Learn almost anything to do with the open web

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One of the things that I love most about Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) is the  support for both practical, career-oriented courses such as Copyright for Educators and the slightly more offbeat, interest driven courses like an Introduction to Cyberpunk Literature. We provide open, free access and new opportunities to learn core skills for people’s professional practice, but the peer-driven nature of P2PU’s community learning environment also brings people together around more obscure topics they’re incredibly passionate about and which aren’t taught in most traditional universities. I like to think that we’re providing access to the “Long Tail of Learning”.

The idea of learning style, access and choice that P2PU encourages is something that’s communicated quite well in the tag-line: “Learning for everyone, by everyone, about almost anything“. As a content department within P2PU, the School of Webcraft also supports both core, web-development skills targeted at a general audience and targeted niche topics that only interest a passionate subset of developers. We can just take the P2PU tag line and amend it to say:

“Learning for everyone, by everyone, about almost anything to do with open web development

We do have some rough guidelines that help us define what are the “almost anythings” that can be learnt in the School of Webcraft:

  • Courses should be relevant to web development practice and explore either practical skills or background knowledge.
  • Project output should run natively in a browser (without plugins) and be supported by open server technology.
  • Skill development should explore open and standards-based web technologies
  • Participants should be able to freely and openly access learning materials
    • course content, tutorials and videos shouldn’t be hidden behind a paywall.
  • Technologies used to implement course activities should be freely and openly accessible
    • participants shouldn’t need to rely on proprietary software or source code
  • A course idea can be as small as exploring a question about the open web.
  • Course organisers don’t need to be experts, but they do need to be passionate about their topic and willing to organise their course and facilitate others in a shared learning journey.

Based on these guidelines we’ve already had proposals for some amazing courses including PHP Web Application Security, jQuery~For the Love of DollarPHP, Databases and the OpenWeb, Alt Text & Universal Design and From GIMP to xHTML and CSS.

If you’ve been following our twitter feed (#webcraft) you’ll have also seen that we’re looking for people to run practical courses in JavaScript and Accessibility that will have assessment support to a very topical course exploring “The Technology of WikiLeaks”. You can even choose to take over the facilitation of  a course that ran in  September’s pilot round of the School of Webcraft.

We’re still accepting proposals from volunteer organisers for January’s courses, so no matter how obscure, fascinating, practical or tedious they may be, we’d love to hear your course idea.

On having to choose participants

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I’ve just been working through the applications made for the Web Development 101 course that I’m running as part of the pilot round of the School of Webcraft.

Wow.

I’ve got applications from a range of people from locations as diverse as  USA, South Africa and Senegal who spend their time as pastors, students, educators, musicians, translators. The one thing that they have in common is that they all want to learn web development, whether it’s to develop a website for their business, to communicate better with their community, or because they want to start working towards a full-time career within the industry.

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed though, when I made the shortlist of applicants who’ll be able to participate in video seminars, I had twice the number of people I felt comfortable directly teaching.   In the end I chose people whose energy and enthusiasm for the topic and who were eager to share their learning with others:

As I read through everyone’s descriptions I think there is a lot to be learned from other people’s projects…

I am aspiring to get into the web design / development world and I think this course would prove an invaluable starting point. Please accept my application!

For two months, I have been patiently waiting for this course to enroll :))

I am very interested in meeting and participating with people who are in similar situations, and I am very interested in web standards and Doing It Right™

Luckily though, the P2PU system is flexible enough that people who aren’t able to make it to video seminars can still watch session archives and participate with each other in the forums. Already, the energy within the message board of the Web Development 101 Community is exciting. I’m looking forward to encouraging these discussions and building the greater School of Webcraft community in the longer term.

To put the future into context we had over 300 applications made for the 12 core Webcraft courses on offer within Peer 2 Peer University, and we applicants had just  a week to get their applications in!  I can’t even begin to imagine what this process will be like in 12 months when we reach the end of our initial roadmap – we’re aiming to have 10000 active community members and 250 courses per round!

The future is exciting, but I am so proud of our humble beginning.

Let the learning begin!

Last days: School of Webcraft’s Pilot round!

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It’s the final day to sign up for courses running in Peer 2 Peer University’s (P2PU) September 2011 round of courses. This also marks the final day to get involved in the pilot web development courses for the Mozilla School of Webcraft.

I always felt that the School of Webcraft was a brilliant idea – I volunteered to run a course as soon as I heard about it and eventually ended up with a rather excellent job working on the project. I’m a geek who’s worked as an educator, programmer and web developer, and I’m a fan of alternative, non-formal learning models. What’s not to like?

Get this: how about we use the power of peer-based learning as a way to bring together experienced web developers with total beginners, and let them learn about standards-based open-web development? Oh, and we’ll offer these classes online, to a global audience, for free and we’ll have the backing of the Mozilla Foundation.

Awesome.

What’s also awesome is the level of response we’ve had from applicants who are desperate to learn the basics of making websites.  I knew and felt that it was a good idea, but I really knew it we were doing the right thing when I started talking with one of the applicants for my Web Development 101 course.

I really *was* amazed to find that the local colleges and universities don’t teach web development skills. I thought heck, that’s got to be an undergrad course, or something I might find at the night class level at the community college (filed under “continuing education” or “career building”). No such luck.

Well, it might be that colleges and universities aren’t providing people with a way to learn web development skills, but P2PU and Mozilla School of Webcraft are. So check out the course list and make an application:  If you’re not lucky enough to get involved in a class this round, we’ll have a new round of even more courses listed in January 2o11.

The Craft of Facilitating (Online and Beyond)

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A few weeks ago I started working as the project lead and course wrangler for the Mozilla Drumbeat project, the P2PU School of Webcraft. I’m still reeling from the coolness of being able to combine my interests in technology, the open web, open and alternative education and amazing people into one amazing job.

Despite getting the chance to visit Vancouver and Whistler in British Columbia, Canada for the Mozilla Summit where I met some amazing Mozillians, Drumbeaters and P2PUers in person, most of my encounters with volunteers, peers and colleagues take place online. We use mailing lists, wikis, Skype and community calls as the primary means of communication and while it is amazing how technology has brought us closer together, we still have to communicate and listen and get through agendas and make decisions.  That’s difficult enough in real life. Via electronic media, regardless of the synchronicity, this can be very difficult.

I’m still getting used to the collaborative nature of wikis, and learning to deal with the pauses that need to happen on conference calls to signal that someone’s finished speaking and that there’s a gap free for the next person to speak into. In some ways I wish for the traditions of CB radio where someone says “Over” to convey that they’ve finished what they needed to say.

So, recognising that I need to lead online meetings, and will be working over mailing lists and forums to come to decisions, and will be both leading and assisting in the running of online courses, getting better at this facilitation things sounds like a great idea.  Which is why I’ll be experimenting with more online learning of my own in the form of the Facilitating Online course run by Otago Polytechnic through wikieducator.org.