The Peeragogy Handbook Version 5: A proposal

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Joe Corneli

Sep 26, 2020, 6:04:33 AM9/26/20
to Peeragogy

Thanks to everyone who shared comments and discussion (and supporting letters!) on the run up to my submission to NYPL. Here's what I sent in. Charlie reminded me that we're on track to finish v4 in Spring 2021, so this is now a proposal for v5. Very elegant!  In fact, we won't even find out the results of this proposal until March 2021.  It's probably useful to have some future-oriented thinking slotted in, even if the vision changes.  One of the things I like about this proposal is that it gives a very simple model of what "scaling up" can mean for us: 6x9′′ to 9x11′′ to 11x14′′. I don't think we are in danger of replicating Borges's map, however! (

Feedback from my friend Jake Miller led me to write this proposal more around the "Why" than the "How", here.  I'm sure lots of improvements could still be made on both aspects. I hope some improvements will wind up in our outline for v4! (... I am personally feeling quite motivated to get that back in focus). 

1 Introduction

The Peeragogy Handbook is a hands-on guide to peer learning and peer production. It is, itself, a peer produced work with 38 contributors. My project will remix the \emph{Handbook}’s contents with public domain materials from the NYPL’s archives to create a guide to learning and adaptation in the Anthropocene era. The project will connect the contemporary practice-theoretic concept of peeragogy with its historical precedents, and connect NYPL’s archives with a vibrant participatory citizen-scholarship model.

2 What is the Peeragogy Handbook and how is it used?

The 3rd edition of the Handbook, published in 2016, is an edited volume with a short workbook insert. All contributors signed a Creative Commons Zero copyright waiver, and as such the book has been released into the public domain. Its major sections outline a typical peer learning process:

I. Convene: What do we expect to learn or make together?

II. Organize: What and how are we learning?

III. Cooperate: What are some different perspectives on what’s happening?

IV. Assess: What did we learn or change?

V. Share: What else should we change going forward?

The book’s individual chapters cover topics ranging from how to teach with student-authored syllabi to guidance on how to set up and run online communities. The book centers on a collection of “patterns” that describe recurrent problems that occur in collaboration and learning, along with interrelated heuristic solutions. Peeragogy project contributors routinely review their activities, following the outline above, with the aim of distilling additional practice guidelines.

Our primary methods in the Peeragogy project are to work collaboratively, learn whatever we can from those activities, and produce new and valuable outputs based on what we learn. The Handbook collects and distils the best of these outputs, in the interest of establishing a self-improving cycle. While a 4th Edition has been some time in coming, we plan to have one ready by the end of Spring, 2021, following which we will clear the decks for work on v5 as described in this proposal.

3 Why Peeragogy?

Whereas individual genius is not replicable, learning strategies are themselves eminently learnable. The Peeragogy project aims to discover the patterns of effective peer learning and peer production and put them in a form that makes them useful for anyone. As such, peeragogy goes beyond “open source” and attempts to enlarge the public domain with new value. Access to knowledge-bearing artifacts does not always convey effective patterns of use. Therefore, peeragogy exists to collect and share homespun patterns that any group of people can use to gain proficiency with any topic. While the details of this process can be discussed in various disciplinary languages, with the Peeragogy Handbook we aim to communicate in an accessible, practical, form.

4 Why now?

Our online forum had its most active month in November, 2019, when we ran a collaborative online read-through of the Handbook’s 3rd Edition. Interest in peeragogy also picked up in other online groups during the COVID-19 pandemic, in connection with new patterns of home-working, and amidst widespread confusion over how to move mainstream education online. Meeting the moment effectively will require new software, new learning materials, and new ways of thinking, all of which is work in progress. One such step forward is a new course on “Transdisciplinary Design”, currently under review for online presentation at Tufts’ Experimental College: this will be the first time that the Peeragogy Handbook will be used as a course text. In the course, participants will gain fluency in thinking about and working on challenges that are too big for one discipline alone. The plan is to create Peeragogy Handbook v4 together with Tufts students and the Peeragogy project’s existing online contributor community.

