All About Blockchain

Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Education and Adoption | Ariel Zetlin-Jones

October 19, 2021 The UBRI Podcast from Ripple Season 3 Episode 3
Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Education and Adoption | Ariel Zetlin-Jones
All About Blockchain
More Info
All About Blockchain
Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Education and Adoption | Ariel Zetlin-Jones
Oct 19, 2021 Season 3 Episode 3
The UBRI Podcast from Ripple

How do you engage students to brainstorm ideas about how they might use a cryptocurrency on campus?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones, Associate Professor of Economics at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, has been teaching courses on blockchain like “Developing Blockchain Use Cases”.  He engages all background of students to discover why a Distributed Ledger Technology might be an improved solution over what currently exists today.

In this episode you can learn about leading examples of developing applications for the
CMU Coin.

Show Notes Transcript

How do you engage students to brainstorm ideas about how they might use a cryptocurrency on campus?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones, Associate Professor of Economics at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, has been teaching courses on blockchain like “Developing Blockchain Use Cases”.  He engages all background of students to discover why a Distributed Ledger Technology might be an improved solution over what currently exists today.

In this episode you can learn about leading examples of developing applications for the
CMU Coin.

Lauren Weymouth (00:00):

I'm Lauren Weymouth, your All About Blockchain host, and I champion the University Blockchain Research Initiative at Ripple. Today, we're talking about blockchain and cryptocurrency education in the traditional sense. It often lights the fire to academics building use cases. Now, several of the most recognized universities in the world have incorporated blockchain and crypto studies into their academic programs   At least a third of the 50 most prestigious universities in the world include studies on crypto technology and digital currencies, and Coinbase serves up a regular report that lists the leaders in blockchain crypto education. This education opens up infinite field of new employee opportunities in the industry, and this industry is becoming so important that not only are universities discussing chapters within courses on blockchain and crypto to expand knowledge about the network and meet the growing demand for workforce specialists, but global universities are even promoting higher-level studies, like entire masters programs.  And to the new generation increasingly seeing fragmentation across the financial system as a global problem that needs to be solved, The idea that you can't easily send various currencies around the world online is really bizarre. It's a bizarre limitation.

Student interest in crypto and blockchain is on the rise. It doubled between 2018 and 2019, and 41 of the top 50 universities have student-run blockchain clubs. Students want to learn how it's going to benefit people all over the world. They see the opportunity to shape the field and become a leader, whether building blockchain-based internet, or understanding cutting-edge supply chains. It's a very cross-functional discipline, generally between schools of engineering, business and law, but we've also seen other departments get involved, as you've heard on this podcast, like the Spencer Art Museum at University of Kansas, and the Weitzman School of Design at U-Penn.

Ariel Zetlin-Jones is an associate professor of economics at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. He's been active in publishing research and teaching courses on blockchain, and is here to discuss one popular course he runs, Developing Blockchain Use Cases. Ariel, welcome to All About Blockchain.

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (04:01):

Hi, Lauren. Thanks for having me here. It's a pleasure to be on your podcast today.

Lauren Weymouth (04:06):

So, how long have you been a professor at CMU?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (04:08):

I joined CMU in 2012 as an assistant professor of economics, and I've been there since. 

We've really started incorporating blockchain into our education since about 2018.

Lauren Weymouth (04:22):

And as a professor of economics, when did you start to notice blockchain?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (04:28):

Honestly, I was a bit late. Probably around 2016-17. I have colleagues in computer science who were in there in 2010, 2011, and they like to bring up how early they were, but it just became a fascinating area for me. So, my research interests are in understanding how financial markets work, how information and technology shapes financial markets, and in 2015 and '16, it just became unavoidable that this new technology was disrupting financial markets, and I wanted to learn more about how it works, and what impact it might have.

Lauren Weymouth (05:00): 

So, how is blockchain education overall at Carnegie Mellon?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (05:12):

We have a breadth of courses in blockchain, Whether it's foundations of blockchain and cryptocurrency as an application layer, or if it's understanding the cryptography and cryptographic tools and methods that help blockchain function across computer science, whether it's understanding fintech more broadly, say in the business school, we've been innovating a lot of different courses across the university.

