Open Online Environments: Focus on P2PU

It’s been a while since I’ve focused on what’s up in open education. My interest was re-awakened through some of the discussions online over the last year or so from ETUG and SCOPE and the BC Campus supported Open Textbook project. Perhaps the government got stimulated by all the interest in MOOCs, or maybe the unproven idea that OERs can be used to reduce costs of developing and offering a greater diversity of educational opportunities?

I was also curious about a recent CIDER session that promised a review of research about open online environments with a focus on what has been learned by the P2PU (Peer-to-Peer University). As per usual, thanks to the efficient folks at CIDER, the recording and slides are available for viewing now! CIDER session recordings

Open Education: New Developments, Needs and Opportunities for Research
June Ahn, Asst Professor, UofMaryland, College Park, College of Information Studies, College of Education

While I love the idea of user-generated and controlled learning (which I’ve experienced in online communities like SCOPE), I was a little suspicious of the structure and intent of P2PU. When I first heard about them I went and signed up and poked into a couple of courses; they all seemed to be yet another iteration of online discussion. I’m happy to engage in that kind of learning, as long as I have some level of knowledge about the subject; otherwise, online discussions can seem like meaningless chatter or continual confusion. I had hoped P2PU would offer something more creative. From the sounds of things I will need to revisit to see what has grown.

Dr. Ahn is part of a group of educational technology researchers who worked closely with P2PU to try and understand what worked for the people who signed up and explored and what didn’t. They were given access to the backend of P2PU and have spent some time and thought in analyzing the data collected. The really cool thing is that they will share their work and the analytics and the data with other researchers – openly.

So, just some highlights of their findings that I found interesting (I’d encourage you to listen to the presentation yourself.

    P2PU has been exploring what works in collaborative or cooperative online learning in a number of ways:
    – set up a School of Webcraft with Mozilla (series of courses on coding)
    – explored different aspects of open badges in terms of credentialing or personal formative feedback for guiding learner efforts
    – governance of open education through Google Hangouts to facilitate open discussion of design to help learners design their own experiences
    – Mechanical MOOCs – a gentle introduction to Python

    While previous research on face-to-face cooperative learning found small groups to be most productive, online learning is a different situation. Dr. Ahn reported that the “sweet spot” was 30 to 40 learners. Due to the high dropout rate, you need critical mass of participants who contributre something to keep other learners engaged.

    What does data tell us about how we should design to keep learners engaged? For new members, design was critical. New members wanted clear page prompts, clear instructions and a clear sense of what they should do.
    To keep members engaged, page prompts were not as important as interactions. Although Dr. Ahn’s research did not differentiate between interactions between members or interactions between members and the coordinator, people kept coming back if there was something going on each time they returned.

    An interesting question for future research: If you interact more with the organizer would your learning outcomes be different? (Dr. Ahn suggested in response to Dr. Anderson’s comment)

My questions are: how often will members return and not see any activity before they give up and drop away? What’s the tolerance for this? And an even bigger question, is there a way that design or technology can support the organizer in keeping activity going? How meaningful does the activity have to be? Gaming research seems to indicate that even simplistic rewards will keep a learner engaged. Wonder how long that effect holds in a non-sexy learning situation?

As I said, it’s worth viewing the recording and perhaps keeping track of Dr. Ahn and his colleagues as they continue researching.

Sylvia

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About Cloudsyl

Now a mid-Island observer of the Cloud
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