Sunday, October 26, 2008

Peer learning

With such a wealth of content available today, as well as an increasing willingness to share course material through initiatives like Wikiversity and various open educational resources (OER), the role of the teachers is to provide a framework for study, help students choose relevant material and facilitate discussion and reflection. Of course this all takes place within the confines of a university with a clearly defined syllabus and accreditation.

However that traditional framework is being challenged. Universities like MIT have opened up their courses for all to see as MIT Open Courseware. You are welcome to view all courses and follow them completely free but if you want guidance and credits you'll have to sign up and pay the fee. Wikiversity offers free course material and even entire courses that can then be used by teachers anywhere. But what about running courses based on free material but independant of any university?

That is the thinking behind an interesting new initiative called the Peer 2 Peer University. Courses of around 6 weeks study will be offered using freely available resources and lead by "sense makers" who will be volunteer teachers from various universities around the world. These will be recognized experts in their field providing the courses with academic credibility and will be assisted by "tutors" who may be graduate students. Small groups of students will participate in open community-based learning, working their way through the course material, discussing and collaborating on assignments and getting feedback and guidance from the teaching staff. In this way courses can start whenever there are enough students ready to form a group (preferably 8-14 students). According to the project's website they are even planning to get universities to award credits for P2PU courses. In order to ensure students' commitment to courses there will be small course fees to pay.

The whole concept relies on committed tutors who use P2PU to enhance their academic reputation and the opportunity to work in communities they would not otherwise have access to. The role of the "sense makers" is more to provide academic depth to the courses and to liaise with the tutors. Whether these people will get some kind of financial reward for their contribution in the future depends on the success of the project.

P2PU does not aim to assemble a repository of learning resources since everything is already out there. The missing link is the coordination and guidance to help learners with the emphasis on peer learning. The project hope to be able to start courses in early 2009. It will be very interesting to see how this develops.

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