Lauren Weymouth (03:22):

And you're in the business school, so for non-computer majors, how do they go about learning uses of blockchain?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (03:28):

Our main course in the business school on blockchain is, it's an application through a few of our different classes. Even, I teach one of the largest lectures in the business school, Principles of Macroeconomics, and when you talk about monetary economics at a principles level, you have to talk about this new form of money that has emerged, cryptocurrency. And so, we try to give them a taste throughout a lot of our different courses, but then again, we're developing more advanced electives to try to really get students to the frontier of what blockchain is, and prepare them if they're interested in understanding this space.

Lauren Weymouth (04:00):

Yeah. Out of curiosity, how do you talk about crypto and money in your general macroeconomics class?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (04:06):

This is a really fun topic to talk to students about, because economists, for a long time, have had this idea that money is memory. So, the physical tokens, the dollar bills that we conventionally use as money, to own a dollar bill is your representation of your contributions to society in the past. And the problem, right, I've given something of value to someone in the past, and they gave me a dollar in exchange, and now I have that, assuming I haven't stolen it. If we could just keep a perfect record of all of my past contributions to society, net of my debits, I wouldn't need the physical token. But economists always said, that recordkeeping device technology doesn't exist, so we use money. This is one way to understand the emergence of physical tokens as money.

And from my perspective, as a macroeconomist, what makes blockchain so fascinating to study is, it says, wait a minute, this technology does exist. We can keep this perfect record, and we don't even need a central counterparty to maintain that ledger for us. We can keep it ourselves in a decentralized way.

So, that's how I try to explain what it means to own a unit of cryptocurrency. It means to own in a ledger a representation of your contributions to society. And in that sense, it seems quite important for even our first-year students at Carnegie Mellon to appreciate this idea that records can create social value in this way by storing this information.

Lauren Weymouth (05:34):

All right, I just got goosebumps. I actually felt the future of money right there.

Okay, and you rolled out, I think, to two cohorts, maybe Developing Blockchain Use Cases. Tell us about how that course came about, and who takes it.

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (05:47):

That's a great question. In 2018, we first rolled out this course, Developing Blockchain Use Cases, and it came from an idea on campus across our faculty collaborators, which was, Carnegie Mellon is one of those technology frontier universities. We should have a cryptocurrency on campus, a way to learn and study cryptocurrency and blockchain in a lab setting, if you will. And so, the question we had as faculty was, if we established a cryptocurrency on campus that only, say, students and faculty could participate with, what would be the use case for this? What value would students and faculty perhaps derive from having a cryptocurrency, a CMU coin, if you will?

And since the main users and miners or validators we might expect would be students, we didn't think it made sense for us to develop a top-down approach. We thought, we want students to tell us, where would they see value in having a new currency, or a new distributed ledger technology, to be deployed on campus? And so, the idea of the class was that. 

How do we establish a course where we can ask students,  how would a cryptocurrency improve their lives day-to-day on campus?

Lauren Weymouth (06:54):

I love this. It's like a living lab on campus that you get to see firsthand how things evolve. And so, what do the students do with the tokens?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (07:02):

Right. So, we asked students, if you had a token, what are the economic activities, or what are the informational frictions that prevent you from accomplishing kind of certain actions you want on campus? And if you can figure that out, then we can establish a marketplace using blockchain and crypto that would let you accomplish that. So, we're really asking them deeply, what do you feel limited in your ability to do on campus? And that sparks student interest in, I have some ideas of activities I want to undertake, and I think perhaps blockchain is a solution that will let me achieve this.

Lauren Weymouth (07:35):

So, instead of redeeming for coffee, or other trivial things, they're actually looking to create some sustaining value out of it?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (07:41):

That's exactly right. The hope was to create a living lab, some underlying value behind this currency that could be self-sustaining.

Lauren Weymouth (07:49):

All right, so I'm excited to hear, what was the response from the students when you rolled out this course?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (07:53):

We've deployed the course twice. It was a seven-week course, focusing on the theory of why blockchain creates value for society, all the way through to practice, so create some live demos. We used Solidity, building on an Ethereum test network, but trying to get students both from theory to practice. And over our two cohorts, we've averaged about 30-40 students, across the two times we've run it. And what's amazing about this is, our students have come from the business school. They've come from the Heindz College of Information Systems. They've come from our computer science department. They've come from our engineering department. And they've come from undergraduate and masters levels. So, we had just a really wide array of student interest in this course, to try and help innovate and contribute to blockchain on campus.

Lauren Weymouth (08:40):

It's like a perfect mix of collaborators. So normally on this podcast, we dive deep into one particular use case in one particular sector, but being that you've had exposure to all different types of proposals of what can be done on blockchain, maybe you can share with us your top projects that have been presented.

