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Maastricht University / University of Namur

MA ESST - European Studies on Society, Science and Technology

Open Participatory Learning Environments:


the Case of Peer 2 Peer University

Lena Hofman
September 27th, 2010
Keywords: online learning, open source, FLOSS, social construction of technology,
transfer of knowledge
Word count: 19,763
Lena Hofman
lena.hofman@gmail.com

ESST International Master Programme:


European Studies on Society, Science and Technology
Specialization: Sociological and Organizational Aspects of ICT

1st semester university: Maastricht University, the Netherlands


2nd semester university: Facultés Universitaires Notre-Dame de la Paix, Namur,
Belgium

Supervisor: Dr. Claire Lobet-Maris, FUNDP


Synopsis

Online learning and education is one of the most significant areas where rapid innovation is
happening at the moment. Learning processes and organization of Free/Libre Open Source
Software communities represent a very interesting model that has the potential to improve
existing learning models. This thesis investigates Open Participatory Learning Environments,
which are one of the innovations in the domain of online learning, and offers and insight to
one of such environments, Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) (http://p2pu.org). The aim of this
work is to open the “black box” of P2PU and analyse its social construction, its elements and
its dynamics.

The research in this thesis is twofold. The first part takes a look at the social construction of
P2PU environment. With the methods of netnography and online interviews, it
demonstrates the interpretative flexibility of this artifact by focusing on one of the main
principles behind P2PU: openness. The second part discloses the transfer of knowledge in a
P2PU course; it discovers elements in the network, the methods and the structures. Actors
in the network and methods of knowledge transfer are found through participant
observation, while interaction is visualised with social network analysis. Throughout this
research, characteristics of FLOSS communities are compared to characteristics of P2PU, in
order to illustrate how FLOSS communities function as open participatory learning
environments in practice.

The main findings suggest that users do not share a unified view of openness of P2PU; its
interpretations are divided into political, technical and individual visions. Transfer of
knowledge mostly depends on non-reciprocal interaction between students in the course.
Each participant occupies a critical role in relation to the other participants, be it as a
knowledge broker, discussion enabler or peripheral user. It is concluded that P2PU is an
example of implementation of open source principles and, despite some drawbacks,
providing a basic model for future development of open participatory learning
environments.

Keywords: online learning, open source, FLOSS, social construction of technology, transfer
of knowledge
Acknowledgements

First, I would like to thank my mentor, Dr. Claire Lobet, for her patience, kindness and warm
welcome in Namur.

Second, I would like to thank my housemates in Namur, who made my stay fun and very
enjoyable.

Moreover, I would like to thank the people at P2PU for helping me conduct my research
and for offering free education to anyone.

I also want to say “thank you” to my family for always believing in me.

Most of all, I want to thank my ESST classmates in Maastricht. Their motivation and
enthusiasm for STS subjects, critical thinking and hard work contributed to an amazing
semester. They will always have my respect.
Contents

Synopsis..................................................................................................................................... 4
Glossary ..................................................................................................................................... 8
1. Introduction ....................................................................................................................... 9
1.1 Aims and structure ................................................................................................... 10
2. Open Participatory Learning Environments .................................................................... 13
2.1 Open source ............................................................................................................. 13
2.2 Open source in domain of learning and education ................................................. 15
3. Peer 2 Peer University ..................................................................................................... 23
3.1 Peer 2 Peer University as an OPLE ........................................................................... 23
3.2 STS perspective ........................................................................................................ 26
3.3 Research ................................................................................................................... 27
4. Social construction of P2PU environment ....................................................................... 30
4.1 STS theoretical frame ............................................................................................... 30
4.2 Methodology ............................................................................................................ 31
4.3 Identification of relevant social groups ................................................................... 34
4.4 Operational team ..................................................................................................... 36
4.5 Users of P2PU: forum discussions ............................................................................ 44
4.6 Comparison .............................................................................................................. 56
4.7 Conclusion ................................................................................................................ 59
5. Transfer of knowledge at P2PU ....................................................................................... 61
5.1 Presentation of Digital Journalism course ............................................................... 62
5.2 STS theoretical frame ............................................................................................... 64
5.3 Methodology ............................................................................................................ 66
5.4 Transfer of knowledge in a network of actors ......................................................... 70
5.5 Transfer of knowledge in the community of participants ....................................... 77
5.6 Conclusion ................................................................................................................ 87
6. General conclusions and implications for further research ............................................ 89
7. References ....................................................................................................................... 93
Appendix A: Interview questions for the social group operational team ............................. 98
Appendix B: Screenshots of the Digital Journalism course at P2PU ..................................... 100
List of tables and figures

