P2PU the Face2Face Way

Working the code... pic by Juehua Yin on Flickr, CC BY NC SA.2-

Working the code…
pic by Juehua Yin on Flickr, CC BY NC SA.2-

As many of you know, in spring 2015 we ran an altered version of our very successful project “Mechanical MOOC”.  At the heart of this MOOC we offered a course titled  A Gentle Introduction to Python. It is a six week course offering exercises and learning materials from MIT OCW’s course combined with Codecademy exercises that were carefully incorporated into the curriculum of the course. This time around we tried to answer some of the deeper learning hypothesis in particular how to grow academic mindsets during a MOOC.

If you are saying: “OK, but what exactly does that mean?”, here it comes. According to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s research, when learning one needs to increase the sense of the following in order to achieve that deeper learning:

  1. I belong in this academic community (Belonging)
  2. I can succeed at this (Self-efficacy)
  3. My ability and competence grow with my effort (Growth mindset)
  4. This work has value for me (Relevance)
Map of participants' locations

Map of participants’ locations

There were a few things that we changed on the course in comparison to previous iterations in order to increase deeper learning of people who took this course, such as:

  • Location – When learners signed up, we introduced them to a global map where each of the learners could set their own location. This way people had a sense that they are a part of global community and also get the feeling of the existence of the fellow co-learners in their local vicinities.
  • Introductions – To increase the sense of belonging in the course community we asked learners to introduce themselves to others and share their stories about why they want to learn about programming with Python.
  • Working on a project – Continuation is nice, so we also extended the curriculum of the course for learning to happen through work on a project and this left learners with a nice game of Tetris in the end.
  • Community -We made it our business to constantly remind learners to support each other through community space that was opened for them. Each of the learner received two emails per week into their inbox. One informed them of the materials for that particular week and other encouraged them to seek and give support to each other in various ways.
  • Finding out the interesting stuff about the topic you learn – One of the ways of connecting with each other was invitation to search and share for programs that were built with the language they are learning. They were asked to share a Python project that they know of or they could find on the internet and are at least a bit familiar with it prior to taking this course. We called this activity a Python Safari.
  • Goals – One way to achieve a goal is to break it into few micro goals and then slowly take one by one. With this in mind we asked learners to do this, share their goals for a week with others and then speak to each other about the goals and the ways to achieve them.
  • Failing party – As long as there is learning, there will always be failing too and we made sure that learners knew that failing is part of learning process and we need to celebrate it just the same. We introduced an activity called a Fail Party for this reason. In this activity we invited them to share about their fail and talk about why they think they are failing


P2P done F2F

Historically we have been advocates for online learning, but per our name we have also been strong advocates for peer learning. As our strategy says we wish to teach people to get the most out of their time studying in order to really learn and improve their lives. What better way of achieving that, then to do a great online course together with peers in a study group, or as we like to call it, Learning Circle?

For this course we invited everyone to try and find folks near them, who want to learn Python as well and organize their own Learning Circle. We provided some guidelines for everyone on how to do that.

In the end 3 Learning Circles happened during the course(that we are aware of!). Places where they were held were:

Three different continents! That is pretty sweet.

The facilitators of these Learning Circles couldn’t be more different to each other. Hamish and Erika were well-versed in computer science but Emily had no experience and knowledge about programming from before. All of their experiences with facilitation of the Learning Circle was  interesting, but one difference really stood out:  While Emily wished she would know more about programming and be able to help learners more, Erika wished she would know less about it, so other participants in the Learning Circle would not look her way every time a hurdle needed to be jumped over. To support each other more.

We found that a lot of the time learners are reserved about helping one another when they feel that their level of knowledge is not up to par. That happens especially, when there is an expert in the room. The fear of being judged and being wrong is always present.

With that experience it is safe to say that a little bit of facilitator’s knowledge about the topic is a good thing, but a lot of knowledge is not so much.

Midway through the course we organized a facilitator’s meeting, where all of the facilitators could share experiences from their group and ask for advice, if they needed some realignment. This meeting provided a lot of insight into what are the expectations of learners coming to the Learning Circles.It was very productive gathering for us, as we also got a lot of feedback from facilitators on the structure of the course and in particular got direct information about experiences of the course takers.

For that reason we didn’t want to leave out the people who could not join face to face Learning Circles, so we also invited Glenn Richards, who is a champion of the online community. He was ever so helpful for his fellow learners, with the course content or just sparking up the conversations about it. In the future we hope to meet many more Glenns!

It seems that very traditional way of learning, where there is a teacher in the middle of the process, is deeply rooted in our society, however as a cognitive beings, we are very quick to embrace different ways of learning as for example peer learning.

Peer learning FTW!


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