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (08:56):

Sure, I'd be happy to. Let me start with just describing a few of the projects, then we can do a deep dive on any one or two of them. I think among the projects that students developed, one is perhaps, for an audience that's very into blockchain, they probably heard this concept before. One was creating a form of a prediction market on campus. And so, at Carnegie Mellon, a lot of, especially our undergrads take enormous course overloads. They take lots and lots of courses more than they're required, and they're very worried about how they're performing relative to their peers, so they want more information more quickly than perhaps their faculty are willing to give them.

And so, they wanted to create a prediction market for averages on exams in their course. The idea was to create a smart contracting platform. You would need CMU coins to access the platform and learn information from this platform, but it would be a basic prediction market, where any student could propose a question. What is... is the average on our midterm in this class going to be above an 85 or below an 85? And the outcome of the prediction market would reveal some wisdom of the crowd on the value of this. And we've seen potential in actual industry applications of these types of decentralized prediction markets.

Another big proposal that we thought was very exciting, but broader impact, more potentially disruptive, was to rethink how student loans work. So, we had a set of students who believed this market for student loans wasn't functioning as well as it could have, and one of the impediments they saw to this was that information, namely how students are performing in their classes on their transcript, might be important for understanding kind of students' ability to repay their loans after graduation.

And so, these students had in mind a way to use a distributed ledger to bring lenders, students and universities together to share this information, to improve the market for student loans. There's lots of interesting ethical, moral, economic questions that come in when you start thinking about that, but hopefully our audience can see how a blockchain that could bring these very disparate parties together and share information could at least create some economic value for everyone.

Lauren Weymouth (11:03):

Well, I love the campus predictive market that you talked about. I mean, I can see myself wanting to get student info, opinions. Yes, no, should I take this course? Will this be an easy A? Is this something that will make a difference for my resume later? But it sounds like the bundling student loans on blockchain was a more thought-provoking project, and I'd love to go deeper into that. Maybe you can discuss a little bit about the moral, ethical issues first, before diving into the technical components of it.

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (11:29):

Especially in today's student environment, where students are already putting enormous pressures on themselves, in terms of their performance, and worried about their future career outcomes, based on every single grade, you can imagine that just from a mental health standpoint, the concern of linking the terms of your student loan to every course performance outcome, right? If you get a B, suddenly your interest rate goes up. That sounds very kind of morally questionable, whether we want to impose this on our students, and you can see a lot of reluctance, especially on the part of perhaps administrators, to want to incorporate that kind of information.

Lauren Weymouth (12:06):

So, I'm wondering, if we just look at grades as a metric, if that's completely fair, or creates  unwanted biases in the system. You know, there could be a student that doesn't have any other responsibilities other than just focusing on their homework and their quizzes, tests, their school work, and someone else that might have to hold down a job, they might be caring for an elderly parent, they might have other responsibilities that they have to divide their time with.

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (12:34):

There's an important point, if you think about using just grades to make inferences about students' ability to repay loans, student loans, later on. On the one hand, when we look... I'm going to be an economist here. On the one hand, when we look at credit markets, lenders are already using this information to decide what kinds of credit limits to give you on credit cards. Around universities, around campus, lenders are asking students to fill out survey questionnaires, that ask questions like, you have homework due on Friday. Do you start it on Monday, or on Thursday night? Because it turns out the students who start on Monday are more likely to submit their payments on time than the students who start on Thursday night. And so, we do think grades are in part correlated with this information, so it could be useful.

The other hand is, you worry, are you confounding some of this information? So, are you creating implicit bias in the types of lending decisions you make If you just incorporate grade information into how you make these terms. Which leads to a deeper question of, what information should be on your blockchain if you want to link terms of student loans to outcomes for students? Should you incorporate additional jobs? Should you incorporate family circumstances? Do you need to incorporate this from a lending perspective, or not? And that's a very deep question, of what's the right way to do this? Which in some ways, seems like a policy question. But then it amounts to a specific distributed ledger question, of what information do you need to encode?

