Inventing a New University

One of the courses I really enjoyed these last few months was History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, by professor Cathy N. Davidson (Duke University) on the Coursera platform. The final assignment was the invention of a new institution of higher education. This was my answer, and yes, I did mention virtual environments… I called the thing Peeragogy University, named after a project facilitated by Howard Rheingold, peeragogy.org.

…………

It’s a pleasure and an honor to present our Peeragogy University. We firmly believe that we live in an epoch of exponential change. The old industrial ways of thinking do no longer apply for learning and teaching (see our Duke U course). We want to help our students to become Change Masters, or rather, we want them to help each other (peer-to-peer) to become Change Masters. 

What is our Mission Statement? There are three crucial skills we want our graduates to acquire:
1) The deep understanding of the fact that this education is not about them. It’s about what they can do for humanity.
2) The deep understanding and the skill of connecting to others in order to realize our dreams. During the program students will discover how connected the big issues of our time are, and how necessary it is to break out of academic silos to work together, to celebrate diversity in our teams. “Diversity” also means that we involve people from outside the institution and from outside academia. We use the wisdom and creativity of artists to facilitate this (see Duke U course).
3) The deep understanding and the skill of learning how to learn and adapt to emerging technologies in the broadest sense of the word ‘technologies’. So the crucial skill and value here is the eagerness to learn, and to learn how to learn throughout their lives (content vs. learning, Duke U course). 

What is the structure of our institution? 
Every student gets a preliminary course during about ten weeks. Leading experts will present major breakthroughs in information technologies, biotech, management (including new ways to launch a project or a business), healthcare, robotics, nanotechnology, energy systems and the makers industries (3D printing, DIY drones etc). These are the competence clusters which form the basic structure of Peeragogy University. 

The students will actually experiment (learning by  making, see Duke U course) with bio-hacking, programming, robotics, genetic engineering, management principles… These weeks will be inspired by what the Singularity University is already doing in California. What we add: we’ll help the students to explicitly build a personal learning environment, making use of their social connections online and/or on campus and of the affordances of the internet (blogs, wikis, social bookmarks, forums, crap detection and information dashboards). See also the Digital Literacies as discussed in the Duke U course. 

After these ten weeks students will have to decide what their Major Project will be for the next years (we have a 4 year program in place). This project must make a difference for humanity (see Mission statement). Maybe something which can affect the lives of millions of people? Typically,this project will make it necessary to acquire an advanced knowledge and skill-level in several subjects. 

However, not everybody who has some healthcare project as his Major Project will need to become a surgeon. Maybe it’s more interesting to become a robotics-specialist in order to contribute to a breakthrough (think exoskeletons for paraplegics). Becoming a robotics specialist probably implies great skill in programming and algorithms. Someone else in the team will become an expert in capital markets in order to find ways to get financing and to develop a financial plan. A third person can contribute because of special knowledge regarding patient psychology and sociology (see Mission Statement aboutconnecting). For each special skill the faculty experts will not teach as Sages on a Stage, but as facilitators of project based peer-to-peer learning. 

As these students try to change the world, they will have to reflect on what they’re doing (Mission statement: meta-learning). They will discuss on an academic level, using the resources of philosophy, logical thinking and using art as a way to mobilize more people for their projects and diversify their teams. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Who are the teachers? All students are also teachers. They work in project teams, and we’ll also organize contacts between the teams. We do havefaculty: there are recognized experts in their fields, from academia but also from outside academia. They will be facilitators of the learning. 
Who are the students? We do not require specific diplomas. We do run an Introductory MOOC (3 months), and achievements during that MOOC will be an important element for admission on the online or physical campus for the full four year program. 

Where do we meet? Our Campus is situated in Portland, Oregon, right next to some famous beer micro-breweries. However, we run an international Introductory MOOC (three months) and a Companion MOOC which runs on a permanent basis. We make heavily use of virtual environments to create an interesting online alternative for the physical campus. 

