Last week I had the privilege of visiting the Met School in Providence, RI and spending the day with legendary educator Dennis Littky, his team, and his Big Picture Learning students both at the Met and the new College Unbound program. Dennis and I have been talking about the best ways to tap into the tech tools available to enhance and inform his high-touch, personal-development approach to education, which focuses on the whole student and on getting the student out into the community to learn from everyone and everything they come across and pursue their passions. I was so struck by the respect that everyone in his learning communities showed each other. He’s sending one of his team members to Mozilla Drumbeat in Barcelona next week.

I fortuitously happened to be there on the day of the college students’ Midterm Exhibition. Michael McCarthy, a College Unbound student in his late 20s who is an Afghan war vet, produced this video as part of his exhibition. It is stunningly high quality and lays out the challenges facing everyone who is concerned with the intersection of ed and tech so very well. His thinking is several steps ahead of the majority of administrators & teachers I’ve talked to. I am hoping that everyone who reads this blog wants to help him out with his project–I know I do.

Server Dude
Image of P2PU class “Draw the Internet” assignment, via JohnDBritton on Flickr.

In preparation for the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival next month (coming up in just 13 days!! whoo hoo!!) i’ve been conducting preview interviews with participants. The best of these, as well as other Q&As, blog posts, Tweets, speeches, essays, and other contributions, will eventually go into the Festival Report, which I’ve been describing as a “quickbook.” It’s faster, looser, and more open than my normal writing methods–entirely fitting that all these experiments in open learning and teaching should be documented in a way that’s itself an experiment.

A couple of weeks I interviewed John D Britton, a programmer, champion couchsurfer and Bar Camp participant who got pulled into open ed more or less through this blog post.
I also dropped in on his P2PU/Mozilla School of Webcraft class, “Anatomy of A Web Request,” and talked over video chat to students from all over North and South America.

When I asked about his methods for teaching a P2PU class, Britton countered, “I tend not to use the term ‘teach’. I’m a facilitator. Part of the philosophy of P2PU is that everybody is equally responsible for their learning.” Still, he said, breaking out of that old paradigm–and figuring out what to keep from it– is an evolving process. His first P2PU course, “Mashing Up the Open Web,” he said, took far too much time. “I was online holding office hours every Sunday from 10 to noon. I was the single point of failure for the course–it was very top down, very traditional, and hard to keep up with.” In his current class, he’s giving the students more responsibility for discussing amongst themselves and critiquing each other, although as the facilitator he’s still responsible for giving out assignments and, importantly, imposing due dates. The due date, it turns out, is one aspect of the traditional education experience that’s still essential in the peer-to-peer learning world.

Britton, who dropped out of college himself and works for a company called Twilio, loves leading P2PU classes because, “Teaching something is the best way to learn.” For his next P2PU course he’s really putting that philosophy into practice. The topic is window farming, which he describes as “totally out of my knowledge domain… I want to learn how to do it, so I might as well document it and learn it with a bunch of other people.” Right on!