This article is part of an ongoing series that explores how career advice from different sectors and companies can be highly relevant to education. Today, I want to focus on what we, as educators, can learn from Bitcoin Miners.
What is Bitcoin?
First let me start with the basics on Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that was only developed a little over a decade ago, in 2009 by an unknown creator (or creators) who goes by the name Satoshi Nakamoto.
In essence, Bitcoin is a decentralized electronic version of money that verifies transactions using cryptography (the science of encoding and decoding information). It is finite, with a limit of 21 million bitcoins,, and can be traded on exchanges for cash and assets. Transactions are recorded in a blockchain, which shows the transaction history for each unit and is used to prove ownership.
What is interesting about Bitcoin is how its value is determined. Bitcoin value is determined almost exclusively by supply and demand. A few different factors that affect such supply and demand include:
- The cost of producing the bitcoin through mining process,
- Government regulations,
- The competitive landscape,
- Its simplicity and familiarity (meaning, the easier it is to understand the more familiar it will be, and the more attractive it will be to investors), and
- The ease of trading it (the easier it is to exchange Bitcoin for real cash or asset, through legitimate and trustworthy outlets, the more attractive it will be to investors – indeed today you can even buy a Tesla with Bitcoin!)
What is Bitcoin Mining?
When we talk about warehouses packed full of miners, working 24/7 without breaks you would think there are some union rules being violated! But no, “miners” are not people, they are very powerful computers.
These computers are programmed to process “blocks” of transactions, and are rewarded for verified transactions with Bitcoin. So, blockchain is really just the accounting system being used.
What makes Bitcoin Miners Successful?
I recently caught up with Michael Levitt, the Co-Founder and Chairman of Core Scientific, a leading infrastructure and software solutions company for Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain, with four core businesses (these being blockchain infrastructure and hosting, AI infrastructure and hosting, blockchain and AI applications and digital asset mining). I asked what it takes to make a successful blockchain mining company, and his answer was surprisingly relevant to education also.
According to Michael, to be successful you need to:
- Invest in the best equipment
- Invest in the best people
- Support with the right infrastructure
- Maintain a hunger for innovation
The Best Equipment
Although early on in Bitcoin’s evolution anyone with a computer could mine for Bitcoin, this is no longer the case. With more competition and the difficulty of mining Bitcoin increasing over time, you now need specialized computers, who are specifically programmed to efficiently and effectively mine Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies.
And the technology is ever changing. Like all fast growing technologies, Bitcoin mining rigs are constantly evolving and need to be optimized and updated.
In education, this year accentuated the great divide between schools that invested in technology and those that did not. Many districts were not able to offer 1:1 access to devices, many families had no access to the internet, and the quality of the software and content being used by teachers made all the difference to students showing up and learning.
It can be daunting as an educator to keep up with the latest in ed-tech, but those that embark on the journey are rewarded with more engaged students.
One of the most fascinating and quickly growing trends in ed-tech is the students’ want, and ability, to interact with their content. Gone are the days where people were happy with the straight consumption of content. Now, because of this shift in consumer behavior with content, people expect to be able to engage with it, make it their own, or use it to fuel their own creation. And according to cognitive neuroscientist and researcher Stanislav Dehaene, learning requires such active participation! In his book How We Learn, he explains that in order for students to learn you need their attention, you need to encourage their curiosity so they actively participate (timely error feedback and consolidation through practice, sleep and adequate diet were also needed). Ed-tech platforms like FlipGrid, WURRLYedu, and Kahoot have led in this arena of active participation, with great success.
There are many great information sources for educators to help spur innovation and create a more interactive learning environment. Some of my favorite sites are Edutopia, EdTech Digest or EdSurge, which I peruse every morning over my cup of coffee!
The Best People
Michael explains that it’s not just about hiring the best people. You need to place them in the right roles, create a process for good communication, appropriate goal setting, and accountability. If that weren’t enough, Michael also emphasized the need for great relationships.
Fostering great relationships both in the workplace and externally with vendors, investors, and even competitors, can make an enormous difference to the success of the company. You will get better access to mining rigs if you have a good relationship with vendors, you will have greater support from investors if they enjoy your company, and you will be able to benefit from competitive perspectives, if you have a good relationship with competitors.
Similarly in education, hiring the best teachers can make all the difference in how engaged and effectively students learn. But being “the best” is not a static phenomenon. It requires constant effort to grow, learn and develop.
Creating a culture where teachers feel supported by their peers is an essential element to such motivation. Setting teachers up for success isn’t so different to the Bitcoin Mining companies, it also requires the same focus on creating a process for good communication, goal setting and accountability. And the same emphasis on relationships should also apply in education.. By encouraging community and empowering teachers to build relationships with each other, they will feel more supported with answers, suggestions or even just an empathetic ear.
How do we build community?
- There has to be a clear collective vision, and it has to be one that everyone buys into.
- There has to be some form of recognition, a celebration of successes.
- There has to be a culture of trust and respect.
- There has to be a human connection, driven by a curiosity beyond the job (taking an interest in who someone is as a person goes a long way to making someone feeling valued as a human being not just as an employee).
Forbes shares some great free suggestions for unconventional but highly effective team building exercises that schools could easily adopt at the start of a staff meeting or professional development.
The Best Infrastructure
Bitcoin mining Companies like Core Scientific house thousands of computers in beautifully organized air-conditioned warehouses. This requires an enormous amount of power to run. These warehouses are very purposefully built where there is a sufficient power supply.
The reliance on the right infrastructure in education is also glaringly obvious now, with the pandemic forcing classrooms to transition to remote learning.
But even as we move back to schools, we are faced with many classrooms having insufficient power supply, and wifi networks. While 64% of schools reportedly have access to the internet, the ETS Computer and Classrooms Policy Information Report shows only 14% of classrooms have such access, perhaps due to such access being restricted to specific areas like computer labs.
Investing in such infrastructure will undoubtedly be a costly task, but it must be a priority, particularly if equitable education is the aim.
Less costly but equally important, is the physical layout of the classroom. How you set up your classroom to encourage learning. The way you set up and decorate a classroom affects how students feel when they are in it, so be purposeful with the use of color, decorations, use of lights, and how you organize desks.
Maintaining A Hunger for Innovation
In such a quickly evolving business like Bitcoin Mining, a hunger for innovation is vital. If you are not innovating you are dying.
As educators, we want our students to be lifelong learners. So we must remember to model the same. Public education has, in large part, remained the same since the industrial revolution. But that is not to say that we haven’t tried new things. Adopting a growth mindset for your classroom for example, is a great way to drive innovation. Allowing students to fail without fear of punishment is a great way to drive innovation. Allowing time for regular self reflection and modeling the same! Taking the time to rethink can often be highly valuable. And what better time to rethink education, than now? The pandemic and social unrest has completely disrupted schools. But this gives us the space to step back and think about what we should really be teaching our kids and why. Once we have those answers, we can tackle the how and where.
In the words of Albert Einstein “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Imagine a world where we approached our public schools from a different perspective. Imagine if we invested in the best equipment, the best people, the best infrastructure for our schools and encouraged a hunger for innovation?