04-621-A3   Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies

Location: Africa

Units: 6

Semester Offered: Spring

Course description

A blockchain is a relatively straightforward data structure, yet it has been called a “trust layer for the Internet,” enabling trust and efficiency in areas where it was previously not possible. A blockchain forms the foundation of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin is a distributed currency not tied to any national currency. It is a collection of technologies that allow recording transactions in a blockchain that is distributed and cryptographically secure. Bitcoins can be stored and used via anonymous digital wallets. Maintaining and extending the Bitcoin blockchain has become a highly competitive money-making industry known as mining.

Blockchain and digital currencies are considered important components of fourth industrial revolution technologies, with implications beyond money or commerce. Many types of organizations are considering blockchains as a distributed verifiable transaction ledger mechanism. Blockchains have the potential to disrupt current centralized approaches to established financial and other markets. Blockchains enable cryptocurrencies, trusted decentralized record-keeping, and smart contracts. Digital currencies enable easier local and international trade and financial inclusion, among other things.

Beyond the underlying technologies, blockchains and cryptocurrencies raise many broader questions. On what currency should modern commerce be based? What creates a cryptocurrency’s inherent value? In addition to legitimate transactions, anonymous digital money is an enabler for illicit trade in drugs, weapons, gambling, and crime. How can illicit activity be addressed? What kind of transactions can and cannot be supported by different blockchain implementations? Is Bitcoin really anonymous? Will all cryptocurrencies be anonymous? Should there be more than one blockchain or one kind of cryptocurrency? Who, if anyone, should regulate blockchains or cryptocurrencies? What is the future of mining? What is the future of Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, and blockchains?

This class touches on the history, challenges, current state, and future of blockchain applications through an emphasis on the original application for which the blockchain was created: the Bitcoin cryptocurrency.

Learning objectives

This course enables students to understand the complete cryptocurrency ecosystem, from users to miners to merchants to banks to governments and regulators. Central to this is an understanding of the underlying blockchain mechanisms and how they can apply to other domains. Students will evaluate the future trends in blockchains and cryptocurrencies from a technical, business, and policy perspective. Through an application of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, students will learn about cryptography and cryptographic applications.


The successful student will be able to:
  • Understand and explain how Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies work.
  • Understand and explain how a blockchain works.
  • Evaluate related technical, social, business, and regulatory concerns.
  • Evaluate why these developments are an essential part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • Predict future opportunities and challenges.
  • Create a blockchain application.


None, although some background in computer science, cryptography, and economics will be helpful.


Martin Saint