond the initial project scope and issue real certificates for his students on the Ethereum mainnet. The university staff was provided with a ready-to-use workflow allowing them to issue course certificates and a few weeks later, all 126 students completing the “Bitcoin, Blockchain and Crypto Assets” course of the University of Basel received certificates registered on the Ethereum mainnet blockchain. This marked the first time that a university in Switzerland secured the authenticity and integrity of an academic certificate on a blockchain, and an important milestone for Proxeus. 

The students and everyone with whom they decide to share the certificates can verify the authenticity of the document instantly, 24/7, on a Proxeus verification interface embedded into the university website.

The new verification tool was a direct result of this project and was later used in almost every project. It was also made available for embedding into websites. Check out the step-by-step guide at the end of this article to find out how.

Feedback

Prof. Dr. Fabian Schär commented on the project in a university press release:

“This blockchain solution developed in cooperation with Proxeus greatly improves the process of verifying documents and represents an important step towards forgery-proof academic certificates,” said Prof. Dr. Fabian Schär, Managing Director of the Center for Innovative Finance. “Two tools have been created – one that the university staff can use to create the certificate and register it to the blockchain with its unique hash, and a second, public tool which allows anyone to verify that the electronic document has been issued by the university.”

“Fraudulent documents are a problem in academia just as it is in any field,” he said. “By securing credentials on the Blockchain, we provide an extra layer of security for graduates and potential employers. These credentials can’t be faked, and can be easily verified online. It will introduce a new paradigm of security and offer value to all parties - employers don’t lose time checking credentials, graduates have an edge, and the institutions themselves reduce their reputational risk and a significant administrative burden.”

Insights

Most university’s requirements received as part of the project could be covered by Proxeus out of the box. Important learnings were made as to how blockchain data can be made accessible to everyone and a visual drag and drop interface was included into the Proxeus Core software. Observations were also made regarding the API integration possibilities with external systems (such as the university ERP) in order to allow for projects to scale. A powerful I/O layer was designed and tested in various further projects in the course of 2019. 

Today, the tamper-proof diploma use case can be replicated in under an hour with Proxeus out of the box and it demonstrates what Proxeus intends to facilitate: making the creation of blockchain applications possible in a few clicks and bringing the same level of simplicity as WordPress does for websites.

Limitations

Proxeus is a workflow engine enabling users to digitize their processes and make document templates available to third-parties decentrally. Its capabilities are therefore focused on the production of new certificates, not on the processing of pre-existing documents, which would require a different solution design. A custom module (out of scope for this project) could be developed to import data directly from a university ERP. One of the key requirements of the university was that the documents would be secured additionally using a so-called "salt". A salt is a unique code increasing the cryptographic difficulty of guessing the contents of a document, as someone in possession of an almost identical document (e.g. only the name and grade change) could theoretically modify those parts and try to reverse-engineer how a hash was made. This feature was too specific to be integrated into the generic Proxeus solution, but can be added manually into the document as invisible (white) text as we have demonstrated.

Try it out yourself

A very similar version of the workflow developed in this project is available on the demo platform on Proxeus.com.

You enjoyed reading the documentation and would like to build a similar workflow? A detailed guide is available here. All you need is an instance of Proxeus (for example our demo platform) and basic users skills.

If you are just looking to understand the principles behind the solution, here is a recap of the steps to build it - using only Proxeus and no programming at all.

  • Understanding the requirements. We first discussed what exactly was expected from the workflow, the document certification on the blockchain and the verifiability.
  • Set up Proxeus. You can run your own instance of Proxeus on a server or locally on your computer - or you could use someone else’s instance. The complete guide to setting up your own instance is available here. It is recommended that you deploy your own smart contract following our instructions in the guide and using the template in our GitHub.
  • Prepare the document template(s). What should the document design look like? What should placeholders be used for? How should the information be formatted? In the use case described above, a user can for example pick a date from the calendar and the template will display the weekday in alphanumeric form (e.g. “Friday”).
    Here are the direct links to our help materials:
    - General handbook
    - Template handbook
    - Education example template
  • Prepare the user forms. As the university staff will need to use the workflow for each student, data entry has to be efficient and comfortable. We decided to split it into two forms to avoid scrolling: one form for the student’s data and the second for the grade.
  • Configure the workflow by connecting the smart template(s) and the forms in a workflow. Set a XES price to the workflow (if applicable) and share the form with the platform users.
  • Set signatures as required - once given by users they are publicly visible on the blockchain and verifiable by anyone.
  • Test and improve your workflow. Nothing is perfect from the start. Even when your workflow is already in production and in use, you can simply clone it and release an improved version to your users. If the changes are compatible, you can also just upgrade the existing workflow and all running instances will use the new definition automatically.
  • Onboard your users. In the use case described above only a very brief training was required to make sure the university staff would be able to use the platform safely. Our handbook and tutorial videos are always there as an aid in case something is forgotten. Basically, the users only need to know the following steps:
    - Log in
    - Click “New document” in the “Documents” tab
    - Select the workflow you’ve created
    - Navigate through the workflow
    - Complete the workflow and download the document
Starting a new workflow to create a blockchain-secured diploma

9. Integrate a verification tool into your organization’s website to simplify the verification process. The verification tool of your Proxeus platform can be found directly via the /validation path; for example https://demo.proxeus.com/validation. It can also be embedded using a standard iFrame HTML code.

Your iFrame HTML code to embed it into your website would then look like this:

<iframe width="100%" height="650" src="https://demo.proxeus.com/validation" frameborder="0" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="yes"></iframe>

Proxeus Association 2020, All Rights Reserved