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Peeragogy

Motivation

This pattern is relevant to anyone who wants to do active learning together with others in a relatively non-hierarchical setting.

Context

Collaborative projects like Wikipedia, StackExchange, and FLOSS represent an implicit challenge to the old “industrial” organization of work. This new way of working appears to promise something more resilient, more exciting, and more humane. The rhetoric has been questioned [3,9]. In and across these “free”, “open”, post-modern organizations, individual participants are learning [7] – and that they collectively change the methods and infrastructure as they go. Because everyone in these projects primarily learns by putting in effort on a shared work-in-progress, participants are more in touch with an equality of intelligence than an inequality of knowledge [4:38, 119]. At the same time, they invoke a form of friendly competition, in which the best craftmanship wins [5:89].

Forces

image Threshold: inclusiveness and specificity are in tension.
image Trust: is only built through sharing and reciprocity.

Problem

Even a highly successful project like Wikipedia is a work in progress that can be improved to better empower and engage people around the world, to develop richer and more useful educational content, and to disseminate it more effectively – and deploy it more creatively.1 How to go about this is a difficult question, and we don’t know the answers in advance. There are rigorous challenges facing smaller projects as well, and fewer resources to draw on. Many successful free software projects are not particularly collaborative – and the largest projects are edited only by a small minority of users [2,10]. Can we work smarter together?

Solution

The act of asking “can we work smarter together?” puts learning front and center. Peeragogy takes that “center” and distributes it across a pool of heterogeneous relationships. Indeed, peeragogy can be understood as an up-to-date revision of Alexander’s Network of Learning [1:99]. It decentralizes the process of learning and enriches it through contact with many places and people in interconnected networks that may reach all over the world. Importantly, while people involved in a peeragogical process may be collaborating on A specific project, they don’t have to be direct collaborators outside of the learning context or co-located in time or space. Just as theories and practices of pedagogy articulate the transmission of knowledge from teachers to students, peeragogy articulates the way peers produce and use knowledge together (Figure [fig:connections]).

Rationale

The peeragogical approach particularly addresses the problems of small projects stuck in their individual silos, and large projects becoming overwhelmed by their own complexity. It does this by going the opposite route: explicating what by definition is tacit and employing a continuous design process [8:9–10]. As Howard Rheingold remarks in the foreword to the Peeragogy Handbook: “What made this work? Polycentric leadership is one key” [6:iii]. “Peer-led” shouldn’t suggest that there are no leaders: rather, it means that multiple leaders act as peers.

Resolution

Peeragogy helps people in different projects describe and solve real problems. If you share the problems that you’re experiencing with others, there’s a reasonable chance that someone may be able to help you solve them. Bringing a problem across the threshold of someone else’s awareness helps achieve clarity. This process can guide individual action in ways that we wouldn’t have seen on our own, and may lead to new forms of collective action we would never have imagined possible. People who gain experience comprehending problems together build trust. Making room for multiple right answers contributes further to resolving the tension between generality and specificity.

Example 1

Wikipedia and its sister sites Wiktionary, Wikiversity, etc. (collectively “Wikimedia”) rely on user-generated content, peer produced software, and are managed, by and large, by a pool of users who choose to get involved with governance and other “meta” duties.2 The Wikimedia Foundation maintains the servers and acts on behalf of this “global movement”. They achieve something quite impressive: Wikipedia is the 7th most popular website in the world, but the Wikimedia Foundation has under 300 employees. For comparison, the 6th (Amazon) and 8th (QQ) most popular websites are run by companies with over 200K and 28K employees, respectively.3,4,5,6

image Observatory : Space Surveillance Telescope, New Mexico.

Example 2

Although one of the strengths of Peeragogy is to distribute the workload, this does not mean that infrastructure is irrelevant. The students and researchers of the future university will need access to an Observatory and other scientific apparatus if they are to reach ad astra, per aspera (Figure 1).7

What’s Next in the Peeragogy Project*

We intend to revise and extend the Patterns of Peeragogy into a framework that can describe and scaffold the learning that happens inside and outside of institutions.

References

  1. Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein. 1977. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

  2. Benjamin Mako Hill. 2011. When Free Software Isn’t (Practically) Better. Retrieved from http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/when_free_software_isnt_practically_better.html

  3. Daniel Kreiss, Megan Finn, and Fred Turner. 2011. The limits of peer production: Some reminders from Max Weber for the network society. New Media & Society 13, 2: 243–259.

  4. Jacques Rancière. [1987] 1991. The ignorant schoolmaster: Five lessons in intellectual emancipation. Stanford University Press.

  5. Eric S Raymond. 2001. The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and open source by an accidental revolutionary. O’Reilly Media, Inc.

  6. H. Rheingold and others. 2015. The Peeragogy Handbook. PubDomEd/Pierce Press, Chicago, IL./Somerville, MA. Retrieved from http://peeragogy.org

  7. J. P. Schmidt. 2009. Commons-Based Peer Production and education. Free Culture Research Workshop, Harvard University: 1–3. Retrieved from http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/fcrw/sites/fcrw/images/Schmidt_Education_FreeCulture_25Oct2009.pdf

  8. Till Schümmer, Joerg M Haake, and Wolfgang Stark. 2014. Beyond rational design patterns. Proceedings of the 19th european conference on pattern languages of programs, ACM, 13 pp.

  9. Aaron Shaw and Benjamin Mako Hill. 2014. Laboratories of Oligarchy?: How the iron law extends to peer production. Journal of Communication 64, 2: 215–238.

  10. Aaron Swartz. 2006. Who Writes Wikipedia? Retrieved from http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/whowriteswikipedia


Notes

  1. https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Mission_statement 

  2. https://www.wikimedia.org/ 

  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation#Employees 

  4. http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=97664&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=2100418 

  5. https://www.google.com/finance?cid=695431 

  6. http://www.alexa.com/topsites 

  7. Latin: “With difficulty, to the stars.”