Lauren Weymouth (14:03):

Well, also, if repayment was the major target, someone could take all really easy A courses. Maybe if they use that other uh predictive market to find out what easy A courses there are. But they could take all easy A courses that results in maybe a job that doesn’t they don't earn as much money as someone that took really hard, deeper, higher-level courses, didn't get as good grades, but got a bigger, higher-paying job when they got out. How do you factor that in?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (14:30):

As a faculty, this is one of the biggest stresses we have, which is how do you offer a challenging course that rewards students, and try to persuade them not to worry so much about the grade, right? That the important aspect is what they're learning, not so much the grade. And in interacting with students year after year, we see this trend of big concerns about grades, which is a reason I might worry about creating a student loan program like this, because then it just puts more pressure on the grades. So, in addition to the mental health, it distracts students from what they're here to do, which is to really learn to be big thinkers of their generation, not just to get As. So, there's a tension here. UM Trying to balance that with the economic improvements in the market is a deep, interesting question.

From a pure economics perspective, of course, this makes perfect sense, right? Right that lenders, given access to more information about their students' capabilities, can make better predictions about their ability to repay their loans, and so they can offer better terms. And in some sense, that could improve for a majority of students, that could, say, reduce the cost of their student loans overall, based on their performance. So, again, I see economic benefits here at potentially, perhaps non-economic costs, that we might worry about.

Lauren Weymouth (15:43):

Yeah, we could hear the pros and cons, right? Like, lenders could create better products, but students are also sharing more information with creditors. There's probably privacy issues, along those lines. And then, technically, there's got to be cryptographic aspects of this program.  How is it created?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (16:01):

That's also a great question, and it's a point I want to emphasize, that what was so much fun about teaching this class is I got to teach it alongside of a professor of information systems and a professor of computer science whose expertise is in cryptography. And why that's fun is because, as an economist, it's easy for me to talk about the pros and cons of improving lending markets with more information, but when you think about, can you have a public ledger with student grades, that's a challenge. And so, how do we encrypt student grades in a meaningful fashion, and yet have them be accessible to lenders when they need that information? Also, who is verifying student grades? So, who is allowed to be an oracle, if you will, on this blockchain? These are all important, interesting questions that arise when you start thinking through the logic of building out a platform like this.

Lauren Weymouth (16:49):

And you know what I'm wondering, did you run any of these courses during the last 18 months, in the midst of the pandemic?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (16:55):

The short answer is yes. We ran, the second time we deployed the course, we actually deployed it virtually, so we were all on Zoom, and we had almost 50 students across campus taking this course on Zoom, with, three of us faculty.

Lauren Weymouth (17:09):

So, I was going to ask, how did you pivot the activities differently, because you were remote, and it sounds like it was all offered on Zoom, but then how did you get deep into the activities?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (17:18):

The fortunate thing is, from theory of lecture, to practice, building out Solidity code, smart contract code yourself, all of this can be done at home on your computer. The biggest challenge and the pivot was how to create kind of useful group partnerships. How to bring students together especially students from across these different areas of the school, to kind of find synergies in their thought leadership, if you will.

And so, that was the tricky part, of how do you create groups in a remote setting, when everyone's home by themself? But once we had done that, I think the course worked really well, and we were able to get students to present virtually to the rest of the class, to build out their demos and show how that would work.

Lauren Weymouth (17:58):

Back to the financial aid lender product that they came up with. Can we know? Is it public information? Did these students get an A on their project?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (18:07):

Yes, the students got an A on their project. One of the reasons, of course, besides all of their hard work, is exactly how much they had thought through the breadth of issues that come up here, right? It's simple to say, let's bring this information to bear in the student loan market. That could be an improvement. It's more complicated to say, how do we bring universities, lenders and students together? How do we share this information in a privacy-respecting way? How do we encode the information in a way lenders can believe, that students aren't making up their own grades? So, there are lots of interesting little aspects of this that have to be thought through once you propose the idea. And so, one of the reasons the students did so well was because they had thought through all of these different concepts.

Lauren Weymouth (18:52):

And was that team a business school team, or were they undergraduates, masters students, what?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (18:57):

That team was masters students in our Information Systems Management program at Heindz College.

Lauren Weymouth (19:01):

Wow, that's great. So, more depth of knowledge, but interesting that they had a lot of business-minded thoughts to round out the tech part of it. So, will there be a follow-up course to this in the future?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (19:14):

So, we're tentatively planning to deploy the course again this spring, so we've got the faculty on board, and it's a matter of just... Because it's a project course, if you will, it's just making sure it fits into the academic schedule in a meaningful way. But we are hoping to deploy it, because we're still kind of trying to crowdsource ideas, where we could generate meaningful and socially valuable disruption on campus, if you will.

