Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

KMD Digital Journalism 2010  p2pu.png by joiito on Aviary

For the last three years, I've been teaching a course at The Keio Graduate School of Media Design (KMD) on Digital Journalism. Each year, I've tried to iterate on the format and see how I could manage my own interaction more effectively and make it impact more people.

This year I met Philipp from P2P University (P2PU). P2PU's mission is:

The Peer 2 Peer University is a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements. P2PU creates a model for lifelong learning alongside traditional formal higher education. Leveraging the internet and educational materials openly available online, P2PU enables high-quality low-cost education opportunities. P2PU - learning for everyone, by everyone about almost anything.

The online courses are more like communities of self-learners supported by a facilitator. The content is all licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike license that allows anyone to reuse the content as long as they share it back. The courses build on the work of the past.

After some conversations with Philipp, I decided to try to do a mashup of the informal not-for-credit learning of P2PU and the formal for-credit course at KMD. I got a bit of resistance from the university at first about making the material available under a Creative Commons license and the idea of peer-to-peer learning, but we successfully navigated the committee meetings at KMD and were able to pull it off. (Thanks to everyone at KMD for this!)

We used P2PU's website and the forums as the central hub of communications augmented with a mailing list, UStream, Twitter (#kmdp2puDJ) and an IRC channel that was also accessible via a web interface on the P2PU website. Each week, we had assignments and a real-time seminar. The physical space was the Keio Hiyoshi campus, but I would video conference in via H.323 when I was out of town and we had guest speakers and remote students video in via Skype. We then streamed this and recorded it on UStream, using the IRC channel as the discussion and question area. We would tweet the UStream sessions and would gather an tag-along participants in real-time. The video of the seminars recorded in Tokyo in high definition and were uploaded later. (html/rss)

I think the complexity of the technology threw some of the participants off and there is a lot to be improved, but considering the complexity and the figuring-it-out-as-we-went-along aspect of it, it went amazingly well. We typically had dozens of people joining via UStream and a dozen or so people on the IRC channel.

The ad-libbing was really fun and worked well. For example, we were able to convince Hiroko Tabuchi of the New York Times, who at first was a viewer and retweeter of the UStream, to come and give a presentation in class the next week. I was then able to get Executive Director of Greenpeace Japan, Jun Hoshikawa to Skype in and talk to Hiroko and the class about the failure of the Japanese media in tracking the Greenpeace Japan trial.

In addition to the assignments, forum discussions and the real-time discussions, participants were asked to create or join projects. A number of interesting projects were launched. Hala started a blog about Muslims in Tokyo; Gueorgui, Alan and Richard started a project to work on non-GDP/market assessments; Gilmar and Gustavo started a blog about new abilities for modern journalists; Lena and Nadhir are working on a report about the course; and Richard and Rick started a blog about digital journalism in Tokyo.

The downside was that the participation from the Keio students was fairly limited. I think it was a combination of the English, the Monday morning scheduling and the amount of work that threw them off. However, the few students who survived made some great contributions.

I think that for the people participating from all over the world, the issue of the sessions happening at the same time in the Japanese time zone made it nearly impossible for some of them to participate in the real-time conversations.

Finally, I think that having so many modes of communications made it difficult to keep track of the threads.

However, I was really excited by the effectiveness and the quality of the discourse. Also, I realized that in many ways, the less planned serendipitous stuff worked the best. Cruising down my IM buddy list to find someone to pull into the class via Skype seemed to work very well.

We're going to try to see if we can keep some sort of persistent community going via the mailing list to try to iterate on both this mode of interaction as well as how best to learn about online journalism.

Update: Andria wrote a good post about the course.


Before taking this course through P2PU, I didn't think online education could really work. But the seminars were fantastically imspiring, and the whole thing just worked so well, it completely changed my mind. I'm looking forward to taking more classes on P2PU and explore online education some more.

Joi, this was a pioneering effort, and you should be proud of it. But it was almost painful to watch the lack of commitment and participation from the students - any suggestions as to how this could be improved in future open journalism courses? Should there be a selection process based on merit or talent, and would that defeat the purpose?

To have taught a few classes at Keio University and elsewhere in the world, I have often been surprised by the non reactivity of Japanese students and I have been wondering if it was related to "出る杭は打たれる".

For time zone in international participation, the only way to have a kind of fair participation is to rotate the time of participation across time zones. The issue being the logistics and to have to remember the time will be the next class. One thing that some W3C Working Groups have tried in the past. 4 months with a good time for Europe, then North America, then Asia Pacific.

The best time across all time zones spanning from Japan to Europe to USA Pacific Coast is:

San Francisco: 5h00-7h00
Boston: 8h00-10h00
London: 12h00-14h00
Paris: 13h00-15h00
Tokyo: 21h00-23h00 (+1 day)
Sydney: 23h00-01h00 (+1 day)

The interesting thing is, my first class at KMD had great students and lots of participation.

I think there were maybe 3 factors.

1 - I switched to Japanese during the first class after I noticed that everyone in the class spoke Japanese better than English. The subsequent classes were conducted strictly in English.

2 - The first year, I did the whole 7 classes in 1 week doing 3 hours a day with 1.5 hrs of "labs" after the seminars. At the time I thought that switching to once a week would give the students more time to do work, but I think that maybe it actually slowed the momentum.

3 - It was the first year of the school. I think the character of first year students of any new school tends to be more adventuresome and risk-taking. I've had this experience several times teaching the first season of other schools.

I'm not sure what exactly to do to increase engagement of the Japanese students. I'm going to try to talk to them some more and iterate, but it's hard to talk to them if they don't show up to class. ;-)