Whether you are just dipping your toes into Web3 and looking to take a free MOOC to advance your understanding or interested in diving all in to get a Master's degree in Digital Currencies and Blockchain Technology - University of Nicosia Institute for the Future is a great resource.
They not only entered into teaching and researching blockchain early on but are now fully participating in the on chain environment with offerings like the Open Metaverse Initiative - the first university course delivered exclusively on the blockchain.
Professor Klitos Christodoulou discusses this along with how cryptographic tokens stored on the blockchain network bring us into the world of credentialing with NFTs.
Lauren Weymouth (00:00):
Hi, I'm Lauren Weymouth, your host of All About Blockchain. And I also lead Ripples University Blockchain Research Initiative, or UBRI. We have been collaborating with the Institute of the Future at University of Nicosia for the past four years, accelerating technological developments like crypto assets and blockchain. There's a lot of cutting edge educational programming, research and development coming out of this university. For example, UNIC is the first university globally to issue course certificates as non fungible tokens, NFTs. And today, here to discuss this breakthrough in NFT credentialing is assistant professor of the Department of Management and Digital Currency, Klitos Christodoulou. Klitos is a computer scientist who teaches courses on blockchain applications and blockchain programming. You can check out his published research on Google Scholar. He's served as chair and committee member in a variety of international conferences. He's the associate editor at the Frontiers of Blockchain journal and an active member for developing Cyprus' national strategy for blockchain. Thank you for joining us Klitos.
Klitos Christodoulou (01:04):
Thank you so much Lauren, happy to be here.
Lauren Weymouth (01:06):
Well that was a mouthful, you sound very busy. So you're calling us from Cyprus this morning?
Klitos Christodoulou (01:10):
Exactly, uh, that's right.
Lauren Weymouth (01:12):
so what's the blockchain vibe at UNIC?
Klitos Christodoulou (01:14):
We have always making the stand that education is the key to mass awareness and of course, to drive and enable more maturity and innovation in the space. And therefore, we have been investing a lot in education and the educating the masses actually. So we started back in 2014 by introducing an open online massive course on introduction to digital currencies and blockchains.
And then we launched our first master's course, which is fully dedicated to the technology. It is a master course that we have already delivered to more than, 1,100 students. and we have been teaching people on various backgrounds on how to use the technology, what's the technology about, what they can, do with the technology. we have been also offering, a lot of scholarships, - for those participants.
In 2018 we have been recognized as the biggest contributor of the rise of blockchain by the blocks in Amsterdam. In 2019 we took a different stance, to foster a research and to drive innovation in this space on the Metaverse. And we have been working a lot on NFTs and the like and experimenting with that technology. We launched our open Metaverse initiative where we have been inviting communities, to participate in, understanding the Metaverse, the different technologies and the ideas for stabilization. And we believe that blockchains can enable a missing layer to the current Metaverse's a missing layer for ownership, decentralization and interoperability. And those are the two, let's say, important factors that we should be considering for having an open Metaverse.
We launched another massive open online course on introducing people to the Metaverse. We call it, NFTs and the Metaverse. We had more than 20,000 participants participating to the course. And it is the first fully on chain course that is delivered to the Metaverse. So back to you Lauren.
Lauren Weymouth (03:16):
Well we can really hear how much the University of Nicosia has embraced this technology. Not just teaching it, but also using it itself as an institution. And it's nice to hear that your courses are online. I know several of my Ripple colleagues have taken courses at the University of Nicosia virtually. So even though it's probably amazing to be in Cyprus, you don't have to be if you wanna get through the material. Let's dive right into your DeFi course that's issuing NFT certificates, and I know that you just started this in January. What inspired the team to create this new method of recording ownership?
Klitos Christodoulou (03:46):
We have been looking at verifiable credentials for quite some time, in order to issue university diplomas on a blockchain and enable users to verifiable them on chain. Verifiable credentials allow you to own your own data,and making the process of sharing your data easier and more privacy preserving. motivated by this, we have been looking at NFTs. And we thought okay, let's experiment with, you know, a combination of having these verifiable credentials as NFT tokens.
And if you think about it, since a credential is actually kind of unique for each person, it should have this uniqueness. why not using blockchains to create unique identifiable assets on chain and issue them as NFTs. where, cryptographic proofs could be used to- to verify them.we thought that, you know, that would be an excellent idea and we actually implement it (laughs).
Lauren Weymouth (04:40):
Okay. So you are providing people direct ownership that is easily accessible, so that's kind of the advantage of doing it this way. Any other advantages?
