The Birth of the Mechanical MOOC


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My slides for our group presentation for Open Education Week with Karen Fasimpaur and Jane Park. Full presentation at

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  • Overview:
    * P2PU is an open learning community of around 30,000 users on

    * When we say 'Open' we mean the material, the gates, and the price
    * Our core values since we started reflect this commitment to openness--and we support each other as a community to learn new things
    * We started as a wiki and a community in 2009, then built the platform shortly thereafter
    * As we've been running the platform, where the School of Ed and the School of Open courses are hosted, we've also established P2PU labs, which is a series of experimental, innovative learning projects
    P2PU Labs

    * As I mentioned, in addition to, we've undertaken several learning experiments under the banner of 'P2PU Labs'
    * One we are particularly proud of is called the 'Mechanical MOOC'
    Mechanical MOOC

    * This project grew out of the MOOC mania of 2012
    * But serious $$ for content development and tech--reported $25,000-$50,000 per Coursera course:
    * And many of these were closed experiences, closed content within closed platforms
    * We saw significant problems with the “automation” of learning--we want people interaction with each other around real projects
    Solution Space

    * So we stepped back and asked ourselves, how can we form a 'better' experience that prompts peer interaction and engagement, is cheaper, uses open materials, and could help others easily bootstrap courses on their own?
    * And so the Mechanical MOOC was formed!
    Mechanical MOOC

    * Partnership between OpenStudy, MIT Open Courseware, Codecademy, and P2PU
    * Used MIT’s open textbook material, exercises on Codecademy, Q &A on OpenStudy
    * No instructor, no curriculum designer, small groups were formed by a script and emails sent via Mailgun, site built with twitter bootstrap

    An Experiment

    * We formed small groups based on location, expertise level, and experimented with small, medium and large-sized groups to learn about engagement
    A Character

    * We know from research that humor enhances memory and engagement--prompts an affective dimension to the learning experience
    * We decided to launch the course from the perspective of a loveable steampunk international man of mystery:
    * All of the copy was written from this perspective--which learners really seemed to enjoy

    * 5,775 initially registered
    * Between 2,733 and 1,650 were engaged in the last week
    * Full report:
    * Dropoff before course started left some groups half-formed
    * We introduced an intermediary “ready-to-go” step
    * On our 3rd round of signups
    Findings and Implications

    * Based on the success and the lessons learned in the Python Course, our Executive Director Philipp Schmidt (who is now a fellow at the Media Lab) partnered with Mitch Resnick at the Lifelong Kindergarden Lab to adapt his preexisting course 'Learning Creative Learning' for a Mechanical MOOC-style experience
    * Was posted on Lifehacker
    * And over 10,000 people are participating in the robust G+ community:
    * And amazing things are happening when you open learning to learners

    * One learner made a map of where all the learners are
    * Some people who were friends in real life decided to take the course together
    * Anyone can get a course off the ground--the code is on Github

    * In the future, we'll be attempting a similar project-based peer learning MMOOC for the School of Data--that will open for signup around April 1.
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The Birth of the Mechanical MOOC

  1. 1. P2PU Labs:The Birth of the Mechanical MOOC Vanessa Gennarelli Learning Lead, P2PU @mozzadrella
  2. 2. What is P2PU? Free, CC-BY-SA, open to anyone Core values Openness Community Peer Learning Facilitated courses on P2PU Labs projects experiment with group size and new tools
  3. 3. Problem: MOOC Mania
  4. 4. The “Solution” Space How can we make a better experience that’s low cost & low-friction? Tap all of the open materials out there Build with pre-existing tools Prompt more intimate groups Easy to bootstrap
  5. 5. Mechanical MOOC lives!
  6. 6. An Experiment! Small groups formed based on: Experience Learning Style Time zone
  7. 7. A Character
  8. 8. Results 5,775 initially registered Between 2,733 and 1,650 were engaged in the last week Dropoff before course started left some groups half-formed We introduced an intermediary “ready-to-go” step
  9. 9. Findings and Implications
  10. 10. Questions?? Vanessa Gennarelli Learning Lead, P2PU @mozzadrella