In a matter of days, 70 students signed up for a course on blockchain.

Students explore how businesses are using innovative technologies like blockchain

Changing business world demands innovative curriculum

Last spring, Rutgers Business School accounting major Grace Daniel was preparing for a national case competition when another student suggested incorporating block chain into the team’s presentation.

“I asked him what he was talking about,” Daniel said. “I had never heard of it.”

When Daniel received an email a few months later saying there would be a course in the fall introducing students to the business applications of block chain, she immediately signed up. “I was very interested in learning more,” she said.   

A single, end-of-the-semester email from Associate Dean Martin Markowitz resulted in 70 undergraduate students like Daniel signing up for the block chain class within two days. The class started in September and offered students one credit for attending a half dozen, three-hour sessions.

Grant DiGrazio, a junior studying business analytics and information technology, said he signed up for the class because he felt it would give him a foundation of understanding in how block chain is being used by industries. “I know block chain has some really practical business applications,” he said.

Over a series of five Wednesday evenings, Ph.D. student Jamie Freiman tailored the classes to satisfy the curiosity of the students. He explained how the technology works, but he also provided the class with a sense of how it is being used by industry, from accounting and finance to healthcare and retail.

Freiman, who has a background in economics and accounting, assisted Rutgers Ph.D. student Jun Dai in some of the first academic research about block chain’s use in the accounting field. In 2016, Rutgers Business School’s Continuous Auditing & Reporting Lab was one of the first with a core of knowledge about block chain’s potential applications. “That was the beginning, the beginning of the revolution,” Freiman said.

Ph.D. student Jamie Freiman teaches a pilot course on block chain at Rutgers Business School-New Brunswick.
Ph.D. student Jamie Freiman teaches the business applications of block chain to Rutgers Business School undergraduates.

Back in the days when Freiman was doing that research, there was still a high level of skepticism about whether block chain would have a lasting use in business.

“Some people thought of it as a fad,” he said. “I think block chain, in some capacity, is here to stay. To compare it to the Internet is a big of a stretch. But do I think it’s going to be a part of business? I do. I think it will change business dramatically.”

In his class, Freiman stood at the front of the lecture hall in a tweed jacket and khakis, describing the processes like mining and hashing. He spoke about wallets and keys and encryption. He described block chain in relation to bitcoin and other cyber-currencies.

During another class, his lecture on the technology turned practical to the room of undergraduates when he mentioned the need for block chain coders. “There’s a huge demand for people who can code block chain,” he told the students. “Learn it and you’ll be marketable.”

After three weeks of Freiman’s lectures, Brian DiNicola, a junior studying finance and business analytics, said he was glad he had signed up for the class. “I’m pretty interested in block chain,” he said. “I’ve read about in relation to bitcoin, but I feel like a lot of the information out there is superficial.”

“I feel like this class has given me a good base line knowledge,” he said. “I know enough that I can talk about block chain technology and some of its uses.”

That’s what Rutgers Business School Dean Lei Lei and Martin Markowitz, senior associate dean for undergraduates, hoped would be accomplished with the pilot class. “I think block chain is the future of business. I’m hoping this class will be a catalyst for other courses,” Markowitz said.

About 70 Rutgers Business School students signed up for a one-credit course on block chain.
Seventy students signed up for a one-credit course on block chain. “I feel like this class has given me a good base line knowledge,” one student said. “I know enough that I can talk about block chain technology and some of its uses.”

In fact, Rutgers Business School administrators quickly got to work to create a curriculum on block chain and other emerging technologies. A new, three-credit class will be offered to students on both campuses in the spring of 2020. Graduate-level courses on block chain and artificial intelligence are also scheduled to be taught next year.

“Technologies like block chain and artificial intelligence are being put into use by industry and are changing business processes as well as the skills recruiters require from job candidates,” Lei said. “With innovative curriculum like our block chain classes, we can prepare our students and ensure that they succeed as the business world continues to be transformed.” 

A surge of student interest in block chain led to the first pilot course in block chain.

In the spring of 2019, Christian Buren, who is now a junior, started the Block Chain Hub with a handful of other students. Buren organized a series of lectures and workshops with the support of Dean Lei Lei and Dean Markowitz and the help of Professor Miklos and several Ph.D. students like Freiman.

Students crowded into classrooms to hear the evening lectures, which earned them no credit.

The Block Chain Hub continued its efforts during the fall semester to augment Freiman’s classes. The group has also organized trips to Boston and Philadelphia for conferences and competitions.

“Students are coming to these on their own,” Buren said. “They want to be prepared to work with these new technologies."

- Susan Todd

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