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Category Archives: Learning

Free University-Level Courses in the Cloud with P2PU

Apple laptop

So, your Master of Science in Marketing degree won you a great job when you graduated ten years ago.  But social media wasn’t around ten years ago, so you either stayed with traditional marketing jobs, went back to the University in hopes of finding courses in Social Media Marketing taught by someone with actual social media experience, or learned social media marketing techniques in your spare time. Entrepreneurial Marketing is just one example of the dozens of online University-level courses offered at Peer-to-Peer University (P2PU).  Courses are free, mostly asynchronous, and taught with structure, guidance, and support around open course materials.

P2PU is a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements.  Courses are offered free of charge and P2PU is run largely by volunteers.  P2PU has received seed funding to cover operational costs and because web hosting costs are very low, P2PU has few other operational expenses.  Although P2PU may charge small registration fees in the future to ensure perceived value in the course, P2PU promises that it won’t restrict access to course information.  Although not accredited yet, individual instructors are seeking accreditation from their affiliated institutions.  In fact, some students are already receiving credit from some western universities.

The P2PU initiative is very popular with web technologists who are almost completely self-taught in the web design and development fields. Most traditional academic institutions don’t offer university-level courses or degrees in emerging web scripting languages.  In fact, the courses were so popular that P2PU created a sub school called P2PU Webcraft.  Webcraft courses are mostly taught by expert peers working in the field, not college professors with advanced degrees.  However, the skills gained can lead to high-paying jobs where real experience ranks above a college degree.P2PU is always looking for volunteers to propose and teach open courses.  So, if you’ve got an idea for a course and some spare time, consider facilitating a P2PU course of your own!


Could Your Profession be Crowdsourced?

In 2009, Clay Shirkey talks about the ideas in his new book, Here Comes Everybody.  This short interview is a fascinating take on how initiatives like Wikipedia and Open Source software have proved highly successful crowdsourced projects controlled neither by big business nor the government.  Furthermore, volunteers maintain them– folks who give of their time for free and have created an enormous amount of value.  Clay makes the point that Scribe used to be a profession.  We paid scribes to read and write for us, but now everyone reads and writes, so we no longer need scribes.  With wireless broadband increasing and barriers to access decreasing, there is great opportunity for receivers of services to get more for less (or no) money.  However, if what Clay says is true about the future being shaped by mass amateurization, which professions that we pay for today will be crowdsourced initiatives in the future?

Can The Cloud Replace Teachers?

Sugata Mitra, an educational scientist, uses internet technology to prove that children without exposure to formalized education can use the internet to learn on their own without prompting.  In Mr. Mitra’s research, natural human curiosity emerged in children exposed to a computer with broadband internet access and kids who had never seen a computer before taught themselves basic computer literacy in a day.  Perhaps the most interesting experiment highlighted by Mr. Mitra was the task given to Italian children – Dr. Mitra had Italian children answer questions in Italian that he posed in English.  The children simply copied the text into Google, had Google translate the text to Italian and were able to answer the questions successfully.  Mr. Mitra also uses the ‘Granny Cloud’, a network of volunteers who facilitate learning via Skype.  Just imagine if the ‘Granny Cloud’ could be the ‘Mentor Cloud’ where volunteers with specialized knowledge facilitate learning of advanced subjects to anyone in the world.

  1. So, what could learning look like if instead of rows of desks facing a teacher in a classroom, we filled community learning centers with high-speed internet, tablet computers, and access to amazing volunteer mentors via Skype?  Perhaps we’d get a revolution in learning at a fraction of the cost of our current educational model.
  2. Is the ‘cloud’ the key to breaking out of the ‘drill and kill’ model of education?  Given access to the internet, broken into groups, and supplied with mentors, could children make better decisions about what is important to learn and what is best left for Google and Wolfram|Alpha?
  3. Does a real language barrier even exist now that content can increasingly be translated right in the cloud?  And doesn’t this open up the world’s libraries of information to everyone, regardless of who or where they are?  Can’t we leverage this to enhance learning in regions where teachers do not and will not go?
  4. Considering that Edison and Einstein both failed at institutionalized education, can cloud computing help to reach our current-day innovative thinkers in a way educational institutions cannot?
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