Table 2.1: Characteristics of FLOSS-like learning .......................................................................... 17


Table 3.1: FLOSS community characteristics in P2PU environment ............................................. 25
Table 3.2: Theories, concepts, objectives and methodology ........................................................ 29
Table 4.1: Interpretations of openness by social group “Operational team” ............................... 43
Table 4.2: Interpretations of openness by social group “The proponents” .................................. 50
Table 4.3: Interpretations of openness by social group “The rejecters” ....................................... 53
Table 4.4: Interpretations of openness by social group “The sceptics” ........................................ 56
Table 5.1: A heterogeneous network of a Digital Journalism course ........................................... 75
Table 5.2: Comparison between FLOSS project and P2PU course characteristics ........................ 76

Figure 2.1: Structure of an OPLE ................................................................................................... 20


Figure 2.2: Basic elements constructing OPLE .............................................................................. 21
Figure 5.1: A social network analysis ............................................................................................ 82
Figure 5.2: Cluster of the most active participants in a forum discussion .................................... 84
8

Glossary

Open source: describes practices in production and development (usually of computer


software) that promote access to the end product's source materials. Behind those
practices stands a philosophy which promotes openness and freedom of sharing.

FLOSS communities: Free/Libre Open Source Software communities. Communities of


software programmers formed around open source software projects (e.g., Linux, Mozilla).
The Free/Libre part of the name is used for a distinction of free as in »free beer« and free or
libre as in »the freedom of speech and creativity«. Other abbreviations for open source
software, found in literature, are OSS, FOSS or F/OSS.

OPLE: Open Participatory Learning Environments. These are online learning spaces, found
on the World Wide Web, usually consistent of platforms and communities in which
individuals interact and collaborate with their peers with the aim to learn.

P2PU: Peer 2 Peer University (read: peer-to-peer); the name of an open participatory
learning environment which is a subject of research in this thesis. The name itself has
nothing to do with a real university as an institution; it is merely used by its creators to
illustrate that this environment is a place for learning.
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Open Participatory Learning Environments: the Case of Peer 2 Peer University

1. Introduction

When it comes to learning in today’s society, we are witnessing a growing demand for

different sources of knowledge. Because of rapid innovation and development, knowledge

is becoming obsolete faster, our careers are changing faster, and we have to be able to

perform multidisciplinary tasks. Universities are not always able to provide us with up-to-

date knowledge and skills, while classical education is not accessible to everyone, especially

due to its cost. Therefore, we are always in search for new or complementary sources of

knowledge.

Internet, in this aspect, is a large resource. There are many online spaces where knowledge

can be pursuit. It is produced and exchanged in virtual communities, on wikis, blogs,

through social media, in online courses, web forums and more. In order to pursue life-long

learning as a mean for achieving sustainability, we should foresee that technology, social

practice, and knowledge complement each other and that their evolution is part of the

same process (Tuomi, 2000, p.4). Moreover, online access to knowledge could also

represent a resource for individuals in developing countries, where the demand for learning

is high, but the supply in terms of educational facilities, learning resources and access to

information is seriously lacking.

In this thesis, I focus on one particular resource of knowledge that we find online; on Open

Participatory Learning Environments (OPLE). These are virtual spaces or web platforms

which allow one to learn in different ways; through self-study by accessing the educational
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materials, through study groups, by working on projects, in online courses etc. The model of

knowledge creation, sharing and learning that can be found in these OPLE, is based in

Free/Libre Open Source Software communities or FLOSS. FLOSS communities are believed

to be the most mature and developed learning environments to be found on the web

(Meiszner et al., 2008). They concern software development and have special

characteristics in their structure, organization, functioning and principles, which can be

implemented in OPLE. The main characteristic that separates OPLE from other learning

projects, found on the web - like distant learning or online degrees - is that OPLE, just like

FLOSS, are based on open source principles.

1.1 Aims and structure

The aim of this thesis is to investigate and critically assess a chosen case of OPLE with

science and technology studies (STS) approaches. These environments are an innovative

approach to learning and studying, a young phenomenon not more than a few years of age,

and a technology in development. The research case that I chose, Peer 2 Peer University

(P2PU), is a representative example of an OPLE found online, perhaps the most dynamic

one in community involvement, implementation and development.

