The Rise of Blockchain Courses at Top American Universities
Universities now provide numerous blockchain-based courses and resources. From basics to business to engineering, each university provides their own unique approach to cryptocurrency. With thousands of career opportunities in blockchain technology, students are getting prepared. IBM, Visa, Intel, and many other large companies are all hiring blockchain software engineers.
In this article, we’ll outline different university courses and material made available to the public. If you’re not currently attending MIT or Stanford, don’t worry, there’s still courses, resources, and information in this article for you.
There will be a final exam at the end of this article, so take notes and pay close attention.
Princeton offers an 11-week cryptocurrency course through Coursera. While the full course does require you to pay, there are some videos you can watch for free here. Here are the topics covered in the course:
- Introduction to Crypto and Cryptocurrencies
- How Bitcoin Achieves Decentralization
- Mechanics of Bitcoin (transactions, script, blocks, and the peer-to-peer network)
- How to store and use bitcoins
- Bitcoin mining
- Bitcoin and anonymity
- Community, politics, and regulation
- Alternative mining puzzle
- Bitcoin as a platform
- Altcoins and the cryptocurrency ecosystem
- The future of bitcoin?
The most important feature of the Princeton course is that it’s available to anyone and everyone. It has overwhelmingly positive reviews and should give you a strong technical foundation on how Bitcoins and altcoins work.
This next school takes a different approach to cryptocurrencies with a course titled Law and Business of Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies. The course focuses on the logistics of actually using Bitcoin in the business world. They cover the following topics:
- Origin and function of Bitcoin
- Nature and instability of bank-created money
- Bitcoin and monetary economics
- Other nonbank payment vehicles
- Bitcoin as an investment
- Using Bitcoin as a consumer
- Using Bitcoin as a business
- Legal treatment of Bitcoin
- Regulating Bitcoin Trading
It’s also expected that the course will add additional topics as cryptocurrency is a space that is in constant development. If you are looking for a more detailed syllabus of what NYU will cover, you can take a look here.
MIT provides videos and interactive demos to better understand hashing and adding blocks to the blockchain. You can find their resources here.
MIT also published various papers on cryptocurrency such as “When Early Adopters Don’t Adopt,” “Initial Coin Offerings and the Value of Crypto Tokens,” “Some Simple Economics of the Blockchain”, and many more. You can download the papers in full here.
Blockchain at Berkeley is a student-run organization teaching an open-source undergraduate cryptocurrency course. You can find more information about their course here. “The goal of this course is to surmount the steep learning curve of cryptocurrency. By the end of this course, you will understand how cryptocurrencies work and the ideas, technologies, and organizations sprouting from it.” They also “organize the largest crypto meetup in the East Bay.” If you want to learn more about their tech talks, developer tutorials, and resources, take a look here.
Cornell offers two courses and a wealth of interesting resources created by their professors. The first course is CS 5437: Principles and Practice of Cryptocurrencies.
“An introduction to the theoretical concepts and practical concerns of cyber currencies. Topics include hashing, cryptographic signatures, peer to peer networks, distributed consensus with proof of work, and the security and privacy of cyber-currencies. Also discussed are Bitcoin’s use and ecosystem, digital currency history, economy and legal aspects.”
The slides from the first lecture are creative and relatively easy to follow. You can find them here.
The second course offered is CS 5094: Blockchains, Cryptocurrencies, and Smart Contracts. The course tries to dispel the myth that Bitcoin is a niche for criminals and focuses on technological innovation.
The course covers the following topics:
- Mechanics of consensus algorithms
- Proof of Work and Byzantine Consensus
- Cryptographic tools
- Digital signature algorithms
- Zero-knowledge proofs (such as those used in Zcoin)
- Evolution of Bitcoin and its ecosystem
- Smart contracts
- Trusted hardware
- Real world contract law
- Cryptocurrencies and crime
It should come as no surprise that Johns Hopkins offers a cryptocurrency course given that their professor Matthew D. Green invented Zerocoin, a privacy-related protocol first implemented into Zcoin. Their course is called Blockchains and Cryptocurrencies.
“This course will introduce students to cryptocurrencies and the main underlying technology of Blockchains. The course will start with the relevant background in cryptography and then proceed to cover the recent advances in the design and applications of blockchains. This course should primarily appeal to students who want to conduct research in this area or wish to build new applications on top of blockchains. It should also appeal to those who have a casual interest in this topic or are generally interested in cryptography. Students are expected to have mathematical maturity.”
The slides from each lecture are available, but you’ll certainly want some mathematical or computer science background to follow along.
Duke’s course, Innovation and Cryptoventures, does not simply cover the basics of bitcoin. The course explores the business impact of bitcoin and the disruption of technology. The course explains how the blockchain “leads to the possibility of disruptions not just in finance (stocks, bonds, etc.) but also in law (simple contracts) and other fields. It is even possible to create what is known as a distributed autonomous corporation – essentially an autonomous computer program that employs people and conducts business as a corporation would.”
As the course takes a less technical approach, there are no prerequisites for signing up. They cover the following topics in the lectures:
- Bitcoin Myths and Facts
- Blockchains (including bitshares, coloredcoins, and side-chains)
- Risks (scalability, 51% attack, illiquidity)
- Understanding and Forecasting Disruption (Including examples of sharing economy)
- Venture Capital
- Money and the Law
- Regulatory Environment (Money Laundering and Know Your Customer Laws)
- Cryptography (common keys, Diffie-Hellman key exchange, RSA)
The professor, Campbell R. Harvey, provides numerous readings and useful resources on the class website here.
Duke also has the Duke Blockchain Lab, a student-run organization with a blockchain lecture series. In the past, they held lectures on the following topics:
- What is Bitcoin? Why should I care?
- Understanding Blockchain
- IBM Presents: Enterprise Blockchain
- Cryptocurrency Comparison and Investing Basics
- Crypto Ventures and the Law
You can find the slides from these lectures as well as information about upcoming lectures at their site here.
And finally, we come to Stanford with their yearly blockchain conference and cryptocurrency course. The Blockchain Protocol Analysis and Security Engineering conference “will explore the use of formal methods, empirical analysis, and risk modeling to better understand security and systemic risk in blockchain protocols. We aim to foster multidisciplinary collaboration among practitioners and researchers in blockchain protocols, distributed systems, cryptography, computer security, and risk management.”
The slides and resources from 2017 and 2018 are made available to the public if you want to see what you missed.
Stanford’s course is titled Bitcoin and Crypto Currencies. “This course covers the technical aspects of engineering secure software, system interactions with crypto-currencies, and distributed consensus for reliability.” More specifically, the course covers the following topics:
- Bitcoin transactions
- Consensus protocols
- Elliptic curves
- Hash functions
- Mining strategies and incentives
- Proposed Bitcoin regulations
- Zerocoin, zerocash
As promised, here’s an excerpt from Stanford’s final exam. See how you’d do.
After reading this article, if you want some homework, here’s Stanford’s first assignment. If you’d like to complete all of the homework and projects, you can download them here.
These universities are ahead of the game in supplying blockchain related material. The other educational institutes will now need to play catch up as the demand for blockchain engineers and blockchain related business is only going to increase. Even if you are not enrolled in these universities, they provide more than enough open source material for you to tackle on your own. If you’re looking for a career in blockchain technology, start reading and start coding. Just as a blockchain must start from the first block, your path must start from that first book.
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