By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education
[Note: This is the first in a series of articles in which Stefanie plans to explore open and informal learning. -Editor]
The peer-to-peer learning community, P2PU, was founded in 2007. Since then, it has grown to approximately 1000 members. The credo “everyone has something to contribute and everyone has something to learn” guides the design of this informal university. Users can create their own courses or choose to subscribe to an existing course – either as active participants or as followers. Courses run for several weeks at a time and are open for enrollment during this period. Course organizers can set up a list of tasks, link to online material or work through a book.
As an example, one class I am currently following reads Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society. Participants are supposed to reciprocally review their takes on the learning tasks, giving mutual support and helping to improve each other’s work. Though no traditional accreditation is provided, P2PU is currently developing a badging system together with Mozilla Foundation to recognize informal learning, in particular, in the field of web development (Kamenetz, 2011, p.85).
I am currently enrolled and actively participating in the course Blogging and Writing for the Web as one of 32 participants. I like that I can follow the course structure but also switch between tasks and create my own flow of learning. So far, I have tackled task one (“Introduction”), three (“Post your blog”) and seven (“Make a plan for future blog posts”). My course is part of the School of Webcraft, one of three organizational units within P2PU.
To learn more about the students’ perspective, I talked to one of my classmates – Jessica Ledbetter. She is a very active member of the P2PU community and is currently involved in several classes at the School of Webcraft. She has 10 years of web development experience, and, apart from her P2Pu activities, she contributes to open source projects such as Ubuntu and OpenHatch. Among other things, P2PU helps her to hone her virtual teamwork, evaluation, and coding skills and allows her to help others: “I’m definitely a motivated person that loves learning and improving herself. I also really enjoying helping others so P2PU is a great environment for both of those things.”
Was learning at P2PU your first encounter with open learning or are you well-traveled in the world of open educational resources?
I first got involved in P2PU because I heard that there were web development classes and I’m always looking for new ways to learn as well as teach. Yes, P2PU was my first encounter with open learning though I have seen others since. However, I keep going back to P2PU because of the community. I really enjoy contributing to the code as well. :)
Can you elaborate on how you organize your learning at P2PU?
I’ve taken courses on testing automation, blog writing, usability, and Ruby on Rails. I’m an active participant in a Django course right now and creator of a study group to help others contribute to the code that P2PU runs on. I have found that unless I schedule a time to check in on the lessons and to do them, I will fall behind. When I was creating a course, I scheduled out when I needed to get all the tasks mocked up before the session started.
Tell us more about the ups and downs in the life of an informal learner!
I like looking at others’ projects. It’s fun to see how we all can create such different outcomes from the same assignment. I think I most enjoyed when quite a few of us used to be in the Ruby IRC channel and would help each other when we could. I think the most enjoyable activity was when everyone was figuring out the first assignments. Since we had all done them and were in different time zones, it was usually pretty easy to find someone around for real-time help.
Sometimes organizers disappear due to real life obligations. I understand that they’re volunteering their time and that life happens. But sometimes it’s hard to get back into the flow of things, especially since I have to schedule out time in order to do this. Also, it seems that there’s a tapering off of participation after about 2-3 weeks in classes. To deal with that, I put my due dates in a calendar to keep me going because it’s easy to fall behind and hard to catch up when I do.
Were you ever tempted to just quit?
Yes. Of course. What keeps me going is that I’m actually creating things I might not find the time to do otherwise. It’s nice to be able to learn with others and see what they’re doing. I always learn by looking at others’ code. Also, sometimes it takes a long time and a lot of question answering to get someone to the point that he or she is able to commit code. It’s completely worth it when it happens because it’s one of the best feelings in the world. :)
How important are your fellow learners in the learning process?
Sometimes it’s difficult because people may just post their assignments without responding to others. I try to read and respond when I can. Also, if there’s an IRC channel for the class, I hang out in there for random questions and to get to know others. It’s more fun that way, I think.
What does your future open learning look like?
I’ve checked out a few other sites, but I’m going to stick with P2PU for a while. I have a long list of courses I want to teach/create, and a long list of things I want to learn with my peers. I also really love what I’m learning just by being a part of the community and contributing to its code. There are many levels of learning available to me and I like that.
Many informal learners struggle with reconciling the formal and informal parts of their education, trying to get recognition for peer-learning and self-study activities. Jessica seems to have solved this problem for herself: “I have a github account with code. That’s how I communicate what I’ve learned.” As for me, I hope that my co-authors at ETC-J will notice my improved diligence while and after working through my P2PU writing class….
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