Blog Post

An Ever-Expanding Discussion with Nils Peterson

On more than one occasion, in more than one HASTAC blog or discussion, scholars, participants, and facilitators have often touched upon questions of access and effective learning.  How can we incorporate technology into the classroom without adding it for the sake of adding it?  How can using various forms of digital assessments, skills building exercises, and recr-E-ational tools make us better educators and our students stronger thinkers and doers inside and outside of the classroom? 

The Peer-to-Peer Pedagogy: Workshop on Collaborative Learning Across Disciplines, Ages, and Institutions in Higher Education, next Friday, 10 Sept., at Duke University, was envisioned to address these concerns while leaving room for the introduction of suggestions and solutions from participants.  Officially an un-conference, the P3 will convene all manner of folks to discuss and dismantle, evaluate and elevate.  I was jazzed about being asked to interview UnPanelist Nils Peterson a featured speaker at P3 and an educator who has advocated technology in and out of the classroom for more than 25 years; currently, he is Assistant Director at the Office of Assessment and Innovation at Washington State University.

Nils took the barrage of questions I sent him and turned them into a longer discussion on his blog, Community-based Learning with the intent to facilitate feedback and ideas with a larger group of potential participants. 

Nils is working to address learning and technology from both within and outside of the universitys hallowed halls.  In the run-up to P3, the conversation between Nils and I has evolved to include more questions and answers, references to authors, texts, and studies that can prove helpful to educators, and scholars at all levels of tech knowledge. 

Ive included three of the questions I asked him, here (with edited-for-length versions of his answers).   To see or be a part of the larger conversation taking on his blog, please visit: 


What do you believe are the challenges and barriers entry scholars will have to navigate as they attempt to make a lifelong career in the Academy? 


In a 2007 conversation with Dennis Haarsager, Interim CEO of National Public Radio, he described the Internet as anti-scarcity, its about information abundance. The way to obtain value is not in controlling a scarce resource, the value is to be had in the ability to extract value from the mass of information, by organizing it, filtering it, chunking it What he called an information  [organization] theory of value. I believe that the shift from information scarcity to information abundance, and from scarcity of feedback from a community of practice to abundance of feedback alters the dynamic of the university as an institution and the role of the new scholar seeking to make a career there.

The Academy is a concept from a time of information scarcity that needs to adapt itself to the world of information abundance.  [T]he new scholar needs to understand new norms and practices related to information abundance. One of these, I think, is teaching in public, with a community involved in giving feedback to learners. Cathy Davidson has explored one aspect of public teaching, crowdsourcing grading
here and here. The HASTAC P3 event will be a place to further explore the implications of crowd sourcing feedback and how to use that feedback to credential learning in a community.



What do you hope will be accomplished at P3? What is your goal for your appearance at the conference? 


I feel like the open learning, peer pedagogy landscape is loosely defined and rapidly changing and I hope to come away with some ideas about where the clusters of agreement lie in this terrain.  My colleagues and I at Washington State University Office of Assessment and Innovation have been approaching this conversation with an eye to two contexts:

  1. The need to expand higher learning opportunities in the developing world is so large that it challenges historic thinking about brick and mortar institutions. John Seely Brown, Don Tappscott and others are talking about this challenge. Some of our analysis of this context is here.
  2. The other context (given our assessment/accountability role at WSU) is the increasing press for accountability and the rising volume in the discussion at national levels about the failures of US higher education to be accountable for its students learning outcomes. See this stream of bookmarks on the topic maintained by Gary Brown.

In that context, weve been looking at how Personal Learning Environments, or student-owned ePortfolios, can facilitate learning among communities (including peers) and how the learning in those contexts can be credentialed.  A condensation of some of that thinking appears in our discussion of our emerging understanding of an ePortfolio.


One of the things I hope to get from the P3 conversation is more personal clarity on the ideas in this 4 models figure that we created to think about the changing roles of the university as it moves from traditional brick and mortar, with traditional accountability, to a problem-based curriculum in peer-to-peer university with community-based accountability and credentialing. Along with the four models figure, we created a self-assessment to help clarify the conversation about where each of us in on an institution- vs community-based learning spectrum.

You can find out more about Nils and the P3 conference here: 


See you next week in North Carolina!



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