The Blockchain Fundamentals DeCal is a comprehensive survey of relevant topics in cryptocurrency and the wider blockchain space. From a technological standpoint, we start with the basics of cryptography and economics, establish a solid fundamental understanding of Bitcoin by building it from the bottom up, then explore the myriad of ideas and technologies relating to blockchain technology. On the non-technical side, we start with the history of digital currency, then look at the laws, organizations, trends, and communities behind it to build a complete picture of the ecosystem surrounding blockchain technology.
Many people find it difficult to understand cryptocurrencies and blockchain, the product of coordination between many complex components; and it's hard to see the full picture until all the individual components are fully understood. Furthermore, since the field is technical and relatively new, cryptocurrency-related discussion by nature is full of jargon. Therefore, it is easy to get lost trying to follow nearly any conversation on crypto/blockchain if you have not built up the right background.
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.
Day and Times: Saturday 2-4pm
Location: Hearst Mining 390
Course Staff: Nadir Akhtar, Gillian Chu, Brian Ho, Sara Reynolds
Discussion Leaders: Noah Alcus, Jason Bi, Derrick Li, Gloria Wang, Ashwinee Panda
Class Format: 1.5 hours of lecture per week, 1 hour of discussion per week
Communication: All of the necessary communication for this course will be done through Piazza. Weekly homework assignments will be distributed after class, along with the lecture slides.
Prerequisites: This course have no formal prerequisites. However, blockchain is very technical in nature, so coming into this course with knowledge of computer science or cryptography will be extremely helpful, although not required. If you have any concerns about the nature of this course, do not hesitate to reach out to the facilitators.
Class Entry Policy: By permission code. Students are required to (1) attend the first lecture and (2) fill out the discussion preference form to receive a discussion assignment. Students who attend their assigned discussion section in the first week of school are given a permission code and course number to enroll with.
Grading: P/NP. You must get at least a 70% to pass the class - to be clear, a lower score equates to a No Pass. Grading will be based on Homework and Quizzes (30%), Attendance (30%), a Final Paper (30%) and Participation (10%). There will be assigned readings each week, which you should complete in order to do well. If you have any questions regarding grades, email your discussion leader.
Homework and Quizzes (30%): There will be homeworks and quizzes dispersed throughout the course and will be weighted equally. Quizzes will be given during the first 5 minutes of class. Homework will be released after Saturday evening after lecture and will be due the following Saturday at 11:59 pm.
Homework: Homeworks are intended to be interesting prompts. For example, in addition to the occasional write-up, we may have you write your name on the blockchain, or dig up a transaction originating from Silk Road, or comment on Piazza with a paragraph arguing for or against the scalability debate.
Quizzes: Quizzes are intended to be a quick, easy screen designed for you to demonstrate that you completed your readings for the current week's topic. We will administer quizzes on random weeks. They will be in the form of 6 multiple choice questions and administered in the first 5 minutes of class. You only have to get 4 of the 6 questions right to get a full score.
Attendance (30%): We will take attendance at the beginning of every class. Please go to only your ASSIGNED discussion section. No, you may not switch discussion sections, as we decide sections based on your availability in the beginning of the semester and have limited class sizes. If you are expecting an academic conflict such as a midterm, or have a medical/family emergency, please let your discussion leader know at least 24 hours in advance. We expect excused absences to be rare; we grant you 2 unexcused lecture absences and 2 unexcused discussion absences without grade penalty.
Final Paper (30%): All students will be required to write a 3-4 page final paper on a topic of their choice relating to the cryptocurrency and blockchain fields. This could relate to a topic covered explicitly in class or something else related to cryptocurrencies. Submitting a final paper is required to pass the class.
Participation (10%): If you actively pay attention and ask questions/contribute in discussion, you can expect a full score. Don't stress out over this.
You may find full details in our syllabus here.
Textbooks: You are free to read from these books, which are both freely distributed and available online. Please do NOT go out and buy them. Some readings may be pulled from these books during the course.
Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies (Princeton textbook) by Arvind Narayanan, Joseph Bonneau, Edward Felten, Andrew Miller, and Steven Goldfeder:
(Optional/Additional) Mastering Bitcoin by Andreas Antonopoulos:
A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto by Eric Hughes
Coindesk: A Bot Named Willy: Did Mt. Gox's Automated Trading Pump Bitcoin's Price?
The DAO, The Hack, The Soft Fork and The Hard Fork
(Optional, to Get Ahead) Princeton Textbook 1.1 Cryptographic Hash Functions (pages 23-31)
(Optional) All You Need to Know About ICOs
(Optional) Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
Anonymity: Mixing and Altcoins[LEC, PPT, DIS]
Conclusion: Cool Ideas, Blockchain Hype, and the Future[LEC, PPT, DIS]