Without someone or something acting as the "heartbeat" for the group, energy may dissipate. In the "Collaborative Lesson Planning" course led by Charlie Danoff at P2PU (which I joined twice, and where we first talked through the ideas about paragogy), Charlie wrote individual emails to people who were signed up for the course and who had disappeared, or lurked but didn't participate. This kept some of us (including me!) making positive contributions. - Joe Corneli
"If overstimulation at the sensory level increases the distortion with which we perceive reality, cognitive overstimulation interferes with our ability to 'think.' " –'Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler
At times, a facilitator or participant in the peer-learning enterprise may feel he or she is over-contributing -- or, perhaps more likely, that others are under-contributing -- or that someone else is railroading an idea or dominating the discussion. If this happens, take a step back and observe the dynamics of involvement. Ask questions and let others answer. Especially if you start to feel the symptoms of burnout, it's important that you find the level of engagement that allows you to participate at a level that is feasible for maintaining progress toward the project's goal. Lead by example – but make sure it's someplace you, and others, actually want to go! This could be a good time to revisit the group’s roadmap and see if you can figure out and clarify to others what concrete goal you're working towards. Remember that you can also change the "landscape" by making it easier for other people to get involved -- for example, by explaining what you're trying to do in a clear manner. Watch for opportunities to step back, watch, listen. Try to be mindful of phases when active or quiet involvement would be more helpful to the individual and the group. It's also helpful to let anyone who has taken on a facilitation role know if you're stepping back temporarily. Then, when the time is right, step back in and get to work!
Creating a GuideEdit
Meaning-carrying tools, like handbooks or maps, can help people use an idea. In particular, when the idea or system is only "newly discovered", the associated meanings may not be well understood (indeed they may not have been created). In such a case, the process of creating the guide can go hand-in-hand with figuring out how the system works. Thus, techniques of knowledge cartography and meaning making are useful for would-be guide creators. Even so, it is worth noting that "the map is not the territory," and map-making is only one facet of shared human activity. Collaboratively refining a pattern is itself an example of "Creating a Guide" - that is, a pattern description can be thought of as a "micro-map" of a specific activity.
Discrening a patternEdit
Discerning patterns helps us build our vocabulary or repertoire for peer-learning projects.
[W]e saw that language use is typically what we have to go on, from an analytical perspective. Generally, if we are not starting with language, we arrive at it soon enough. Language becomes something to pay attention to, in much the same way in which Buddhist practitioners have for centuries spent time watching their breath. — From "Paragogical Praxis" by Joe Corneli
The challenge of discerning a peeragogical pattern revolves around a meta-awareness of language. For example, in building a peer learning profile, a participant might identify an interest such as organic gardening. We notice this is a pattern when it repeats; when organic gardening is frequently listed among interests listed by participants in their introductions. The classic example of a pattern is "a place to wait" —a type of space found in many architectural and urban design projects. Once a pattern is detected, give it a title and write down how the pattern works in a peer learning context. What does this pattern say about the self-selection process of the group? Without jumping to conclusions, consider that an interest in organic gardening, for example, might indicate the participants are oriented to cooperation, personal health, or environmental activism (emphasis on might!).
"Why is a fishbowl more productive than debate? The small group conversations in the fishbowl tend to de-personalize the issue and reduce the stress level, making people's statements more cogent. Since people are talking with their fellow partisans, they get less caught up in wasteful adversarial games." - the Co-Intelligence Institute
Participation in online forums tends to follow a "power law," with unequal engagement. One remedy for this is simply for the most active participants to step back, and moderate how much they speak (see Carrying Capacity). OWS uses a similar technique in their "progressive stack."
Unless there is a new person to talk to, a lot of the "education stuff" we do could grow stale. Many of the patterns and use cases for peeragogy assume that there will be an audience or a new generation of learners - hence the drive to create a guide. Note that the newcomer and the wrapper may work together to make the project accessible. Even in the absence of actual newcomers, we're often asked to try and look at things with a "beginner's mind."
Joe Corneli's example evoked my own experience energing the Peeragogy community. As a Peeragogy newcomer, I was kindly welcomed and mentored by Joe, Howard, Fabrizio, and others. I asked naiive questions and was met with patient answers, guiding questions, and resource links. Concurrently, I bootstrapped myself into a position to contribute to the workflow by editing the live manuscript for consistency, style, and continuity. The concrete act of editing and fact-checking this relatively (to me) unfamiliar topic in physical isolation rapidly raised my understanding of the field. I also returned to the Social Media Classroom forums to follow up on early offers of editing help from recently uninvolved particpants, resulting in the rekindled interest of several (if not an overwhelming army) new editors. - Charlotte Pierce (written while editing this page).