This thesis is involved in a multi-layered investigation. In the theoretical part, the aim is to

establish why open source principles and FLOSS communities are important in the domain

of learning and education. Furthermore, it is to present the structure and elements of OPLE.

This part, carried out with the method of literature review, will serve as a basis for the

empirical part, in which the main task is to investigate and critically assess the chosen case
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of OPLE with science and technology studies (STS) approaches. Furthermore, I want to

establish how FLOSS principles, presented in the theoretical part and described in literature

as potentially a future model for learning and education, are in fact implemented into one

particular case of OPLE, the P2PU learning environment.

In the empirical part of this thesis, I will focus on two features in the chosen OPLE. The first

will be the most important open source value; the value of openness. I intend to use the

Social Construction of Technology theory to investigate how openness of the P2PU

environment is constructed by relevant social groups. It is important to focus on this

characteristic since it is the main driving force of P2PU and at the same time, the basic open

source principle. I will investigate openness with the use of online interviews and the

netnography method. The research question, addressed in this part of the thesis, is:

- How is openness of this learning environment constructed by relevant social groups?

Making a transition from vision to action, the second feature that I will focus on is the

transfer of knowledge in a certain course at P2PU. I will compare characteristics of FLOSS

knowledge transfer to those in OPLE. This investigation will be done in the frame of actor-

network theory, using the concept of heterogeneous networks. I will use participant

observation in order to discover the methods of transfer of knowledge between different

actors in the network. To map the knowledge transfer between participants, I will turn to

the method of social network analysis. The leading research question for this part is:

- How is knowledge transferred in P2PU environment?


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In the general concluding part, I shall present main findings and point out guidelines for

possible further research.


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2. Open Participatory Learning Environments

In this part of the thesis, I present the theoretical framework as the basis for empirical

research. The methodology used for this part of the thesis is literature review, thus

presentation and critical reflection on important findings and claims by different authors in

the domain of online learning. In addition, I present the characteristics and structure of

learning environments in question, which were described in the literature as OPLE.

I will begin this theoretical part with the presentation of open source as a new paradigm,

which is spreading into domains outside software production. Further on, I will focus on one

particular domain, the domain of learning and education, and present how principles of

FLOSS-based learning can function in open participatory learning environments. Moreover, I

shall present the structure and functioning of OPLE; that will set the grounds for the

presentation of investigation of my research case, the Peer 2 Peer University learning

environment.

2.1 Open source

“Open source” is a buzz-word of the 21st century. It describes practices in production and

development that promote access to a product's source materials. In addition, it is a

philosophy that promotes openness and freedom of sharing.

It all started with open source software projects, where software programmers have access

to the source code1 of the software for building, modifying, improving, rewriting and

1
Source code is a written instruction in a computer-programming language which allows one to specify the
actions they want the computer to perform.
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reusing software and its constructing parts without limitations. Thousands of programmers

contribute in programming projects where the central organizing principle is that the

software remains free of most constraints on copying (Benkler, 2002). Their work connects

them into virtual communities, whose functioning differs from the commercial production

of software in many aspects. Programmers are not paid to do their work, all their work is

open and visible to anyone that wants to use it, and the end product is free in monetary

terms.

What all open source projects have in common, is that they tend to build on the principles

of openness and freeness. This concept has also been adopted outside the domain of

software production. The open source model of collaboration has been transferred into

many different domains, all following the principles of freedom of sharing, creating,

modifying, remixing and reusing the content. It appears open source has evolved from a

software-creating methodology to a social movement. Corporations, licences, journalism,

education, and even events and travelling are areas where open source approaches and

practices have been adopted. This thesis focuses on new learning practices, which have

been growing through open source and open education movements. Those new learning

practices are best represented in OPLE, which are seen as a most reasonable approach to

education we have witnessed in the past few years.

The two basic open source principles, implemented in many different domains, are the

value of openness and freeness. Openness can be open collaboration without

discrimination against certain groups of people or against certain domains. Openness also
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means openness of content for editing, modification, improvement, reuse and sharing. It is

also connected to open access. Freeness reflects in the freedom of speech and creativity,

and also in transparency. Sometimes, it is also addressed as free in monetary terms. In the

next chapter, I will take a closer look on these principles in FLOSS communities and how

these principles can be important for learning in a virtual setting of OPLE.