Lauren Weymouth (19:39):

And it's such a great way to nudge students to be more disruptive, and not only do they get to think about how to be an entrepreneur, and how to create something from scratch, but then they also get to put on their resume that they were working on real world problems.

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (19:55):

And what I also love about the course is, in some ways, we're training them to be product managers for blockchain, which is, it is not blockchain can reinvent the world, pie in the sky, it's the answer to everything, right? The students come up with a concrete proposal. We think blockchain can yield improvements here. And then, they're able to communicate, because in the seven weeks of the course, we can teach them, theory to practice, they can communicate, what are the actual steps you would need to accomplish to develop a working demo that would show you how it might work, and where the problems might arise, as you start deploying it? So, it's that merger from theory to practice that I think is really quite fascinating here.

Lauren Weymouth (20:35):

Hey, that's like DLT improvements on current friction in society.

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (20:39):


Lauren Weymouth (20:40):

So, what else do you want to say about blockchain education, and what has really worked in your course, or what could be improved on it?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (20:46):

I think what works really well about the course is,  when they're invested in their own ideas, they're that much more motivated to try to develop those ideas and follow them to the end. What's tricky sometimes, especially when you have a course with no pre-requirements, so any student on campus can sign up, and then you ask them to innovate a new, disruptive idea, is they might think a little small, so to speak. we've had one project say, I need to reallocate furniture at the end of the year. As students graduate, they want to give furniture, secondhand furniture, on to younger students. While you can think through the logic of that, it's hard to get excited. As this the next big idea behind a new cryptocurrency, a new economic market that doesn't function well on campus? So, trying to push students to think outside the box and think big, I think is the big challenge. How do we get them to think about very thought-provoking, potentially challenging ideas, like disrupting student loan markets with more information? UM And be willing to try to tackle those problems.

Lauren Weymouth (21:46):

Hmmmm. That makes sense. 

So, you mentioned that there's no prereq for this course, and there's students from different disciplines and different levels of their education. How are they mixing, or are there certain properties that some students are bringing in to help others? Is there mentorship? I'd love to hear a little bit more about those relationships created.

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (22:07):

Well, I think the fascinating thing about teaching blockchain, given how early on we still are in the development of this technology, is there is no formal curriculum yet, right? 

So, Lauren, you mentioned at the outset that several universities are developing masters education in blockchain now and we're getting there as researchers, but it's not really there yet. So, it's not even clear what a prereq would be. As an educator, it's a great place to start, because it forces you to think about how to communicate what blockchain is, how it works, and why it might be useful to people of all backgrounds, which is something we all need to do more of, I think, as people interested in this industry.

And then, on the student side, it's just a willingness to innovate and be an entrepreneur, and have an idea. And so, you don't necessarily need to be deep down in the weeds of cryptography to come up with an idea of how blockchain could improve some activities on campus. You just need to be open-minded, and having, as we all are aware now, that having a very diverse set of perspectives is an important aspect to problem-solving. And so, we are seeing that in the diversity of views students are bringing, in terms of which markets do they think are failing them, that they want to improve upon.

Lauren Weymouth (23:20):

So interesting. I wish I could go back and take your course.

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (23:23):

Starting in mid-March, Lauren.

Lauren Weymouth (23:25):


And for some of the projects that come out of it that seem to be more advanced, do the students then want to take it to market? Does it lead to further conversations about how they can continue the ideas?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (23:37):

Some of these for sure have led to further conversations. We've had follow-up internships with other undergraduates, kind of keep pursuing some of these ideas with some of our other faculty. We try to have group presentations at the end of the course to a wide range of faculty interested in this area, and so that creates ideas for people to pursue. I think that's the ultimate outcome. To date, we have not had students pursue these on their own, um but it's things we continue to follow up on as faculty, working in this area.

Lauren Weymouth (24:05):

And who do the students present to? Is it a board of teachers? Do you bring in the blockchain club, or outside industry players?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (24:15):

We've had students from our blockchain club participate. We've had faculty from across the university listen in, based on their interests. We've had deans of some of the colleges listen in. And we've had external, certainly alumni who have gone on in the blockchain industry have sat in on some of the presentations, as well. So, they've gotten to meet and present to a mix of different folks.

