[iDC] interview on Peer 2 Peer University

Michael Bauwens michelsub2003 at yahoo.com
Thu Jan 15 03:07:05 UTC 2009

Article from Chris Watkins:

The Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) is an online community of open study groups for short university-level courses. Think of it as online book clubs for open educational resources. P2PU
acts as a guide to open education materials that are already available
and connects small groups of motivated learners. Rather than “offering”
courses in the traditional sense, it supports the design and
facilitation of courses. Students and tutors get recognition for their
Stian Håklev is a Toronto-based activist for open access to research and open education, and one of the founders of P2PU. 

The following interview was conducted by email:

What inspired you to start this project? What’s unique about your project?

There is a huge amount of Open Educational Resources “out there”, with MIT OCW and the other OCWs, Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative, Open University UK, WikiEducator, Wikiversity,
Connexions etc. However, it is very difficult for a self-learner to
just sit down and learn from these resources in a sustained fashion. 

When I met Philipp and Neeru at iCommons ‘07 we discussed what the “value added” from a university was, and we
came up with things like a learning trajectory, deadlines, a peer
group, feedback/evaluation, perhaps accreditation at the end (important
for some, not for others). That fall, I also participated in David
Wiley’s online course Intro to Open Education), which turned out embody many of the ideas we had discussed, and was a very powerful learning experience for me.

The concept was very simple - a wiki where people sign up, no
pre-requisites, but you have to work hard. 150 pages of (open access)
readings a week, and a few reflection questions. The first week, we
read a bunch of long UN reports, and the question was “Should universal
education be a universal human right? And if so, is it enough that it
is a right, or should it be an obligation as well?”. We then all
blogged about this (and you can still read my contribution at OpenEd Week 1),
read each others blogs, commented, etc. A very simple format, but
because I was highly motivated to see it through (I often spent an
entire Sunday on this course, even though I was very busy with courses
in my last year of undergrad, and didn’t get any formal credit for it),
I learnt a lot.

After the course was over, a few others picked up on the idea (I’ve posted on them at Is Your Course Schedule Full Yet?),
building on the model and adding some minor variations to improve it.
Finally, Leigh Blackall came up with the term “Wiley wikis” to describe
this kind of courses.

I personally had an interest in doing more research on this form
of courses to see how they could be further improved, what were the
factors in their success or failure, how good were individual learning
outcomes, and what factors influenced this, etc. In addition, we wanted
to provide a platform where many more such courses could be launched
(and about other topics - incidentally, almost all the early courses
seemed to be about education and technology itself). So far, the
courses had been launched by a few individuals who were all tech-savvy
and very hooked in to the open education movement, and perhaps even had
more leeway within their institutes because of they were studying open
education, etc. We wanted to “mainstream” the model, so that many more
professors (and others) could step up and teach courses, and to have a
platform where we could experiment with forms of peer-learning, and
eventually perhaps ways of obtaining accreditation, etc.

Who else is working in the same space?
Is it a different approach to the same challenge/opportunity, and/or a
complementary approach? What are you learning from them?

There are a lot of projects in the open education space.
Traditionally, most of them have been about providing content - which
is a crucial component for us - in a way, we function as a structure
“above” the open content, and absolutely support the work of OCW
Consortium, Wikiversity, Connexions, and the many others. There are
some platforms that are fairly open-ended, such as Wikiversity and
Wikieducator, which seem to still be debating internally whether they
are primarily for content production, or to function as platforms for
“conducting” classes. There is lots of great experimentation happening,
for example on Wikiversity, with creating reading groups, and using
your homepage as your “personal learning environment“, and we are definitively learning a lot from what everyone else are doing.

There are also a number of peer-based language teaching platforms, such as LiveMocha, but these are usually commercial ventures.

Although we believe that there are many valid models for how to
“do” online learning and teaching, we have a fairly good idea of one
way of doing it, that we would like to test out. I think one of our
strengths is that we are a fairly small group of people, with a more or
less clear vision. If a professor or student approaches us they “know
what they get”, whereas with Wikiversity it might seem quite confusing.
I personally also don’t believe that pure (non-semantic/structured)
wiki software is ideal for everything, and we have many ideas that we
would like to experiment with, like having your own “portfolio page”
highlighting your best work, perhaps having user ratings, peer-based
assessment etc.