2.2 Open source in domain of learning and education

From this point onwards, I tend to focus on open source in relation to learning, knowledge

sharing and education. I believe this focus is important since the learning processes and

organization of FLOSS communities represent a very interesting model for learning that

could have the potential to improve existing educational models. Author Tuomi (2000)

emphasizes that “open source development model is not only producing software. It also

produces the interacting system of knowing, learning, and doing that organizes the

community” (Tuomi, 2000, p. 8). Even universities have adopted the principles of open

source, creating their own online spaces where everybody is allowed to access their

learning materials. For example, Connexions project at Rice University, OpenCourseWare

project at MIT2 and many more.

Our point of departure is the learning structure and organization of FLOSS communities.

First, I will demonstrate the characteristics of FLOSS-like learning and the learning processes

in these communities as established by previous FLOSS studies; second, I will present how

2
Connexions: http://cnx.org/; Massachussets Institute of Technology OpenCourseWare: http://ocw.mit.edu/
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FLOSS-like learning can function in the setting of OPLE. In the final part, I will present the

structure and functioning of OPLE.

2.2.1 FLOSS-like learning

There has been much research on knowledge production and types of learning that occur in

FLOSS communities (Hemetsberger and Reinhardt, 2006; Glott et al., 2007; Meiszner et al.,

2008; Weller and Meiszner, 2008). The reason why there has been so much focus on

learning in FLOSS is because it has been found that the two most important motivations for

involvement in FLOSS projects are improving skills and sharing knowledge (Glott et al.,

2007).

The FLOSS software development process is a model for creation of self-learning and self-

organizing communities in which geographically distributed individuals contribute to build a

particular application (Glott et al., 2007). In these communities, knowledge is created

collaboratively by experts and users, support is provided by user to user (or peer-to-peer)

support systems, and sustainability and quality are also assured through community

involvement (Meiszner et al., 2008, p. 1). Collaborative learning and the peer review

process emphasize the importance of shared dialogue in this virtual environment. Peer

production and dissemination of knowledge is emphasized in FLOSS, with changing roles of

providers and learners in disperse environments (Glott et al., 2007). The authors establish

that these communities are extremely successful in the ways of knowledge transfer and in

managing this transfer. The most important characteristics of collaborative learning in

FLOSS are that participants are engaged in personally meaningful activities, the use of
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collaborative technologies for communication, and interaction between community

members with the resources which community provides (Glott et al., 2007).

Authors (Meiszner et al., 2007) list the characteristic which FLOSS communities possess that

can and should be applied to educational settings: open and inclusive ethos (the

participation is open for everyone), up-to-date and dynamic content which everyone can

add or edit, collaborative production of materials, re-negotiation and reflection process,

learning outcomes made available through mailing lists, forums and instructional materials,

a large support network, and new ICT (information communication technology) solutions

(ibid.).

FLOSS characteristics
participant motivation improving skills, sharing knowledge, personally meaningful activities
structure collaborative ICT, learning resources, support networks
peer to peer review and support, community involvement,
functioning collaborative learning, peer production, framing and problem
solving, reflection
principles openness, freeness, inclusivity, transparency, voluntarism
Table 2.1: Characteristics of FLOSS-like learning

The listed characteristics (Table 2.1) are guidelines for OPLE. What characterizes these

environments is that they are open to everyone without any charges and strive towards

transparency of the processes and knowledge creation. The operating teams of these

environments work voluntarily and there is usually no accreditation offered at completion

of a course or programme. Content or topics of learning are unlimited, therefore motivation

for participation is learning for the sake of learning (afore mentioned FLOSS characteristic of
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participants being engaged in personally meaningful activities). What appears to be most

needed through the demand for life-long learning is the informal, self-organized and

incidental - driven rather by situational personal interests and needs than by pre-defined

curriculae of educational institutions - learning arrangements (Glott et al., 2007, p. 7). They

also support the freedom of speech and creativity, and are open to modification (framing

and problem-solving). Some of them allow modifications to the construction of the

environment, while others offer at least modification of learning resources or peers’

products (up-to-date and dynamic content)3.

