Two top-ranked US universities, New York University and Duke University, are offering courses on cryptocurrencies for the first time.
Professor Geoffrey Miller taught the first class of NYU's new course, The Law and Business of Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies, yesterday. 35 students attended the session – the first in a series of 14 – which covered the fundamentals of money.
Miller, a faculty member at NYU's law school, teaches the course with Professor David Yermack, who is on the faculty of the university's business school.
Yermack says the course aims to examine the impact of cryptocurrencies on the fundamental principles that underpin current notions of law and finance.
"The course is not so much about teaching a knowledge of bitcoin, but it's to show how some of the issues about property, finance and contracts are going to change very quickly in the next century. The technology is forcing people to reexamine long-held assumptions."
Yermack and Miller are joined by Duke University Finance Professor Campbell Harvey, who is preparing a course on cryptocurrencies that will be offered to students next spring.
Both schools at NYU and Duke are ranked in the top 10 of their respective categories in the US News and World Report college rankings. Notably, Coinbase co-founder Fred Ehrsam graduated from Duke in 2010.
Harvey's course at Duke is titled Innovation, Disruption and Cryptoventures and will focus on the potential of businesses that use the block chain.
The course will be offered to students at Duke's computer science department and its law and business schools. Harvey is confident that the course will be a hit with students.
"I think it's going to be a blockbuster. The problem will be turning people away."
For Yermack, teaching a course on bitcoin is a departure from a career spent studying corporate governance and executive compensation issues.
Last autumn, he gave an impromptu speech about bitcoin at a finance conference in Puerto Rico, having "torn up" his original keynote address as the bitcoin price soared.
"It was very well received. The phones kept ringing after that, and I haven't really been able to research much else since," he said.
Academics need to step up
Even as the NYU and Duke professors gear up with new digital currency classes, they say that not enough academics are currently engaged in research on cryptocurrencies.
Yermack said that coming up with a syllabus for his course was challenging, due to the small number of published peer-reviewed articles on bitcoin.
Similarly, Harvey said that the block chain's potential is stifled by a lack of basic understanding of its potential uses, and that it is up to academics to "step up" and present the information.
"It's clear that [cryptocurrencies are] not going to go away, and they might morph into something a little different than what we see today."
Notably, several other universities already offer degree courses and other programmes around bitcoin. The University of Nicosia in Cyprus offers a masters in digital currency while the UK's University of Cumbria offers two certificates on cryptocurrencies.
Featured image via n0thing / Flickr