Who pays and how much? 
Peeragogy University found some generous sponsors, but nevertheless we have to ask a fee for the physical campus experience: $80,000 for one year, housing, tuition and food included. There is a considerable discount for tuition-only students. 
The Companion MOOC-version is free, except for those students who want a formal assessment of their work ($5,000 on a yearly basis). The Introductory MOOC is free, except for those who want an assessment in order to gain access to the 4 year program ($100). 
Students who have financial difficulties can apply for special sponsoring. Students will learn during the Introductory MOOC how to finance their studies (alternative financing techniques). 

Peeragogy University organizes short term programs for companies and government institutions, These programs help financing the Peeragogy University. 

Assessments and Certificates: the assessments are based on the performance during the year – compare it to assessments for company and government workers. Important elements are creativity, how people collaborate, how they learn, how impressive their skills are. We have a completion diploma, but more important even are the Peeragogy Badges (see Duke U course) which reflect the skills of the student. Important to realize: the Major Projects can become companies or institutions outside of Peeragogy University. Students learn to inform venture capitalists, government and social profit players about their Major Projects…

A new year, a new edition of the Peeragogy Handbook!

Good news to start the new year: the revised, second edition of the Peeragogy Handbook (“Version 2″) is available now. The Handbook is the world’s first book to present Peeragogy, a synthesis of techniques for collaborative learning and collaborative work. Itself the result of the techniques it presents, this version features a new Foreword from the internet pioneer and collaboration thinker, Stanford University educator, and founding editor of the Handbook, Howard Rheingold. What is it really about? I’ll let Howard explain it:



The Peeragogy Handbook project started in January 2012. Howard describes in his Foreword the process:

In the Peeragogy project, we started with a wiki and then we decided that we needed to have a mechanism for people who were self-electing to write articles on the wiki to say, OK, this is ready for editing, and then for an editor to come in and say, this is ready for WordPress, and then for someone to say, this has been moved to WordPress. We used a forum to hash out these issues and met often via Elluminate, which enabled us to all use audio and video, to share screens, to text-chat, and to simultaneously draw on a whiteboard. We tried Piratepad for a while. Eventually we settled on WordPress as our publication platform and moved our most of our discussions to Google+. It was a messy process, learning to work together while deciding what, exactly it was we were doing and how we were going to go about it. In the end we ended up evolving methods and settled on tools that worked pretty well.

It’s a remarkable project, involving volunteers from various continents. They’re working on the third edition now, and if you feel you could help, have a close look on the project and join us. I participated myself for the first edition, unfortunately I lacked time and energy to contribute to this second edition, but I hope I’ll be able to join in again (maybe for a translation in Dutch). Participating in such a project is in itself a very valuable lesson in peeragogy.

Peeragogy Handbook Rocks

Remember the Peeragogy Handbook Project, facilitated by Howard Rheingold? A group of learners from various continents work peer2peer to create this handbook which wants to inspire people who want to take their learning in their own hands.

The handbook has a very practical side – given that so many learning resources are online and for free, and that so many people are out there, worldwide, who want to learn, how can we connect and build a learning experience which can be very different from the typical classroom-experience? The handbook also has texts and links about the theoretical underpinnings of these learning-styles.

I wrote about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) but these days I lack time to be actively involved – but I do consult the Handbook regularly and can see how it gets improved almost every day. Some very friendly co-learners now created a little video introducing my chapter about MOOCs:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=7V_k00bpB_4?version=3&hl=en_US”><

Should MOOC-platforms be open, portable and interoperable?

While working at the Peeragogy Handbook I’m having some discussions about the business models of xMOOCs, the Massive Open Online Courses on platforms such as Coursera, Udacity and edX. The xMOOCs are, for now, free. The building of the courses is rather expensive – so what’s the return? Also, just like in the media industry, there are questions about the impact on the traditional university business model. Will more people apply and pay for a traditional education because they got really interested after participating in a free online course, or would fewer people want to pay as there are free alternatives (promotion vs substitution effect)?

One of the possible business models might be that the enormous amount of data accumulated during the courses get monetized so that recruiters can make a more efficient selection of candidates. Or maybe testing-for-a-degree will be an added service which would not be free.