An important foundation of each OPLE is the content or educational resources. These

educational resources, namely Open Educational Resources (OER), are a constructing part of

OPLE and represent all learning material (full courses, course materials, databases,

collections, journals, scholarly articles, power-point presentations, audio and video

lectures...), which is available to everyone for sharing, re-use and modification. The OER is

defined as “the open provision of educational resources, enabled by information and

communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users

for non-commercial purposes” (Holotescu, 2007). Nevertheless, content is not only used in

OPLE, it is also produced. As mentioned before, students’ learning processes and outcomes

are considered as a learning resource for future students (Meiszner et al., 2007). Peer

3
At this point, it is important to note that not all OPLE use the concept of freeness. When speaking in
monetary terms, some learning environments offer courses and study programmes that have to be paid for.
The most important difference is that they offer some kind of accreditation, a formal approval that
participants have attended the course or programme. Those environments are, however, not a subject of this
research, since they function on different grounds than other OPLE. Motivations for participating in those
environments are therefore different (e.g., getting accreditation) than in “monetary free” OPLE and do not
comply with FLOSS-like principles of openness, inclusivity and volunteering.
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support is said to return direct learning benefits for the support provider, creating a

win/win situation between the information provider and the receiver (p. 5).

The authors (Meiszner et al., 2007) connect participatory knowledge creation that we can

witness in FLOSS to the Open Educational Resource movement. The whole OER movement

is putting in question traditional proprietary aspects of learning resources by releasing them

under licenses that give users of these resources the possibility to re-use, modify, adapt or

re-mix them. OER movement has been accused of “still following the largely traditional

educational paradigms using experts’ production and development models, often using

technology for the sake of technology and seeing the learner as a passive consumer, or at

least leaving him with this role” (p. 2). The access to traditional course material, which OER

mostly consists of, is offered on many different websites, either hosted by universities,

private companies or individuals, and go by the name OER sites. What is recognised as the

main drawback of these sites is that they offer educational resources without promoting

their use. Authors Meiszner, Glott and Sowe (2008) find that “the OER side today is largely

characterized by creating static content repositories that lack vivid and active learning

communities” (p. 3). The FLOSS community learning model includes one very important

parameter that OER sites do not: active user participation.

In this chapter, I have presented learning in FLOSS and the use of its principles in OPLE. At

this point, we should take a look into the structure and functioning of OPLE in order to find

out how OPLE overcome the lack of community involvement, noticed with OER sites, and in

order to present the OPLE criteria for the choice of the research case.
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2.2.2 Structure and functioning of OPLE

OPLE can be viewed as Open Educational Resources (OER) with a “social wrapping”. While

OER websites provide articles, reports, audio and video lectures etc., OPLE platforms enrich

the resources with a social component, the users (Figure 2.1). The recognized issue with

OER – the lack of promotion for their use - is being overcome by facilitating a social network

of participants. Thus, the learning environment is not only a website anymore, but becomes

a virtual community.

OER

Social wrapping (social


capital)
Communication tools

OPLE

Figure 2.1: Structure of an OPLE

The content, users and communication tools are important components in an online

learning network. Brown and Adler (2008) emphasize that Web 2.0 communication tools

(e.g., blogs, Skype) encourage participation (creating, remixing), focused conversation,

exploration, experimentation and critical reflection, and are therefore examples of new

user-centric information infrastructure (Brown and Adler, 2008, p. 30).

Some OPLE offer more features than others. Ideally, the structure of an OPLE (Figure 2.2)

would consist of various elements.


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interaction,
communication

experts,
web tools and learners,
places: forums, researchers,
blogs, chatrooms, activists...
video conferences...

seminars, fun, desire to


assignments, learn and share
projects... information

Open
courses Educational
Resources

Figure 2.2: Basic elements constructing OPLE

The interaction and communication between participants in OPLE is driven by the desire to

learn and share information. OER used for learning may vary from PowerPoint

presentations, journal articles, scholarly articles, recorded lectures, course notes etc. These

resources are usually used in courses, lectures or seminars that take place online with the

use of web tools. Topics of courses may vary from classical university-level topics to more

experimental ones. The courses use different communication tools and web spaces (forums,

chatrooms, blogs, wikis...) and could not be carried out without the interaction between

users and facilitators, and among peers. Participants use tools for communication, like

Skype calls, video conferences, mailing lists and social media to connect to each other.

In these last chapters I have presented the Open Participatory Learning Environments

(OPLE), first through their characteristics, values and learning resources they use and which

are based on FLOSS-learning principles. I have also presented the content and structure of
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OPLE in order to make the choice of the research case easier. Following the described

features of OPLE, I have found an appropriate example through searching for online

learning environments on the web. The main criteria for the choice of Peer 2 Peer

University learning environment were not only the appropriate structure, but also if it

follows the open source principles of openness and freeness.