Lauren Weymouth (24:37):

That's amazing that you keep the network alive between the alumni and the current students in the blockchain. What types of companies do the interns go work at, that wanted to continue learning about blockchain?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (24:46):

I know more about the business side of students, where our students have gone on. A lot of them are actually going into kind of traditional finance, but they have blockchain expertise, and so they're being put in charge of how do we make investments in the blockchain space? And then they're reaching back out to ask questions and follow up. We have a few going into some startups. A couple of our students have gone on to Coinbase. So, they're venturing out into these different areas.

Lauren Weymouth (25:13):

That's awesome.  Ariel, is there anything I haven't asked you that you'd like to discuss, or like our listeners to know about?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (25:18):

I would just reiterate what we've been saying a little bit, which is a lot of what we read sometimes about blockchain is, it's the answer to everything. And what we really try to teach students is, what is the benefit of using a blockchain to resolve a problem over, say, some legacy technology? And to understand that, you have to think deeply about what are the frictions that impede what you're trying to accomplish, and why might a distributed ledger technology be an improved solution over what might exist out there?

And so, taking this more nuanced perspective, I think, is an important aspect of the future of blockchain education. We need to train students and business leaders, ultimately, who can think with that perspective. And we're seeing that already in industry, but we're trying to also communicate that, and kind of sort through the hype, so our students can enter this world with that kind of deep knowledge as they go out into it.

Lauren Weymouth (26:11):

And do you see that light bulb go off, where the student realizes, oh, we're not just building something on blockchain for blockchain's sake. We need to actually add value. What value is that going to bring? What's the cost benefit of using digital ledger technology?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (26:26):

We definitely do see that light bulb, especially among, I would say, our most enthusiastic blockchain students. The ones who come in knowing all of the buzzwords that appear in every white paper they read on the internet. They come in ready to tell me those buzzwords, and then you ask them to dive deep into their application, and say, forget the buzzwords. Tell me the friction that you're trying to resolve. And you see the light bulb go off. They say, oh, that's where the value in my application is coming. And so, trying to teach them how to get there, and past the buzzwords, I think is really important, certainly as an academic, to kind of convey that to people very excited about this space.

Lauren Weymouth (27:00):

We often talk about the benefits of blockchain. Are you finding certain trends in the answers that your students are coming up with to solve certain frictions and certain challenges in society?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (27:10):

We do see trends in how the students approach the problem, and part of this is most likely pedagogical, of how we teach them to look for problems blockchain can solve. And the way we try to approach this is usually from a market's perspective. So, I'm trying to ask students, is there a market you see on campus that's not performing or functioning as well as you would like it to work? The advantage of blockchain is, you create all of the data and the marketplace in one technological solution.

The first answer every student wants to give me, every time we've run the class is, at the end of the semester, I have excess meals on my card that I've paid for, that I'd like to sell, but I have to be next to someone to swipe my card every time we do it, and that's not a functioning market. I'd love to create a new marketplace, say using a blockchain, where we could trade meals. For administrative reasons, I tell them at the start of class, that's not going to fly for our class, because there are frictions in the university that do not allow them, or do not allow us to create this market. That the university, for whatever reason, has chosen not to permit this market to exist in a meaningful way.

But that's a clear application where there's an economic market that's missing for students, and a blockchain, by merging information with tokens that can be traded, provides a solution. The predictive markets we talked about are related to that. They're creating a market for information that otherwise does not exist. The student loan market is another example of that, where we're trying to create a market that incorporates additional information, for better or worse, to change how these markets function. So, the overarching view is typically that perspective: what market is missing, or could be improved upon using this information, to allow for better allocation of resources?

Lauren Weymouth (28:54):

And does there happen to be certain properties of the blockchain that students tend to go after?

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (28:59):

Partially because we have computer science faculty at the frontier of zero knowledge proofs, they get students really excited by advanced cryptographic techniques, so they like to think about, especially our computer science students, how to really bring new privacy techniques onto these public ledgers.

Lauren Weymouth (29:16):

I really like how you gave the example of the students wanting to sell the extra money on their food cards, but here's an example of innovation being thwarted by clear regulations.

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (29:26):


Lauren Weymouth (29:28):


Well, I'm so glad that you're teaching this course, and you're doing the research you're doing, because without it, companies like mine, like Ripple, wouldn't be able to hire the future of workers, right? You're really creating these new minds, giving them the skills that they need to come out in the field, and hopefully be inspired to move into the sector. 

Ariel Zetlin-Jones (29:48):

Great. thanks, Lauren.

Lauren Weymouth (29:49):

Ariel, thank you so much for being on the podcast today, and listeners, if you have any ideas for future episodes, please write me at