Klitos Christodoulou (04:48):
You know, those documents are unique, to each individual. And therefore we wanted to express this uniqueness, on chain. And NFTs allow us to do this, they- they do have the characteristics of, you know, non fungibility based on those uniqueness attributes if you think about it, the entire world is non fungible, right? I mean, even ourselves, we are unique in a sense so, why not having those representations on chain? this was, you know, driving us to represent verifiable credentials, as NFTs. We are also taking steps to go beyond that. And as I will be discussing, I think we could, minting our course material as NFTs? we have already done this for our open,massive course on NFTs and the Metaverse. we should be looking things from, a different perspective, and opening up new- new opportunities, I guess.
Lauren Weymouth (05:39):
So really highlighting the originality.
Klitos Christodoulou (05:40):
Lauren Weymouth (05:41):
I get that. okay, so I'm a student and I've taken your course. How do I claim my certificate?
Klitos Christodoulou (05:47):
As you know, people are still experimenting with this and we want it to be as easy as possible for them to claim it. We currently do a kind of a lazy mint. We actually hold the NFT for you, and we kind of airdropping those NFTs to email addresses, for those users that they would like to have them in their own, let's say profile somewhere, we allow them to- to mint them. for those that they may not want to, let's say, mint it directly, we enable them to view those batches, those NFTs through our own website, which is a technology that is provided by one of our spinoff companies here at the University of Nicosia.
Lauren Weymouth (06:28):
Okay, and Klitos you're using some words that we haven't discussed on this show yet.
Klitos Christodoulou (06:29):
Lauren Weymouth (06:29):
When you say airdrop to an email address, does that mean-
Klitos Christodoulou (06:30):
Lauren Weymouth (06:31):
... as a student I just open my email and there it is?
Klitos Christodoulou (06:37):
So basically you open your email and there is an email from us saying that you have an NFT batch as we call it for your NFT certificate for that course. you can click on that link and immediately you can view it. So it's very easy for the user to click on it and- and view that NFT. So if you would like to really claim it to your own, let's say address there is a process that it has to be happen on chain. if you are a more advanced, you could follow a few steps to own it in your own wallet.
Lauren Weymouth (07:05):
Okay, well now I understand why you called it the lazy process, that definitely sounds very user friendly.
Klitos Christodoulou (07:09):
Lauren Weymouth (07:10):
and can you use any wallet to transfer it to?
Klitos Christodoulou (07:12):
So currently we have been experimenting with Polygon and an Ethereum based mechanism that we are using now an EVM based smart contract of course we have been looking other technologies. for example, XRP ledger that we are looking into integrating in the near future. it's also part of our plans.
Lauren Weymouth (07:31):
Very cool. And what was the feedback you got from the students? I'd love to hear their experience in receiving their certificates in a digital form.
Klitos Christodoulou (07:39):
So basically there has been always, there's a need for proving, your skillset. we- we think that this NFT on chain representation of these digital assets could enable the creation of your digital portfolio of skills, showcasing your skills. And, proving also that you have undertaken a particular course, verifying the authenticity of that certificate automatically with those, you know, on chain digital assets.again, proving, owning your own data, being able to share this with- with other colleagues or other employers that they're looking to verify that you -it's all about skillset nowadays. So academic degrees, they provide a great percentage of your knowledge, but skillsets with professional degrees and certificates are used to verify any additional, let's say, knowledge that you posses in- in a field.
Lauren Weymouth (08:33):
And that's what's helping graduates get into the workforce, right?
Klitos Christodoulou (08:36):
Lauren Weymouth (08:37):
When they can actually prove that they've-
Klitos Christodoulou (08:38):
Exactly, exactly, yeah.
Lauren Weymouth (08:39):
... taken these specific skills.did you learn any lessons on your first airdrops? how are you improving upon the experience?
Klitos Christodoulou (08:47):
We are considering ways of improving this. especially for those users that, uh, are not that native into this space. That's why we have been, you know, focusing firstly on this lazy mint, as we call it, lazy airdropping method. so that we lift this complexity from the average user to be able to use it. that was something that participants have been appreciating. we are doing this just to expose the technology to the average participant and showcase this as a use case for what the technology can offer. Which is not only for financial transactions. It could be used for other useful and exciting use cases. And NFTs are one of those use cases NFTs for education sake (laughs).
Lauren Weymouth (09:34):
So issuing NFT certificates for courses was a first step for UNIC, what else are you working on in this area?
Klitos Christodoulou (09:40):
So basically we are constantly,, looking to ways of utilizing that technology and of course raising more awareness of the technology to the masses. So our new project relates to the Metaverse. It's a new, comprehensive initiative that is focusing on the academic, research and, you know, policy issues that relate to the Metaverse. we are- are focusing mostly on the open public systems and standards. that's why as a- as a first initiative we have been building and now delivering the first open introductory course to NFTs in the Metaverse.