At this point, I will turn from theoretical background to empirical research, done on the case

of Peer 2 Peer University OPLE. In the following chapters, I will present the aims of empirical

research, carried out in this thesis, as well as guiding research questions and the research

case itself.
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3. Peer 2 Peer University

In this research part of my thesis, I chose the socio-technical ensemble of Peer 2 Peer

University4 to carry out the analysis by using different STS theoretical frames. The aim of

research is to answer two questions regarding Peer 2 Peer University environment: how is

openness of this learning environment constructed by relevant social groups and how

knowledge is transferred in this community.

In the following sections I shall present Peer 2 Peer University and establish why I chose this

specific platform from an STS perspective. Moreover, I will present how I intend to find

answers to the research questions above.

3.1 Peer 2 Peer University as an OPLE

Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) is a relatively young project, existing since September 2009,

when the pilot phase was first launched. It is not a finished project; it is still developing in

the area of design, structure, functioning, organization, courses, content etc. Peer 2 Peer

University (P2PU) is defined by its creators as a grass-root open education project that

organizes learning outside institutional walls5. Following the ideal of lifelong learning, they

are running courses “about almost anything”. In the pilot phase, seven courses had been

run, and in the first phase, which has finished during the making of this thesis, there were

fifteen courses, mostly ran in English and some of them in Portuguese. It is operated by

volunteers. Some funding is received by the Mozilla Foundation and the Hewlett

4
http://p2pu.org
5
http://p2pu.org/about
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Foundation, but operational team mostly works for free. It is also tuition-free6 and non-

profit project.

3.2.1 Courses

The main activity of P2PU is design and facilitation of courses. Anyone can run courses at

P2PU, which are six weeks long, involving ideally between eight and fourteen people. They

are trying to avoid the traditional structure of teachers and learners and are therefore

putting the course organizer in a place of a study group facilitator, whose tasks are to make

everybody participate in the course and make the course run smoothly. Instead of formal

assessment, everything is based on peer review or peer assessment. Course members

review each other’s work and provide feedback to each other. The facilitator does not

necessarily have to be an expert in the field; the courses are said to be the best when run

about a topic that the facilitator is really interested in. Course topics range from traditional

university ones (e.g., Introduction to finance and economics, Introduction to concepts in

behavioural economics and decision making) to almost completely university unrelated

courses (e.g., Kitchen Science, Mashing Up the Open Web, Poker and Strategic Thinking).

Partially, the research of this thesis focuses on a Digital Journalism course, run at P2PU.

The course participation is free and open. Sometimes courses have minor prerequisites for

attendants, for example, having a Twitter7 account. The content, used in a course, must be

6
Some online learning projects offer courses for which one has to pay a certain amount of money – a tuition
fee – if she wants to participate. To follow courses on P2PU, one does not have to pay anything; that is why it
is a tuition-free project.
7
Twitter is a social media tool for short, 140-character long blog entries. See https://twitter.com/.
25

freely available and open licensed8, if possible. All the course content remains available on

the web, once the course is finished, for anyone to re-use and remix it and potentially

create a new course from it9.

3.2.2 FLOSS characteristics of P2PU

In Table 3.1, values and characteristics of FLOSS that comply with those of P2PU are

presented.

FLOSS P2PU
freeness free in monetary terms, free in creation of any course topic
open and accessible, everyone can participate, use content,
openness
experiment with technology
processes and decisions (of the operational team) are made
transparency
visible
community driven by volunteers, built around projects
modification course content available for distribution, re-use, remix, etc.

peer-to-peer collaboration peer review, peer assessment, peer learning, feedback


Table 3.1: FLOSS community characteristics in P2PU environment

As shown in the previous section, FLOSS-like characteristics and at the same time, the most

valued characteristics of OPLE, are represented in P2PU environment. That is also the

reason why I chose this specific platform. It is a community, built around OER, following the

ideology of openness and freeness using different communication and Web 2.0 tools. Since

the project is quite young and small, it is easier to access the community participants and

developers for empirical research (e.g., interviews) than it would be in a large, stable

8
All the materials on the p2pu.org website are under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0
Unported license, unless otherwise noted. (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
9
From http://p2pu.org/node/809/document/4344#comment-1568 (16.7.2010)
26

project. The fact that it is not a private, but a grass-root project, helps research as well; the

P2PU team is more willing to respond since it realizes that research on P2PU benefits the

community for continuous improvement. What is more, since they follow the values of

openness and transparency, they welcome researchers to monitor the progress and

development of the platform and community, hoping to remove flaws and mistakes, as well

as to find a successful model of collaboration for OPLE in general.

