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Back to School: Peer 2 Peer University and the Future of Education (an interview)

Jane Park, September 1st, 2009

As students around the world return to school, ccLearn blogs about the evolving education landscape, ongoing projects to improve educational resources, education technology, and the future of education. Browse the “Back to School” tag for more posts in this series.

A recent emigrant to New York, I experienced the first turn in weather on the east coast marking the transition from summer to a fast approaching fall. Though a lovely relief from the hot, muggy season that has persisted here for the last few months, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness. Many students all over the world are feeling this same twinge, mingled with excitement, as their summer vacations skid to a halt. No more lazy, hazy days in the sun—instead, it’s time to hit the books and lockers, classrooms and lecture halls.

This is the vision of school we have had with us for ages. A first grader, when asked to draw school, usually draws a little red school house with a bell, or a teacher standing at her desk, with an apple for added effect. However, this traditional picture is hardly where the future of education is headed, as new technologies and mediums of communication, like the Internet, have already revolutionized the way we interact, learn, and live.

CC BY by Philipp Schmidt

CC BY by Philipp Schmidt

Peer 2 Peer University is one initiative that acknowledges this fact—that the world has already changed, and not everyone is going to settle for the traditional modes of teaching. First of all, not everyone can afford to dole out the thousands of dollars required for a higher education, and secondly, not everyone has the time to—those of us with full-time or several part-time jobs, families, and other responsibilities, especially.

P2PU, in their own words, is sort of like an “online book club for open educational resources.” It’s “an online community of open study groups for short university-level courses… The P2PU helps you navigate the wealth of open education materials that are out there, creates small groups of motivated learners, and supports the design and facilitation of courses.” Unlike formal universities or distance education, P2PU’s courses are all defaulted under CC BY, which means anyone can access, share, adapt, and redistribute them. In fact, the founders are more than happy for others to adapt the model they have begun to new and successful ways of thinking about education’s future.

What do you think is the future of education? P2PU co-founder Philipp Schmidt answers the big question and more.

P2PU has been getting a ton of attention lately. Courses are set to start on the 9th! What are you hoping to gain from these first six weeks? What are you most excited about?

This is the first time we will run courses. We have been thinking a lot about how to make sure participants get a lot out of the experience, but this is the real test. I am sure we’ll discover many things we did not anticipate at all—and I look forward to learning as much as the participants. This is an amazing learning experience not just for the participants, but also for ourselves.

I am most excited by the fact that we seem to be providing something that many people from all over the world find useful and want to participate in. One person is taking the Copyright for Educators course and intends to get credit from his university for it. The fact that he is thinking about the course in his own context and trying to “hack” the system in a way that makes sense for him is awesome. This is exactly what we were hoping to see. Another person said that she had always wanted to take a course about cyberpunk literature, but couldn’t find a place to take one. To realize that we can provide a type of learning experience that people are looking for and which simply doesn’t exist elsewhere, is incredible.

There’s so much speculation around the future of formal education. What are your thoughts on it? What will be P2PU’s role in this changing educational landscape?

It is clear to me that the education landscape will change dramatically. I should mention that I am a huge fan of the university as an institution where young people spend a few years learning and immersing themselves into knowledge. It’s wonderful and I wouldn’t want to miss it. However, learning is not just what happens in universities and there will be new and different organizations providing many of the components that today’s universities offer as a package. There are two areas where P2PU could fill a gap. One is to create the social learning experience that will make open educational resources more useful to more people. The other is to provide forms of recognition for informal learning—this could be by enabling pathways to formal credits or by creating a community based reputation.

What do you have to say to those who confuse P2PU with distance learning? How is P2PU more than that?

The core of P2PU is social learning—working with others who are interested in the same topic as you. The fact that it happens by distance is almost secondary and we are hoping to have local off-line groups joining the P2PU community in the future. Distance learning is a broad term, but too often it is used in the context of what I would call industrialized education. Content is delivered to students—either by an online teacher or in the form of course materials designed for self-study. Knowledge is considered as something that can easily be measured, like weight or height. It is a totally different model from what P2PU is doing.

All P2PU courses are licensed CC BY. Why CC BY?

The pilot phase materials are licensed CC BY because that places the least amount of restrictions on others who might want to use and re-mix our content. However, the licensing choice is still a big debate. Some members of the community feel that CC BY-SA better reflects their desire to create a global knowledge commons. It’s one of the topics we will discuss at our upcoming workshop and we will make a final decision there.

One Response to “Back to School: Peer 2 Peer University and the Future of Education (an interview)”

  1. Hi,
    probably is as you wrote – the future of education is inside our own houses. Honestly I would not be able to sign up for most of international universities. In the same time I still study at my house and never give up – learning is a life’s mission for me! :) thank you for nice post about peer 2 peer universities!

    Thanks,
    Tom

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