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Our workshop at the Ashoka U Exchange

February 27, 2012 1 Comment

At the 2012 Ashoka U Exchange, Alan Webb from P2PU, Laura White from Tulane University, and Jenn Fishman from Marquette University ran an hour and a half workshop on peer and DIY learning tools that can be used by university students and faculty.  It was a lot of fun and very productive!

In the spirit of peer learning, the workshop was active and peer-driven. We all walked out of the workshop with something we could do or share to help one another. The effect was especially powerful for some participants who uncovered very deep emotions when the conversation turned to things that really mattered to them and ways they could accomplish some of their goals together. We look forward to doing more of these workshops at different community gatherings, universities, and conferences in the future.

The overall process we used to run this workshop was roughly*:

  • A few weeks before the conference, we started a conversation about the workshop on an online social network tool Ashoka U set up called pathable. We told participants that this workshop would be an opportunity for them to develop their own peer-led courses and asked them to brainstorm some course topics in advance. The community came up with many great ideas, including: engineering for non-engineers, social change theory, and arts for social innovators. The diversity of the suggestions, and excitement about them, helped illustrate that there is a lot of need for this type of learning.
  • Finally, on the day of the workshop, we greeted all participants at the door with a handshake. We informed them that this would be a participant-driven workshop, which meant that they would run the majority of the session. Therefore, we asked them to mingle with each other about what they wanted to learn and what they hoped to get out of our time together.
  • While participants talked at tables, we walked around and made sure groups understood the discussion prompts. After five minutes, we walked around again and recorded ideas for topics people hoped to cover in this workshop. The topics fell into two categories: topics for courses they wanted to brainstorm together that day, or technical issues of peer-led courses at universities (e.g. how to award credit for student-initiated courses).
  • We gave a very brief (~2m) introduction that established why we think P2P and DIY learning is essential if we hope billions of people will educate themselves to their full potential.
  • Next, we shared a list of resources with each table and asked each group to discuss it and add their own resources to it, including themselves if they had some experience they wanted to offer up to others. We promised to add their contributions to the final list we would share with everyone afterwards.
  • We then gave an overview of the many types of peer learning models out there, including peer-led courses, student-faculty co-created courses, peer-advising, DIY learning plans, challenges, mentorships, skillshares, and more. In particular, we gave an overview of our experience with the Citizen Circle model of peer learning.
  • All of that ground was covered very quickly. From that point forward we turned the workshop over to the participants. We asked participants to go to one side of the room if they were interested in talking about technical issues of peer-led courses and to the other side if they were interested in brainstorming actual courses they could go back and create.
  • In the technical details track, Laura facilitated a bigger conversation to get key questions on the table and to start to answer them together. After 15 minutes of initial conversation with the larger group, they decided to break off into smaller groups to use the rest of the time to discuss 1) evaluation of outcomes in peer learning, 2) what teachers could do to support peer learning, and 3) ways to create more physical spaces for peer learning.
  • In the courses track, Jenn invited participants to stand in a circle and shoot out topics for courses they wanted to create. Then participants were invited to move towards ideas that they were attracted to, until we had all formed small clusters. In these clusters, we used the rest of the time to brainstorm ideas for courses they wanted to create, including, for example, creativity and exploration (as a tool for cultural understanding), “making peace” with troubled communities, and industrial arts.
  • We closed by offering that anyone who went back and actually tried something- for example, doing one experiment in peer learning and sharing it with their friends back home- and told us about it, would be featured in our blog.

Jenn, Laura, and I got a lot out of planning this workshop together.  We tried a few techniques we’re sure to use again- for example, the ‘popcorn’ style of suggesting and self-sorting participants into groups.  We also identified things we can improve the next time we are facilitating conversations about DIY and peer learning in universities.  For example, we were prepared to help participants go back and create learning experiences together, but, for the future,  we realized that many in this type of audience would be especially interested in technical issues of organizing peer-learning programs.  In the future, we plan to be prepared to offer more tangible ways to help participants leave with plans to take action toward starting or improving their own programs (not just individual courses) after the workshop.

We look forward to hearing about what impact the workshop had on participants’ lives and their universities!

You can see the full notes here, including the resource lists we handed out (which was added to by the participants).

* You can also see the full agenda we wrote beforehand here, but one should note that this plan required considerable flexibility and improvisation on the fly.

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1 Comment for this entry


February 28th, 2012 on 10:20 am

Thanks for this post. I’m doing a few workshops on peer learning and P2PU and found your ideas very helpful. I especially liked the ‘popcorn’ style of generating ideas.

I hope you’ll follow up with what came after this workshop.

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