And the uniqueness of the course is that this course is purely delivered on chain. In order to attend the course, they are registering to the course by minting their course NFTs. So this course NFT is actually their participation ticket, let's say, to- to the course. We have more than 20,000 unique addresses registering to the courses on Ethereum directly. This course is being taught by UNIC faculty and also, many guest speakers and influential speakers from the space. So just for example, Punk 6529, who is a deeply influential thinker on NFTs and the Metaverse, and one of the largest NFT collectors in the world. We also have an incredible array of guest lecturers and panelists. You can follow our- our website to- to learn more about the speakers. We have speakers that are purely [inaudible 00:18:15], uh, that's also another exciting property of the technology.
As I mentioned previously, in order to participate to this course, you need to own your NFT pass. So this NFT pass gives you access to a Metaverse environment. we call it the OM, the open Metaverse environment. there is a particular sector within that Metaverse environment which is rendered directly through your browser. just to explain to- to the average user, if you are a holder of that NFT you can connect your MetaMask to on cyber and access our Metaverse environment. There is a particular sector there that you can join and view, the lecturers, interact with your fellow students, you can see your little avatars there and, you know, interact with others directly through your browser and from your comfortable of your own space and also preserving your identity.
We have also been, offering prior to the course an introductory course for educating people on the prerequisites for registering to that course. the ability to mint their NFTs on- on the Ethereum blockchain, the ability to store the NFTs in- in their wallets, either a software wallet or a hardware wallet. So those things, we wanted to have like a- an experiment where we could educate the masses on how to use the tools practically and use them to- to join a course. the experience that we are getting has [inaudible 00:20:09] people is that they really joining the course, it's a new experience this perspective of having the course 100 percent free and on chain. it tricks their interest and many people have been learning from, practically looking at some of the technology of our tools and also by- by the experience itself.
So we believe that educating the masses should also be involving the communities. That's why we have been investing a lot to come up with these new initiatives. We are also learning with the participants. But I think that exciting times ahead. Where we literally, I think-
Lauren Weymouth (03:18):
Well it's very eye opening. I mean, uh, you're turning-
Klitos Christodoulou (13:22):
... [inaudible 00:21:04] education.
Lauren Weymouth (13:24):
Yeah, you're turning educational delivery upside down, right? not only are you offering these really forward focused thinking courses, but you're creating community. And clearly there's a huge response, with 20,000 subscribers.
Klitos Christodoulou (13:37):
Lauren Weymouth (13:38):
Klitos Christodoulou (13:39):
And just for the record, I just wanted to mention that we have already airdropped the course material, the presentations, the video recordings, we are currently airdropping transcripts of those recordings as NFTs to people. Therefore, imagine having those material, course material as living digital objects within an on chain environment, creating and archive of knowledge. So this is how I could call it, we would like to create an archive of knowledge and opening that to people.
Lauren Weymouth (14:13):
And it's totally open... source. right?
Klitos Christodoulou (14:15):
Lauren Weymouth (14:17):
And a- and a history of a lot of colleges and universities keeping proprietary knowledge, keeping their course materials and everything hidden. You have completely opened that up, right?
Klitos Christodoulou (14:26):
Exactly. And everything is, you know, under the Creative Commons license. So... we would like to enable more users of that material. you never know how people they could utilize and involve the material. So we would like to open up these opportunities to people, educate [inaudible 00:22:41] and- and beyond.
Lauren Weymouth (14:45):
That's right. And Klitos, where can our listeners learn more?
Klitos Christodoulou (14:49):
A best place to start is to join of course our Discord server at the University of Nicosia.
Lauren Weymouth (14:56):
I'll drop the link into the episode.
Klitos Christodoulou (14:57):
Yes, we can drop the link into the episode. And also another great place to start is to follow our open Metaverse initiative Twitter account, where we are constantly Tweeting updates on what is going on and how we are progressing, with regards to this project. And of course the Institute for the Future website that lists all the details with regards to our educational programs. We are launching a new program, so stay tuned for- for more updates.
Lauren Weymouth (15:27):
Dr. Christodoulou is helping to shape digital rights, giving us verification of ownership, and we're thrilled that we could hear all about it here on All About Blockchain. Klitos, thanks for your time
Klitos Christodoulou (15:38):
Thank you, my- my pleasure to be here.
Lauren Weymouth (15:39):
and listeners, we really appreciate your listening. Feel free to send me your comments on my LinkedIn and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. Till next time.