• Philip Straus

Inaugural Blockchain Engineering Course at UCLA a Resounding Success


Following UCLA’s first quarter offering an accredited blockchain course, students embraced the role the class played in raising blockchain awareness on campus and building a vibrant community interested in the emerging technology.


“55 more students than last quarter are walking around UCLA with a deep understanding of blockchain,” said Andrew Battat, a second-year computer science student and one of the course’s teaching assistants. “The impact that can have on the student population is hard to quantify, but I believe it will have a tremendous impact on blockchain interest and adoption in the long term.”


Third-year computer science student Salekh Parkhati said the blockchain class was easier compared to advanced courses, but still recommended his peers register if they can because the data model underlying the technology could eventually lead to important innovations.


“As we can see, this technology has already created a huge wave in many different industries, so this is definitely worth some time and investigation,” Parkhati said.


Unsurprisingly, introducing a room full of computer science and engineering students to blockchain went far more seamlessly than your typical dinner table conversation.


“I’ve been struggling to explain blockchain to my family for so long that once I finally got in a room full of computer science students, it was like playing a game on easy mode after playing the game on hard for so long,” Battat said. “The students had a base understanding of computing, cryptography, and all the other elements that make up blockchain. It was only a matter of putting the pieces together.”


Blockchain at UCLA, one of the largest university blockchain clubs in the country and an original BAF member organization, designed the pilot blockchain course curriculum. The group already hosts a weekly student-led education series, which teaches members about the technology from both business and technical perspectives.


Due to the lack of readily-available blockchain assignments online, the teaching assistants and Professor John Villasenor were forced to devise their own homework assignments for students. These included building a blockchain in C++ or Python, working with Cryptozombies, developing a decentralized application, and writing an essay on a permissioned blockchain of each student’s choosing.


Battat said the teaching assistants received fantastic feedback from students, with most major hurdles coming from administrative work rather than curating curriculum or the lecturing itself.


“We ran over some speed bumps along the way but we got through them, and I’m confident that if we get the chance to teach the class next year, the course will be that much better,” Battat said.


Whether the course will be offered next year, however, remains to be determined.


After funding for the winter term (January through March) class initially fell through in November, BAF connected Blockchain at UCLA with MouseBelt, whose Blockchain Accelerator promptly offered up $15,000 to cover the course. Villasenor, a professor of electrical engineering, public policy, and management, agreed to volunteer his time to teach the Special Topics class, and the groundwork was laid for one quarter.


UCLA has not yet decided whether it will offer the class during the 2019-2020 academic year. Seats for the pilot class and its waitlist quickly filled when registration initially opened, but the administration is still determining whether it will fund the course. Given how quickly jobs in the blockchain space are growing, offering a gateway course exposing developers, computer scientists, and engineers to the technology seems to be the prudent long-term move.


“This class will doubtlessly encourage students to seek out professional knowledge in [blockchain],” Parkhati said. “I believe the class’ presence will attract more smart minds to explore further and eventually make huge impacts in this industry.”


While UCLA’s administration remains on the fence about bringing the blockchain course back, other major universities have taken major strides in recent years to develop their own blockchain course offerings. A Coinbase study revealed that 42 percent of the world’s top 50 universities offer at least one blockchain course, largely a response to increased demand from companies for people who understand cryptocurrency-related issues. Although UCLA ties for sixth on Coinbase’s list of top universities, unless the pilot engineering course is funded, the only remaining blockchain classes will be offered to undergraduates through the school’s extension program.

LEGAL STATUS
 

The Blockchain Acceleration Foundation is incorporated as a nonprofit and has been approved for federal tax status under US 501(c)(3).