3.2 STS perspective

There are several reasons why it is appropriate to study this OPLE from an STS perspective.

First, the creation of the OPLE in question involves different social groups, the two most

distinct being the users and the founders. These individuals come from very different

backgrounds, and contribute to an interesting mix of practices and opinions. Second, the

environment is a complex construction, a combination of technology and of social

component, or a socio-technical ensemble. It is embedded in a network of different actors,

ranging from web tools, copyrights, individuals, web sites, content management systems,

and more. Last but not least, it is a technology in development in an early adoption phase -

the success or failure of this technology is not yet determined. There are enough reasons to

investigate this technology, which is not a simple task because of the fact that it is not an

end product, such as a bicycle or a refrigerator, but a virtual feature10. Because P2PU is a

technology in development, the STS framing of research is not used as full theories, but is

10
I used the bicycle and refrigerator comparison in relation to Wiebe Bijker’s research on development of the
bicycle through time in his study about social construction of technology, while Ruth Schwartz Cowan
researches the social, economical and political reasons for adoption of the gas refrigerator in the market. This
example of comparison was given to reflect the difference between “classical” objects of STS analysis and the
virtual object which is a part of this research.
27

borrowing concepts from different theories in order to embrace the complexity and all the

construction parts of this environment.

I have presented my research case, its characteristics and compliance with FLOSS principles.

I have also established why this environment is suitable for an STS analysis. It is time to turn

to an empirical STS investigation; the aims of which will be presented in the next section.

3.3 Research

There will be two major investigations carried out in this empirical part of the thesis,

borrowing concepts from established STS scholars. The first investigation will try to answer

the following question:

a) How is openness of this learning environment constructed by its relevant social

groups?

Borrowing the concept of relevant social groups from Social Construction of Technology

theory (SCOT), I would like to find out what views and interpretations of openness are

found in relation to P2PU environment. This will be done with the use of netnography

method and online interviews. So much said about openness in relation to open source and

as a principle, beneficial to learning and education, the investigation of this particular

“value” is in place. The values behind the platform and what community stands for are

values of openness and peer learning. The emphasis is placed on “learning for everyone, by

everyone, about almost anything”, an idea that reflects the mentality of this community,

meaning that one should not restrict others from accessing knowledge and sources for
28

learning. That is why it is important to research the notion of openness and open sharing in

this particular community.

In the second investigation, I will focus on the process of learning in the community. The

research question therefore is:

b) How is knowledge transferred at P2PU?

This research part will focus on a particular course, run at P2PU, and try to map the flow of

communication, work, and discussions between participants to see the structure of the

learning process. The analytical framework will be actor-network theory, more specifically,

the concept of heterogeneous networks which will allow me to follow the actors in the

course infrastructure and find out how they construct the course. Finding so many special

characteristics in FLOSS knowledge transfer, I will try to see if those characteristics are

implemented in knowledge transfer at P2PU. Methodological approaches used are

participant observation to find actants and methods of knowledge transfer and a basic

social network analysis to visualise the interactions among course participants.

In the following table (Table 3.2), in order to answer the two questions on openness of the

environment and knowledge transfer, theories, concepts and methodologies are presented

respectively.
29

Objective Theory Concept Methodology


social construction of relevant social groups, online interviews,
SCOT
the artifact Interpretative flexibility netnography
participant observation,
knowledge transfer ANT heterogeneous networks
social network analysis
Table 3.2: Theories, concepts, objectives and methodology for research

In the coming parts of the thesis, I will make a twofold investigation; social construction of

P2PU environment and transfer of knowledge in P2PU community. For each of these two

parts, I will first present concepts from STS theories which were used, different

methodologies used and finally, the findings of collected data.

The overall aim of empirical research in this thesis is to critically assess the construction of

an open participatory learning environment, demonstrate that it is socially constructed and

complex in the number of elements that structure it, establish its characteristics in

knowledge transfer and foresee if the FLOSS learning principles and characteristics can in

fact be successfully implemented in practice to OPLE. In the next section, I shall turn to the

first research question on social construction of technology.


30

4. Social construction of P2PU environment

The goal of this empirical part is to find out how users and creators of P2PU construct this

environment by assigning different meanings of openness to it. First, I shall explain the

concepts of Social Construction of Technology theory (SCOT), used for the first research

question:

- How is openness of P2PU learning environment constructed by its relevant social

groups?

