Chapter 3: Peer-Guided Learning at Scale

What were your biggest takeaways from the third of the Three Genres of Learning at Scale in Part 1? Do you have any experience with Networked Learning Communities? Which ones and how do they align or differ from the research presented?

I found this chapter very interesting as I have some experience with SCRATCH and with creating networked learning communities.

Though the book mainly discusses Khan Academy’s math exercises, Khan Academy also has a coding platform (for ProcessingJS, HTML, and SQL). When the coding platform was first launched many years ago, it only enabled peer-guided learning. Ambitious learners could check out other learner’s programs, ask them questions, and read the documentation. Some of them made amazing programs with just that level of support. However, for many folks that were completely new to text-based coding, a blank editor was incredibly intimidating. So we developed courses to teach programming. The courses give students more structured ways of checking their knowledge (via peer-evaluated projects and auto-graded challenges which allow for creativity thanks to wildcards in the graders), but learners can also leave at any time and be peer-led, whatever works for them. When we added courses, we saw significantly more learning time overall happening in programming.

SCRATCH is a less intimidating environment, being block-based, so it is much easier for learners to explore. Just drag some blocks around and see what happens! However, as the chapter alludes, learners need to have some level of devotion and interest to do that exploring. When I volunteered in a SCRATCH coding club, many of the students happily did that exploring, but the students that were the lowest in confidence (who literally told me “I’m too dumb”) were more likely to give up and play video games. I never figured out how to break through to those students, so I hope that one day they discover a style of learning coding that works for them.

That’s one of the great things about the web- there are such a range of ways to learn programming, so hopefully when one style doesn’t work for someone, they can try out another style instead. That’s what I often tell folks who are struggling with learning to code - don’t be discouraged if a particular language/course doesn’t work for you, consider trying other a few options as well.

(The hard part is when a teacher wants to try to find one option that works for all students so that they can track progress or assess uniformly…)

I was wondering if Stack Overflow was going to get mentioned, and it did at the very end. I wonder if exploring the whole “egotistical mansplaining dominance tendencies” of online communities was considered :wink:
In 1998 there was a “bulletin board” at LDOnline and it was a thriving community where people would ask questions about whatever – a lot of reading information, lots of general stuff about learning disabilities… “Surfin’ Sally” would share links … there were about 6 of us who were frequent posters. We had a primitive trolling thing when the authors of a book about learning to read with a cult following (when the author posted that another method had folks “tappnig out the syllables to Hit-ler, Hit-Ler” I knew what we were dealing with…) tried to jump in on every reading question promoting themselves, we successfully did more distractions and discussions and in a few months they were gone. (I’m not sure that could happen with the wider, more botted web of today.) Alas, WETA changed the format so it was harder to navigate and … the community stopped growing. It was a huge lesson in how important it is for novices to be able to get in and be welcomed.
From the book: " “One of the signature design challenges of peer-guided learning environments is to figure out how to make them more accessible to novices without turning them into instructor-led learning environments.”
Having folks who’ve dedicated themselves to Being THe ONes To Answer THe Same Newbie Questions In A Friendly Way ForEver… I think this can be the difference between LDOnLine and Stack Overflow.
I wonder if there will be discussion later of the online communities like Stack Overflow that have point systems. The Canvas LMS also had a thing like this and that community, when I lurked there, was amazing and I hope it still is. There were folks who answered the same questions (“why can’t we copy quizzes?”) for years, without making the questioner feel like an idiot.
I also wonder if there aren’t even more creative ways to encourage engagement. Strava seems to have a working thing happening…

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I think the structure of courses is a real draw – and wonder if there are creative ways to keep people engaged. FreeCodeCamp is another environment where people can learn coding and ask questions.

A line that really struck me during the recording was when Mitch said that - I think I, I got involved because it made sense to me that I should have known about the idea of using technology to be used for just delivering instruction or to you know to ask a quick question to get a response. Now it was talking about, of giving us the opportunity to learn through creating things and experimenting exploring. At some of that appealed to me, it felt to me it wasn’t just a good strategy for learning new things. There’s also very humanistic way is the right way to treat people. That’s the way I want children to grow up in the world. I found that appealing example in those early stages.

I think I completely agree to this idea, this is the right way to treat people, learners. Unfortunately so may of our Ed-Tech products and conversations are still about videos and MCQs. Are there Ed-Tech companies and schools which take a stand on this is the right way to treat people?

To add another perspective, I have never asked a question on StackOverflow but I have found answers to tens of questions. The flow is generally that I’m working on a project, get stuck or don’t know how to do something and I google a questions, generally of the template 'how to in <this tool/language>. That is still a very useful resource, especially for supporting project/passion based learning. But of course that begs the question, what do you do when a kid says I don’t care about anything/I don’t want to do anything.

Pretty much that’s how most people use it, I think, assuming that if they make the mistake of asking a question (if you’re new, you simply get roasted and mocked even if it’s a reasonable question) they recognize you have to figure out how to search out what you’re looking for (if you’re new you might not have the complete vocabulary). I felt like I’d reached a pinnacle when I had a question that because of it’s weird specificity had not been answered and I asked it and got answered. (I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t have evidence of being there a while I’d have been roasted anyway…)
Communities like Free Code Camp are so much healthier :wink: