Blockchain Course Challenges Students To Create Apps for the Launch of CMU Cryptocurrency

Noelle Wiker

Mar 11, 2019

blockchain_course_banner.jpgInterest in the vast transformative potential for blockchain across industries around the globe has grown rapidly in recent years. Carnegie Mellon University researchers are tapping into many disparate applications of blockchain and cryptography to advance economic and business functions of this new technology. One such initiative is the development of a localized cryptocurrency, CMU Coin, driven by the PNC Center for Financial Services Innovation.

A critical component of this new initiative is an understanding of the economic functions a cryptocurrency may play on a campus. CMU faculty are giving students the opportunity to have an important voice in the design of CMU Coin. Faculty from the Tepper School of Business, School of Computer Science, and Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy have come together to create a course in which student groups put forward practical applications that address issues that can be brokered by blockchain technology.

Developing Blockchain Use Cases — co-taught by Vipul Goyal, associate professor of computer science; Michael McCarthy, associate teaching professor of information systems; and Ariel Zetlin-Jones, associate professor of economics — is a half-semester course taking place during Mini 4, which begins March 18.

The end goal of the new course is for students to propose applications that could function on CMU Coin and create value for the digital token.

"For this to be a success, we need the coin to be used among students on campus," Zetlin-Jones said. "We really want students to directly innovate in how CMU Coin can be useful to resolve problems that they face on campus."

CMU students have been engaged in several pursuits in the development of CMU Coin over the past year, from a capstone course at the Tepper School to a university-wide case challenge proposing potential use cases for a university-specific proprietary blockchain.

The curriculum highlights the economics underlying the growth in blockchain solutions as well as practical knowledge in how to implement blockchain solutions.

"Cryptocurrency is this amazing idea where finance and economics meet technology," Zetlin-Jones said. "You need to understand some economics to understand how the technology runs and how you can apply it."

"Something like this could only happen at Carnegie Mellon," McCarthy said. "The interdisciplinary nature of the university coupled by the expertise of our faculty will provide students with this exceptional opportunity to be at the forefront of creating a new cryptocurrency."

The course will include opportunities for students to engage with blockchain technologies, such as the decentralized application development platform Ethereum. To attract a wide range of students' perspectives, the course has no formal prerequisites, but the syllabus notes, "We expect students to have a background in economics, cryptography or computer science, and all students should have some basic comfortability with programming."

"Faculty from three different schools will teach this course, and we expect our student body will be similarly diverse," Goyal said. "This promises to be a one-of-a-kind course where great ideas from finance, technology and policy will come together and lead to new frontiers in blockchains."

Applications that the students propose would be coded into CMU Coin as the initiative develops. The faculty are seeking creative solutions to real concerns from students at the undergraduate and graduate levels, which implement blockchain in ways that only a CMU student could develop.

The course joins a number of recent activities at Carnegie Mellon surrounding blockchain's potential. The first INTERSECT@CMU conference,concerning "The Future of Business, Technology, and Society," featured a panel on "Decentralizing Trust: Blockchain's Radical Potential," which featured Zetlin-Jones as a panelist. In addition, the Tepper School launched a Blockchain Initiative, which consolidates research and educational pursuits surrounding blockchain and cryptocurrency to foster collaborative partnerships.

Twenty-five students (undergraduate and masters) have requested enrollment since the course was announced on March 1.