However, one should refrain from jumping to conclusions. Maybe major universities also support these xMOOCs because they truly want to spread knowledge worldwide as a service to humanity. Monetizing these efforts would be a way to do this on a durable basis. While peer2peer courses seem to be more of a ‘reciprocal gift’ nature, in the gift economy there might also be reputation and network-building effects which lead to financial returns. All this in itself is not necessarily detrimental to the learning experiences.

Of more immediate concern for those engaging in MOOCs is the openness of the course material. Can the material be accessed and used in other contexts, or are there technical and legal restrictions? It’s interesting to note that the Stanford Class2Go is a platform which explicitly wants to be open, portable and interoperable.

  • It’s open. The platform is open source so that anyone who wants to can collaborate with us. We would love to have others use the platform, or to work together with similar efforts in other places.
  • It’s portable. We believe strongly that valuable course content shouldn’t be tied to any one platform. Documents are already portable; the videos are outside our system (on YouTube) and the assets themselves can be repurposed as faculty see fit. And our exercises and problem sets, instead of being trapped in a proprietary database, are in the Khan Academy format, so they can be used elsewhere.
  • It’s interoperable. We don’t want to build or maintain more than we have to. We’re standing on the shoulders of developments from Khan Academy, Piazza, YouTube, MySQL, Python Django, Amazon AWS, Opscode, and Github.

I think these three characteristics are important ones when evaluating MOOCs as part of a broader peer2peer learning project – but this does not mean more closed models should be avoided at all cost.

Build your own course

I’m looking at Course Builder – as it is explained on https://code.google.com/p/course-builder/ it packages the software and technology used to build the Power Searching with Google online course.

The guys at Google say:

We hope you will use it to create your own online courses, whether they’re for 10 students or 100,000 students. You might want to create anything from an entire high school or university offering to a short how-to course on your favorite topic.

Some familiarity with html and JavaScript is needed, but it seems the wiki is very informative and well-structured.

I plan to give it a try and include my experiences in the peeragogy.org handbook.

Help us write the Peeragogy Handbook!

Suppose you want to learn everything about medieval sword-fighting. Or about Python programming in some specific context. Or about alternative currencies – maybe there’s nobody to join or help you in your town or village, but somewhere on the web there’ll be others who want to collaborate in your learning-effort.

We call this peer2peer learning, and just as we have pedagogy (how to teach children) and androgogy (how to teach adults) we have peeragogy (how to teach each other). The word has been coined by Howard Rheingold, who also gave us the expression “virtual community”.

Howard also facilitates the project “The Peeragogy Handbook”. A few dozen people contribute in this project and it’s a pretty amazing experience. Most of us never met each other, and yet, from all over the world, people discuss in our forum, contribute on wikis and  social bookmark services, meet up during synchronous sessions and post on a WordPress-blog.

The link to the handbook is http://www.peeragogy.org. Be warned: this project is very much in beta. As it is explained in the introduction:

(…) you want to learn how to fix a pipe, solve a partial differential equation, write software, you are seconds away from know-how via YouTube, Wikipedia and search engines. Access to technology and access to knowledge, however, isn’t enough. Learning is a social, active, and ongoing process. What would a motivated group of self-learners need to know to agree on a subject or skill, find and qualify the best learning resources about that topic, select and use appropriate communication media to co-learn it? Beyond technology, what do they need to know about learning and putting learning programs together? What does a group of people need to know to use today’s digital resources to co-learn a subject? This handbook is intended to answer that last question and provide a toolbox for co-learners.

Do you want to contribute? You’re very welcome to do so! We need people to write and edit articles, to help out with the technicalities of WordPress or to give feedback. On the wiki you find a project description and also how to contribute. New
contributors can use this guide:
http://socialmediaclassroom.com/host/peeragogy/wiki/for-newcomers-peeragogy-project-how-get-started. You can comment on the draft by asking to join
http://groups.diigo.com/group/peering-into-peeragogy.