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From One-to-one to Many-to-many: Powering peer learning in open learning environments

By Preetha Ram / October 2013

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  • Tue, 05 Nov 2013
    Post by e.mccormick

    Preetha asked me to comment a little on OpenStudy because I am very active there.

    OS, to me, is a way that people can do proper peer tutoring when the limits of work, school, and so on make it so they can't use the tutoring center. This makes it a valuable resource to working college students. It also is a great place for teens that don't quite get what they need in high school.

    OS is more than this. It is a community. Like all communities it has its ups and downs. There are people that contribute a lot and others that come for the chat bar. People make friendships. They make mistakes. They laugh and cry sometimes. This adds a bit of personal contact that is regularly missing on video lectures and bland informational sites.

    There is also a regular push in this community for people to use the educational aspects of the site by having a strong, positive group of people. These are the Ambassadors and Moderators. Ambassadors are mostly teens and have been recognized by OpenStudy as being contributing members. They greet people and encourage the proper use of the site. Moderators do those same things, but most are a bit older and they also have the power to warn and suspend people from the site.

    Moderators are not the police of OpenStudy. In fact, OS is self policing. If several people see something bad and report it, the user they report can be suspended. Because moderators have shown a certain level of regard for the rules and understanding of the community, they have been recognized with the ability to suspend without any added help. Also, all moderator actions are known by other moderators, making them a cohesive team.

    This makes much of OS a place that is both by and for the users. While the company created the platform for the community and the basic rules, it is the community itself that shares those rules, participates in learning, and moderates its activities. This makes for a learning environment that has its own cultural values. New members get exposed to those values and generally improve in their conduct.

    OS also ends up confronting other issues.

    For reasons that are beyond me, our school system is focused on testing. Back to the time of John Amos Comenius and the very origins of public education is has been known that education needs to be interesting and fun. Tests are neither of these and drive students to cheat as a way of getting by.

    OpenStudy has its share of people that try to use it to cheat. The response it to discourage direct answers and to engage people. When the learners have to work for the answer and have their mistakes corrected there are many benefits. It also means they are doing the work, and not cheating. For more extreme cases, like people that posts tests, there are the moderators. In fact, many people that try to cheat are caught through reports by their peers.

    All of this shows a trend toward people that are learning together, not just about school, but about life. Being a good citizen of the community is promoted. Leading by example is rewarded. Personal contact is maintained as best as can be through the limits of the medium. All in all that makes OS a very special part of the educational Internet.

    I won't say that OpenStudy is perfect. It is true that unnecessary drama, chat spats, and some academic impropriety slip by. Still, it is a positive community that does not try to teach but rather lets people learn. In a world where teaching has some issues, tools that help learning are much needed. When that tool has communal worth, it becomes a valuable tool indeed.