I just finished a call with Andy Pethan (Olin '11), an old college buddy of mine, who's doing his humanities capstone on education and wanted to learn how to have his work be part of an open source style collaborative community. Andy's already got an interest in open education; he and Colin Zwiebel (Olin '12) gave a talk on open data in education at the LinuxCon 2010 education mini-summit. Now he was looking to apply that to his own project. I typed out some notes during our call and thought they might be of use to others trying to do the same.

What Andy's project is:

Exploring and Evaluating Rapid Teacher Training Programs

"My name is Andy Pethan. I'm a senior at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, MA... Given my interest in education and desire to learn through exploration, I am doing a capstone project in education. My capstone will focus on rapid training programs for young teachers, often aimed at volunteers without a degree in education or teachers certification. This includes the pre-service training and continuous education these young teachers receive. I will focus more on high school teachers than other age groups. [For my final deliverable, I will] design a “teacher boot camp” experience that will give Olin students a set of baseline skills that will allow them to excel early in the classroom and continue to grow in their passion for teaching." -- taken from Andy's wiki notes

What Andy had already done:

Andy had already started a wiki for his work, and licensed everything on it CC-BY-SA, which was a great start. He was using that as a place to point his interviewees to ("here's the material I wrote, do you have any comments?") so he was already thinking about getting feedback and putting resources out in the open. (He did, of course, ask interviewees permission for everything to be online and open-licensed.)

The question was where he could go from there.

My recommendations:

After talking with Andy for a bit about what he was trying to accomplish, we came up with the following strategy.

  1. Migrating his interview notes and curriculum development to Wikieducator. Andy had exactly the right idea in putting his work out on a wiki - but where could he put it up where more people were likely to see it? Wikieducator is an online community of practice that includes many K-12 teachers doing course development with open education resources, both making those resources and sharing tips on how to make and apply them in the classroom. It made sense for Andy to join up with people doing the same sort of thing he was.

    How he migrates things over is going to be important - he can't just dump content online and expect people to pick it up... he needs to figure out how to open a dialog with that community on what he's doing. I suggested messaging their mailing list and saying "hey, I have existing work for an ongoing project - here's my current wiki link - how can I best move it into your community?" and taking the recommendations that followed, because then they'd essentially be teaching him how to participate in their community. End result: openly editable resources in a place where people doing similar things are more likely to run into it and maybe - maybe - pitch in. It's not guaranteed to happen, but it opens up the possibility of you being pleasantly surprised.

  2. Teaching an alpha version of his "teacher bootcamp" as a P2PU course during the second half of term. Instead of being ready to teach his bootcamp at the end of the semester (at which point people usually get hosed and drop things), I told Andy, why not have already taught it? That way you'll know your resource set (on Wikieducator, since you're posting all your materials there) is complete, have feedback from students, have a first run you or others could pick up on. Andy thought this sounded great because it would force him to spend the first half of term preparing for something very concrete, and he would have to be on top of things to deliver a class each week - perfectionism goes out the window when you have to walk into a classroom tomorrow - and there would be real-time feedback from actual users on his deliverables.What's more, since he'd be doing this online, his deliverable could then include a lot of content he wouldn't have to generate himself : student work (all posted under open licenses), logs of his interactions with students on the material... and again, it would give him access to more people to have a dialog with, beyond the group on campus he'll be talking with anyway.

    Finally, all the needed materials for the course would be open content, meaning anyone could learn it in the future without needing to buy expensive books; Andy's using books as his references for making the class, but he'd then write his own notes on the topics and post those as (fair-use) open content files online, so folks could use his notes as a minimum resource that would get them through the class, and then follow up on their own with the books if they were able to and wanted to access topics in more depth than the course covered.

What effect this might have on Andy's work

Once you do these things, I told him, you can look into contacting other places because everything you're doing will be clearly online and readable instead of being stored inside your brain. What about submitting a talk proposal to Big Ideas Fest to present your project, instead of just doing your final presentation to the people in your class? What about getting in touch with the Open High School teachers and interviewing them on how they do classroom management for their online courses, because you'll now be doing a P2PU class? What about looking at the current education-related courses on P2PU and getting in touch with their instructors about how they went about setting up their course material, and if there's anything from their courses you could repurpose for yours, or any of their students who might be interested in your class next term? What about asking the folks you're already interviewing if they'd like to come in and be guest speakers for your class? Poking OERCommons to see if your material is of interest to the teachers they work with?

This would also save him a lot of "conversation-starting" time. Andy's the sort of person who'll walk up to anybody and start talking about the stuff he's working on; his elevator pitches are excellent (I envy them, and need to get him to teach me how to do that), and he can get complete strangers interested in and involved in what he's doing. But he's got to give that startup explanation over and over again. So I pointed out to him that if he's putting his work out there in a way that lets others easily collaborate on it, he could (1) contact the people who spontaneously started helping him and engage with them in real-time discussion - chat, phone, in-person - without needing to explain the project or get them involved/interested, because if they contribute they're already involved and interested - and (2) point new people he'd like to talk with in the direction of those conversations, so they can get up to speed with the sort of dialogues Andy is having with others ahead of time, and jump straight into that when they meet Andy in person without him having to spend 30 minutes explaining the idea of a teacher bootcamp.

His final project proposal is due Tuesday. I'm not sure how many of these recommendations will ultimately end up in Andy's final proposal, but I would love to see that class go up... heck, I would want to take it if he taught it. It's a plus for Andy in terms of concreteness, feedback, and exposure to a lot more people also interested - and more experienced - on the topic; it's a plus for Wikieducator in terms of having more material on it and having that material used by the students of Andy's P2PU class, and it's a plus for P2PU in terms of having yet another excellent course on it.

Any thoughts or further recommendations for Andy?