Badges / Collaboration / Commons / Data / Education

P2PU and Crowdcrafting: Building the Future of Open

Peer to Peer University (P2PU) and Crowdcrafting are both ways in which we can better leverage the potential of our numbers and make a difference in the world.  I’ve been known to evangelize a tool or idea before, but these two are different: they’re as open as it gets.


Last March at the Digital Media and Learning (DML) Conference, I heard about Open Badges.  A number of groups were awarded grants by HASTAC (funded through the MacArthur Foundation) to build a badge-friendly learning platform.  One of them was P2PU.

I thought little of it, and kept moving. Flash forward to September, eight months later.  In planning for September’s week-long Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki, I read through the research/education stream, planning out where I wanted to spend my time (while not helping out behind the scenes).  Creative Commons, P2PU, and OKFN were leading a session. Hmm…CC and P2PU are buds?  That makes sense.  I should probably try to meet them.

Helsinki Rail Station

Phillip Schmidt (the Shuttleworth Fellow, co-founder of P2PU, badge-grant recipient, and recent Joi Ito-invited MIT Innovator in Residence) took a few minutes to let me pick his brain about where to look for projects to join.  He’s really got something here, and I’m surprised I didn’t see it sooner.  But I also got to chat with the CC folks who were helping lead the session.  As it turns out, one of CC’s staff works full-time on a school within P2PU, the School of Open, which is the reason they were there: to run a course hackathon.  Split into three groups, each with their own topic, we built the framing for some courses on P2PU.  Here’s the description of the session, written by CC’s Jessica Coates.

What is it, anyways?  P2PU is a platform on which anyone can build online courses and/or challenges, cooperatively creating content, guiding design of the peer-based assessments, and overall structure for challenges.  All this done easily, cooperatively.  Want to see what a good one looks like?  Check out Mozilla’s Webmaker Courses.

But what makes a good one?  It’s simple, actually.  You just have to want to learn about a topic.  The P2PU platform uses an open-source back end (web framework, all code on Github) and approaches the idea that peers can learn together as well as assess each other’s performance.  Did you hear that?  Yes, we “grade” each other (for lack of a better word).  While there are guideline for courses built by communities, you can literally walk onto the platform and thrown down the basics of what you want to know about a topic and then bring others in to explore the topic with you.  In learning the subject of your course, you build out instructional materials organized in a way that will guide others through the learning process. You learn about something you’re interested in, then leave a trail (the course) showing how you learned it (with your peers).  Then you can help award badges to other learners who complete your course, proving their knowledge.  You heard it, badges.

You’ll be awarding badges to others.  I’m sitting on the list of people who have completed Leah MacVie’s Badges101 challenges, having completed her course.  Now I’m occasionally asked to review the work of others as more people complete the challenge.  Badge-earning candidates need reviews with high ratings from course alumni, which offers validity to the badges earned.  More people will take the course, growing the base of proficient learners.  Then as more participants take the course (it’s free, after all), they review the course materials as they use them, and remix them as needed.  The course iterates organically, the quality and accuracy maintained by a community of people who have now become knowledgeable on the topic.  And the course content is openly-licensed by default, adding to the commons.  Ever heard of OER?

Not long ago when I was still working at the University of Hawaii, I spent countless hours flogging through the school’s content management system, trying to help professors get their online and face-to-face courses set up.  The system was rough, really rough.  I learned what worked and was intuitive.  A lot of it was not.  A lot of the “features” and “functions” were clunky, unpredictable, or just crossed a line in the digital space where it wasn’t worth the work for professors to monkey with it.  Those experiences moulded the way I approach course-building tools like P2PU.  And if I can’t recommend it to someone who may actually use it, I won’t do it.  P2PU, however, is something I use, and I think you might like it, too.


Crowdcrafting logo

Now about this next awesome thing.  It’s called Crowdcrafting, and it’s an open source project being worked on by the folks over at the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Citizen Cyberscience Centre.  Built as a pretty face on top of the PyBossa framework, they have templatized projects wherein you invite human participants to help with tasks computers can’t do yet.  Ever seen that neat-o WebGL globes that shows data points on an interactive globe?  They look like this (click to go to the site where you can swirl it around):

Google WebGL Globe

Did you click thru to the Google page and play with the globe? Ok, go do that now and come back. I’ll wait.

Crowdcrafting frames up projects for you to build data that can be applied to other web-based data visualization (and manipulation) tools like that web-based map of awesomeness.  The demo type of project suggested on Crowdcrafting is one for geo-tagging urban parks, with data points (geographic coordinates) submitted by users.  But really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg…you can take their open-source project documentation and code and build what you want with it, framing new ways you can crowdsource data.

It differs from things like mechanical turk in that there’s no compensation-handling functions built in.  It’s made to support crowdsourcing, but for the purpose of building the commons and supporting open innovation, not making money.  And when you consider the upswing in interest in contributing to the digital commons (there are now more than 500million CC-licensed works, alone), this platform has potential to really catch on.  People will be adding to the commons with datasets made possible by humans working together.  And they’ll be helping frame projects that will build our understanding of the world, the access to which could very well mean greater global literacy for many people.  I like the sound of that.

yellow flower

image by Doug8888 / CC BY NC SA

So there are two really neat new(ish) platforms that have lots of potential.  But I couldn’t help but wonder what could be possible if you were to combine the P2PU course-building platform and the Crowdcrafting data-sourcing platform?  What about data-driven science?  Science concepts could be built into modules and challenges, and students could coordinate the crowdsourcing of data that help them understand them.  My initial thoughts are mainly about how one might teach natural science with these tools, but the code for both platforms is open…so the sky’s the limit.  Take it, hack it, build something neat, and share it on GitHub for others to build on, too.

And I fully understand if both platforms seem a little rough around the edges or a little abstract at first.  It’s doesn’t hurt to poke around and see what catches your eye.  But if you’re interested in seeing the generation of “open” pushing things forward, you don’t have to look much further than P2PU and Crowdcrafting.

2 thoughts on “P2PU and Crowdcrafting: Building the Future of Open

  1. A great deal of learning in an organization is informal. I’d love to see how a P2PU platform can be used or even home-grown behind the firewall in a large organization that uses a private enterprise social media platform for its intranet. Add Neil Lasher’s Environment Model ( to that with the Experience API (Tin Can) as the foundation for tracking and directing user learning experiences and I can only imagine how that might positively affect the rate of adaptation and innovation in the business world. Thanks for sharing, Billy. I love reading your blog!

    • Hi Christine, so glad that you enjoy the posts on my blog. Yes, informal learning is proving to be useful in many ways, and it’d be interesting to see how a P2PU-like platform could support internal development in large organizations. Thanks for commenting!

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