5 Why this proposal?

The objective of the proposed work is to demonstrate an engaging, colorful, polyvocal way of working and thinking together that brings historical thinkers into the contemporary peeragogical dialogue. As such, v5 will not just be another revision of the Peeragogy Handbook, but a re-visioning of the Great Conversation through the lens of peer learning and peer production. My specific approach is motivated by these concerns, in particular:

  • Who participates in the co-authoring process? Does this process exhibit gender parity, and otherwise proportional representation?
  • How are authors’ distinctive voices preserved and heard? What can we learn, in this regard, from literary, therapeutic, and other dialogical practices?
  • How do participants create something that’s more than the sum of its parts? Can contemporary perspectives on learning, cognition, and mindfulness support collaborative breakthroughs?
  • How is knowledge made most useful to society? What policy recommendations—for organisations, school districts, governments—might emerge from this experiment?

6 Plan of work

In this project Handbook contents will be connected to a web of illustrative public domain extracts and associated prompts for discussion and interaction. My primary workflow will be to connect salient text spans in the Peeragogy Handbook to catalog queries, and from there to illuminating excerpts and images. A preliminary set of indicative queries, following the outline of sections I.-V., are:

 Community organising, public education, cross-cultural contact, W.P.A., free indirect, sampling.
 Mutual aid, learning science, information processing, regulatory systems, indigenous decolonisation.
 Military discipline, telecommunications, science fiction, cybernetics, open source, insight.
 Enterprise, innovation, social justice, measurement, policy development, ecology, future studies.
 Public domain, each one teach one, disinformation, hypertext, Chautauqua, dharma, documentary.

This revision plan points in the direction of new formats for the book.  For v4, we plan to move from a 6x9′′ format to a 9x11′′ format with an ample margin, as in Edward Tufte’s layout of books like Visual Explanations.  With v5 we may require still more room: it may be appropriate to use an 11x14′′ multicolumn format, like that of the Whole Earth Catalog. (If we go to this form, the Handbook label would be a misnomer, so that should be considered a working title only!)

This work will rely on suitable hypertext tooling to manage the excerpts and their interrelationships.  I am presently developing the relevant tools for other digital library applications. Once assembled, the revised Handbook will also be presented in an online format for wider interaction.

7 Track Record

My doctoral thesis on “Peer Produced Peer Learning” developed alongside the first edition of the Peeragogy Handbook. I subsequently held research appointments at Goldsmiths, University of London, and at the University of Edinburgh.

My research publications focus on social creativity and collaborative workflows, and provide relevant background knowledge and technical skills for the current proposal. I’ve authored or coauthored 42 peer reviewed papers. When compared with other scholars, my work is rated as highly readable (top 22%) and of considerable international interest (top 41%), according to independent analytics provided by ImpactStory.

My research on peer learning has influenced academic practice: for example, Edinburgh College of Art Professor Neil Mulholland recently published the scholarly text Re-imagining the Art School: Paragogy and Artistic Learning with Palgrave. ‘Peeragogy’ has become a go-to term to describe online peer learning and is mentioned on over 20K websites.

My recent articles in the Argumentation and Artificial Intelligence journals focus on collaboration in mathematics, and demonstrate the feasibility of building computationally salient models of collaboration more broadly. I recently spent six months working on business development at the highly-selective early-stage startup incubator, Entrepreneur First. I am presently working on issues at the intersection of AI and open source software. I also volunteer with Pariyatti, a US-based 501(c)3 building a hypertext system for managing a large collection of classical Buddhist texts. Forthcoming publications include a chapter for Frode Hegland’s book The Future of Text: A 2020 Vision, and a paper about pattern languages under revision for the journal Futures.

Having coordinated the editing workflow on all previous editions of the Peeragogy Handbook and laid the groundwork for Version 4, I will be well prepared to work on Version 5 as a Cullman Center Fellow. This background, along with previous experience as a Writers’ Workshop participant, and as a facilitator of peer learning activities across multiple scales, will help me connect creatively with other library users as a Cullman Center Fellow.

8 Further benefits of being a Cullman Center Fellow

While online resources like Project Gutenberg and the NYPL’s own digital collections are accessible to anyone with an internet connection, being physically present at the Library will allow me to make fully embodied use of the archives. Physical presence will bring a tangible dimension to the remix-based methods that I have in mind. I also look forward to using the intellectual conversations and community that the fellowship provides as an extended opportunity to think together about the future of knowledge production and how it can impact communities and stimulate social change.

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