I use the idea of a pattern language as a shorthand for what Christopher Alexander talks about in his keynote address for the IEEE in 1996.
In short, once we have come up with enough patterns (including the pattern of a pattern language that I discussing here, and its generalizations per Christopher Alexander), then we will be better able to do both the socio-technical design work associated with planning pæragogical experiences, and, quite likely, enjoy the "actual work" more too.
In this quote from the linked article, C. A. talks about computer programming, but I think the same could go for any other sort of design-and-implementation work:
It is a view of programming as the natural genetic infrastructure of a living world which you/we are capable of creating, managing, making available, and which could then have the result that a living structure in our towns, houses, work places, cities, becomes an attainable thing. That would be remarkable. It would turn the world around, and make living structure the norm once again, throughout society, and make the world worth living in again.This is an extraordinary vision of the future, in which computers play a fundamental role in making the world - and above all the built structure of the world - alive, humane, ecologically profound, and with a deep living structure.
Polling for ideasEdit
... and then Howard said''"At the beginning, until we all know the ropes well enough to understand when to create a new discussion forum topic and when to add to an existing one, let's talk in this topic thread about what else we want to discuss and I will start new topic threads when necessary." Polling for Ideas can happen at many junctures in a peer learning experience, e.g. we could poll for ideas about "who would we like to join our group?", and "what would be good resources for us to use?"
Use or Make?Edit
"Praxis, a noble activity, is always one of use, as distinct from poesis which designates fabrication. Only the former, which plays and acts, but does not produce, is noble."  (p. 101)
19th century collage cards, care of Nick Haus.
There is a tension between "making stuff" (poesis) and "using stuff" (praxis). Peer production, as the name indicates, is about "making stuff." And making stuff can be fun. But we should also ask ourselves, how much new stuff do we really need? There's not a hard and fast answer to that. We should also consider how much "learning" is really "remix" -- that is, re-use and recycling of other people's ideas and techniques.
Understanding and negotiating the tension between reuse and creativity is the key to the art of remix or "paragogical praxis"!
- Baudrillard, J. (1975). The mirror of production. Telos Press
It is very useful to have an up-to-date public roadmap for the project, someplace where it can be discussed and maintained. This helps newcomers see where they can jump in. It also gives a sense of the accomplishments to date, and any major challenges that lie ahead. Remember, the Roadmap exists as an artifact with which to share current, but never complete, understanding of the space. Never stop learning!
In the Peeragogy project, once the book's outline became fairly mature, we could use it as a roadmap, by marking the sections that are "finished" (at least in draft), marking the sections where editing is currently taking place, and marking the stubs (possible starting points for future contributors). After this outline matured into a real table of contents, we started to look in other directions for ways to build on our successes to date, and started working on a roadmap for further development of the website and peeragogy project as a whole.
There is a certain roadmappiness to "presentation of self", and you can learn to use this well. For instance, when introducing yourself and your work to other people, you can focus on highlights like these:
- "What is the message behind what you're doing?"
- "How do you provide a model others can follow or improve upon?"
- "How can others get directly involved with your project?"
This may seem like an obvious one, but educational interactions tend to have a number of different roles associated with them. Consider that everything could bifurcate from the "autodidact": 1. Autodidact 2. Tutor-Tutee 3. Tutor-Tutee-Parent 5. Tutor-Tutee #1-Tutee #2-Parent-Principal etc., until we have bursars, librarians, technicians, janitors, editors of peer reviewed research journals, government policy makers, spin-off industrial ventures and partnerships, etc., all involved in Education. Even the autodidact may assume different roles at different points in time - sometimes making a library run, sometimes constructing a model, sometimes checking a proof. The decomposition of "learning" into different phases or polarities could be an endless theoretical task. For the moment, we just note that roles are often present "by default" at the start of a learning process, and that they may change as the process develops.
Early on, active peeragogue Charlie Danoff suggested that someone take on the "wrapper role" – do a weekly pre/post wrap, so that new users would know the status the project is at any given point in time. The project wiki main page also serves as a "wrapper", and in Peeragogy, we check it from time to time to make sure that it accurately represents the basic facts about the project. Note that the "wrapper role" is similar to the integrative function that is needed for commons-based peer production to work (according to the theory proposed by Yochai Benkler, it is vital to have both 1) the ability to contribute small pieces; 2) some "integrative function" that stitches those pieces together. In Peeragogy, the Weekly Roundup" by Christopher Tillman Neal served to engage and re-engage members. Peeragogues began to eager watched for the weekly reports to see if our teams or our names had been mentioned. When there was a holiday or break, Chris would announce the hiatus, to keep the flow going.