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Doing (a little) something

Written by Christina Cantrill
April 09, 2012

Philipp Schmidt, of Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU), closed the Connected Learning webinar in which he and P2PU were featured last week, with a thank you and a challenge. He thanked both facilitators and participants for creating an opportunity that was itself a “flexible, engaging, and welcoming opportunity for us to conceptualize how learning works” and then he challenged us all to do something further with this conversation to extend its meaning beyond this moment and put it into practice in ways that involve others too.

Okay, challenge accepted. Let’s see what small step I can do …

P2PU is a “grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements.” This online peer-based university is organized around a set of values – openness, community, peer learning – supporting lifelong learning through leveraging networked technologies and open educational resources to drive peer learning communities. (Learn more about P2PU.)

At this point, I am most familiar with “Courses” at P2PU. I have followed a few courses and recently co-facilitated a three-week study group in March called Writing and Inquiry in the Digital Age with Katherine Frank and Troy Hicks. Just last week I signed up for a couple of “Challenges” in P2PU to learn how this works too.

In the webinar, Philipp Schmidt highlighted these “Challenges” as a new opportunity in P2PU that were created as one alternative structure to a course. Courses, he said, are designed in a way that is dependent on good facilitators and rich content, which, he added, makes them hard to scale.

So what is a “Challenge?” He describes them as project-based learning opportunities that have a problem to solve, a relevant context in which to solve it, and embed a set of tasks that involve some sort of production or act of making. In this way, it seems to me, challenges themselves can potentially surface rich content through a scaffolded experience. As a participant in the webinar pointed out, however, to get a good challenge, one is now dependent on the creation of a richly designed and scaffolded experience! P2PU’s solution to this, it seems from looking at the website, is to support the creation of challenge through a Challenge structure itself (see: How Do I Make a Challenge?).


Another highlight that Philipp shared was the DIY University challenge. Philipp mentioned that it was meant to support DIY learners, who were not finding a course of interest and didn’t want to start their own, to begin to develop their own personal learning plan. And DIYU also moves them beyond their own learning to start to build a course or their own communities through the process. Which is an interesting focus since this design could potentially support building capacity for facilitation itself. I noticed the same thing in the School of Ed study group Empower your Personal Learning where the focus is on personal learning within a community of practice.

After these highlights, Philipp offered questions to the group that were framed around equity. These questions included:

  • What are good pathways from interest to learning?
  • What support mechanisms are needed?
  • What is the role of content?

I was a participant in the chat discussion during this webinar (@Christina) and there were a few strands of interesting discussion there. One of them that resonated with me especially was about the importance of the historic and accumulated pedagogical knowledge we have in education alongside questions about scale and access specifically within the framework of online networked peer-based and connected learning environments.

At the National Writing Project we have face-to-face peer-based communities of practices that have developed quite sophisticated practices of equity and scale over time. Now, in a digital networked age, with colleagues, writing project and otherwise, we see values of peer-learning, inquiry and access being woven into spaces online that teachers are building themselves for learning (Teachers Teaching Teachers/EdTechTalk, #engchatEdcamp, Youth Voices, this site, etc.). These are all places and spaces where pedagogical practices are being put to use to support leadership development, equity, access and relevance, all with certain degrees of scalability.

Because of this experience, I do believe that sounds pedagogically practices that value the same things that P2PU values, can scale in equitable ways. I also believe that the Internet is a really new medium that we are swimming in. And that we see how it can surface new pathways for connecting interests and learning and that these grow and scale faster than what we’ve seen before. We, unfortunately, know too, that many youths and adults are not learning in open, community and peer-based ways. So … I think that @p’s questions are also the right questions – ie. if we want to scale these values, what are the right mechanisms that get us there?

The role of content is an interesting question for those of us online and within a forum such as Digital Is where creating and posting resources is a key piece of community building. In what way does what we produce build our community of learners? And how can we continue to build and learn across and among this content as peers on a scale that includes many more too?

Digital Is Challenge anyone?!

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