Another difference with other projects (that I know of), is that
we are trying to limit the enrollment in “courses”. We are still
thinking about how to do this practically, but the idea is to create
small groups of people that are very committed to the six-week courses,
and will make substantial contributions to the group - because the
learning outcomes of the entire group depends on the contributions of
all its members… To create enough “commitment”, we are thinking about
things like having to apply to join a group, maybe even having a small
sign-up fee (which would be waived for people who could genuinely not
pay, and would at the end of the course go to a charity, or perhaps to
the cost of formal accreditation). Important to remember is that all
the content on the site would be absolutely open to all, all we are
limiting is the “privilege” of being part of a small committed group of
learners moving forwards through a course together. At first, we are
rather going for quality than quantity (let’s get as many page-views as
possible). That’s also why we have limited the initial course offering
to 10 (but expect to expand rapidly).

Are you accredited? What concrete benefit will someone get from participating in your project?

Currently we are not accredited, and certainly we would assume
that the main benefit to all participants would be the learning
experience (and the joy of teaching and sharing knowledge). However, we
are also interested in experimenting with ways in which “open learning”
can lead to informal and formal accreditation. So the first thing would
be to provide different kinds of feedback to the learner, so the
learner knows how well she is doing, and perhaps a diploma of
completion at the end, which to some can be quite valuable. However,
there are different models of accreditation that we can try, and
Philipp Schmidt and Christine Geith have presented on this at several
conferences (not sure if there’s a paper online), for example by
challenge exams - you pay something like $50 to a university for the
right to take an exam, and if you pass, you get the credit. In Wiley’s
class, there were also students who did it as an independent reading
class at their home institutions, and received credit for it. The
Western Governor’s University is based on the competency model, where
they assess how far you are from reaching a degree goal, and you obtain
those qualifications at another institution. The P2PU could be used to
gain those skills. Finally, as mentioned above, we are interested in
researching other kinds of accreditation, perhaps based on open source
software development models.

How inclusive is your project, in terms of cost, technical barriers, and freedom to reuse the content?

The biggest barrier, of course, is regular and affordable access
to the internet. We are completely cognizant of the fact that this is
not available to many, yet that is no reason for us to not do this
project, rather we hope that more and more people will get access, and
of course the production of OERs (Open Educational Resources) also
means that there is more material that could potentially be printed and
distributed, burnt on CD/DVD, etc. Another limitation is that
currently, our project is only in English. We will decide later whether
we will expand to other languages, but of course we would happily
support anyone who tried to start a similar project in another
language. I personally am a very big proponent of linguistic diversity
and equity, and would think that was great. But one has to start from

We will release all that we produce under a CC-BY or even a
CC-Zero, and we anticipate that our system will be based on an open
source self-hosted server, and in that case we will release all
modifications (a bit different if we end up on a hosted system). We are
considering a minimal sign-up fee for courses, but this has not been
decided, it would be waived if people could not afford it, and anyway
all our material would always be completely free to the world.
I think that is it for now. Note that these are my views, and it
might not accurately reflect the views of the other members of the
P2PU, although I think most of it does.”

In conclusion:

Stian mentions the issue of access to the internet by the majority, and this is a challenge we also face at Appropedia”. However, it’s not one that worries us greatly - as Curt Beckmann recently blogged,
“I’ll bet a nickel that within five years most villages will have a
resident with good access (by smart-phone or otherwise) to the

P2PU plans to have its first courses running in early 2009.

(to be published on the 18th at the p2p blog: http://blog.p2pfoundation.net)

 The P2P Foundation researches, documents and promotes peer to peer alternatives.

Wiki and Encyclopedia, at http://p2pfoundation.net; Blog, at http://blog.p2pfoundation.net; Newsletter, at http://integralvisioning.org/index.php?topic=p2p 

Basic essay at http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=499; interview at  http://poynder.blogspot.com/2006/09/p2p-very-core-of-world-to-come.html; video interview, at http://www.masternewmedia.org/news/2006/09/29/network_collaboration_peer_to_peer.htm


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