The blockchain wave is catching up fast with Penn. This semester, Wharton is offering its first full-credit blockchain course for both undergraduate and graduate students.
The course, “Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, and Distributed Ledger Technology,” is a hybrid class co-taught by Wharton professor Kevin Werbach and Engineering professor David Crosbie.
Creating a course focused on blockchain and cryptocurrency was something the professors had in mind for a while, but the two said they chose to wait to announce a course until they were sure there was more substantial information to teach.
“There’s a lot of business activity going on, but to teach a course, there needs to be actual material to teach as opposed to, 'Let me show you people trading Bitcoin,'” Werbach said.
The course has proved to be extremely popular among students. It currently has the fourth-highest clearing price — the relative supply and demand of available spots — of any course offered at Wharton, ranking high in the school’s bidding system on which MBA students select their courses.
This semester, the course is capped at 52 students. Werbach said that if space was made for every student interested in enrolling, there would have been a couple hundred students in the course.
The popularity of the course reflects the high demand of blockchain-related skills in the workforce. Currently in LinkedIn, there are approximately 4,500 job openings with the terms “blockchain,” “bitcoin,” or “cryptocurrency” — marking an increase of 151 percent since 2017. Google search requests for the keyword “blockchain” have also increased by 250 percent in the past year.
“What is driving students to do this course is industry demand for students with this skill but the skill doesn’t have to be applied directly,” Crosbie said. He added that many MBA students see that there are numerous companies that want to hire people familiar with blockchain, but that there is hardly anyone who has the proper training for the job.
Werbach said he was inclined to approach the subject of blockchain because of his students’ growing passion for the expanding marketplace.
“I started to see a lot of students a year or so ago coming to me with their blockchain-based startups, and I got dragged into helping them start the Penn Blockchain Club,” he said. “There’s an advantage at looking at these things and reacting early.”
Penn’s growing interest in blockchain is also apparent with the University’s recent partnership with the San Francisco-based cryptocurrency payment network Ripple. Penn is one of the 17 universities around the world that has joined the $50 million, multi-year research and development initiative launched by Ripple.
As part of Ripple’s University Blockchain Research Initiative, Penn will receive a portion of the $50 million funding to spend on faculty research, graduate student scholarships, and curriculum advancement relating to blockchain and cryptocurrency, according to Werbach.
Ripple has provided some of the funding for the full-credit blockchain course curriculum development. Werbach did, however, say that the course was not developed solely on the basis of Ripple’s money. He added that the recent partnership and the introduction of a new blockchain course was a reflection of the growing level of interest and activity around blockchain at Penn.
Co-President of Penn Blockchain Club and Wharton and Engineering junior Aaron Diamond-Reivich said he is excited for professors to be involved in blockchain education and research.
Both Crosbie and Werbach said blockchain learning at Penn truly began with the Penn Blockchain Club, for which they are both advisors. The club, which now has over 350 members, began primarily as an education institution that encouraged students to spend time learning about blockchain rather that investing in cryptocurrency itself, they said.
“There were a lot of people on campus who were excited about the ideas of blockchain and the promises of blockchain,” Reivich said. “But there wasn’t a place for them to learn about it.”
"[Since blockchain] is in such an early stage, there’s so much opportunity to really make an impact,” Reivich said. “If you go into some of these more established fields then sure, you might get to innovate, but you’re not really at the forefront.”