The need for reform and advances in education has been a recurring topic here on SC. In order to experiment on the frontier I enrolled in 'Introduction to Cyberpunk Literature' at P2PU.org with the self imposed mission to report back, so here we are as promised. Straight from the current bleeding edge of higher learning I'll show you my homework, expand a little on P2PU, briefly relate my thoughts on the course experience and try to draw some kind of conclusion about it all.
On Cyberpunk in Science Fiction.
On the depiction of the environment in Bladerunner.
On Androids, Cyborgs, and the line between man and machine.
On what came next in the future's past future.
New Old Treachery
A short work of fiction. Download it direct here. (.pdf, 2500 words)
Peer 2 Peer University
P2PU.org are the self-styled ‘gang stars’ of the Open Education scene, instead of simply trying to format-shift the teacher/classroom model or dumping resources from past courses online they want to create a new peer-to-peer based model of education suited to the knowledge sharing needs of the 21st century. P2PU co-founder Phillip Schmidt explains:
P2PU 2010 from Philipp Schmidt on Vimeo.
There is of course a wealth of other Open Education Resources around on the web (here's a long list of them). P2PU stands out in its approach, attitude, and by experimenting with breaking their model back out into the real world, recently through the Digital Journalism course taught by Joi Ito in parallel with his students at KMD. In the next cycle some courses may have an RL home in various hackerspaces, and there is also collaboration happening with the Mozilla foundation for the School of Webcraft.
A wide range of courses is available, subjects include Behavioral Economics, Music Theory, Managing Elections, Kitchen Science, Sustainable Communities, and many more. Enrollment for the next cycle is happening soon, keep an eye on the P2Pu blog for announcements.
There is great potential in what P2PU is doing, and it shows through their various initiatives and the growth of the community growing around the site. PhD students are starting to flock in, and I'm sure that interesting developments will be ongoing for quite some time.
If there's a weak point in the site right now though, it's the platform itself which is still kind of clunky and at times actively user-unfriendly. But let's be honest, most online learning environments suck one way or another, as anyone who has had the pleasure of working with blackboard for example will be able to tell you. There's a lot of room for improvement, but it's built entirely on volunteer labor so they have to make the best of limited resources. On that note, if you are a skilled Drupal developer or Interaction Designer with some serious time to donate I'm sure they would love to hear from you, the community structure is still pretty flat and it's easy to get involved.
Introduction to Cyberpunk Literature. Cycle 2, March 2010
As I was under-equipped to partake in Kitchen Chemistry I enrolled in Introduction to Cyberpunk Literature, a course that set out to investigate the place of cyberpunk fiction and some of its characteristic traits, with the end goal of writing one's own 'cyberpunk' story.
Time to organize the course was gracefully donated by Laurian Gridinoc, a busy man of many talents. You may remember his hilarious speech-to-text rendition of Bruce Sterling's Reboot 11 talk. The output required of the course consisted of 4 essays and the short work of fiction linked above. Assignments were due weekly (which didn't really fly), and the course was run through the P2PU site and weekly IRC chats. All up it was enjoyable, I found several new authors I was unaware of and came across a lot of interesting stuff, but it would have been better if there were more active participants.
Unfortunately on several courses in this cycle attrition rates were high, our present case included. Out of the 12 participants enrolled I'm the only one who has made it to the end at the time of this writing, and it took me about 5 months instead of the intended 2. Busy schedules, timezones and platform issues all contributed to people dropping off and deadlines slipping constantly into the future. But these problems can be fairly easily fixed or at least reduced. More time can be allocated for the assignments, and an external platform used to circumvent participation and communication issues in as much as they were caused by the P2PU site. Both of these measures are likely to be implemented if/when the course runs another cycle.
The course has been described as ‘a sort of book club’, personally I'd like to see it find a comfortable spot somewhere between that and a peer writing group, where participation is a necessary function of the arrangement. It would be cool to see what might come out in future cycles if the assignments and required reading are made more open, and the deck of participants is stacked with writers using the essays as research towards a story.
This isn't going to replace the public school system any time soon. The institution of 'school' sucks, but it is what it is. It starts off as daycare, and by the time university rolls around for most people it's about a social experience more than actually learning anything.
For those who do want to learn however, initiatives like P2PU answer a specific need in a new and useful way. Many online education resources are boring, solitary affairs in practice, but by bringing you in contact with others wanting to advance their knowledge in the same area, you are exposed to a larger number of personal views on the subject, and provided with a social element that can't be obtained through straight up book learning.
If you're interested in education reform, or for that matter any of the subjects that are being taught at P2PU or other similar organizations, I would certainly recommend checking them out and getting on board. Just don't be one of those guys that enrolls and never shows up.