After that, I will present the used methodology and identify the relevant social groups at

P2PU which were subject to my research. For each of these groups, I will present the

analysis and its findings and finally try to explain if their constructions of meaning, assigned

to P2PU, differed.

4.1 STS theoretical frame

SCOT theory is usually used in history of technology research to explain the seamless web of

social interactions which one studies to show how technologies are shaped and how they

acquired their meaning. Since the technology in question in this thesis is in an early

development phase and not a finalized product, I will not be able to perform a wholesome

SCOT analysis. However, I will use this theory as a frame for research and use its major

concepts, relevant social groups and interpretative flexibility, to understand how

technology is embedded in the social context.


31

Wiebe Bijker (1993), one of the fathers of SCOT, has established that the meanings different

social groups give to the artifact, construct that artifact. Therefore, he suggests the idea of

relevant social groups to demonstrate the interpretative flexibility of an artifact.

“Demonstrating the interpretative flexibility of an artifact mounts to showing that one

seemingly unambiguous ‘thing’ … is better understood as several different artifacts.” (p.

118). Thus, the meaning can be traced by examining what view relevant social groups share

on the artifact, since “artifacts are, so to speak, described through the eyes of the members

of relevant social groups” (p. 119). As the author further puts it, in investigating the

meaning we should focus on the problems and solutions in the life of an artifact.

The artifact in question is the P2PU socio-technical ensemble. The primary task is

identification of relevant social groups that are involved in the making and life of P2PU.

Afterwards, investigation on how members of relevant social groups construct this

environment will follow; that is, how meanings given by a social group constitute the

artifact. This will be done by investigating meanings of openness, attributed to the

environment by different members of this environment. In the next section, I will explain

how this will be acquired with the use of different methodological tools.

4.2 Methodology

The unit of analysis is P2PU learning environment. There are two distinct social groups

involved in co-construction of this environment. The first is the operational team, which is

comprised of people that started this project and are taking care of functioning and
32

development of the platform. The second group are users of P2PU; members of P2PU

community who are not a part of the operational team.

To answer the research question on how P2PU is socially constructed, the task assigned was

to observe users’ statements on the P2PU web platform11 and potentially divide them into

different groups according to their perception of P2PU. The methodology used for this part

is netnography, which is a research tool commonly used in consumer education research. It

includes the analysis of forum posts, which is the main mode of communication on P2PU

web platform.

Since the operational team did not participate in forum discussions to a large extent, I

decided to use the method of online interviews to find out what meanings they assign to

the P2PU environment. I interviewed four people, two of them being the founders of P2PU

and two of them volunteers for P2PU. The interviews, which were conducted through

Skype, were later transcribed and used for analysis. In the following section, I shall explain

the two used methodologies in detail.

4.2.1 Netnography

Netnography, or Internet-based ethnography, is described by Kozinets (2002) as a written

account of online cyber culture, informed by methods of cultural anthropology. As a

research methodology, netnography is a relatively new qualitative research methodology

that adapts ethnographic research techniques to study the cultures and communities which

are emerging through computer-mediated communication (Kozinets, 2002). It is commonly

11
The web platform is accessible on the World Wide Web at the address http://p2pu.org. When speaking of
the P2PU web platform, I refer to the user interface of the P2PU environment.
33

used in marketing research, where “publicly available information – typically information

found in online discussion groups – is used to identify and understand the needs and

decision influences of relevant online consumer groups” (Sandlin, 2007, p. 289). In my

research, I will be using this method to the extent where I can distinct between different

relevant online groups and discover different meanings attached to the openness of P2PU

environment.12 In Sandlin’s research, netnography is used for capturing and critically

examining education and learning that occurs in online communities. It can be conducted

entirely unobtrusively, capturing consumers in their own, natural environments, providing

researchers with a window into naturally occurring behaviour as consumers chat with one

another, discuss information, and search for information online (Sandlin, 2007).

There are five stages in conducting netnography research: (1) entrée into an online

community that one wants to research; (2) gathering and analyzing data; (3) ensuring

trustworthiness of data interpretation; (4) conducting ethical research and (5) getting

feedback from participants (Kozinets, 2002; Sandlin, 2007). These five stages were carried

out in the process of investigation of P2PU online community.

4.2.2 Online interview

An online interview follows the same principles as a regular, face-to-face interview, except

that it is carried out with the help of internet connection, computer mediated

communication and Web 2.0 tools. The interviewer asks the interviewee a set of previously

12
As Sandlin (2007) puts it, netnography is a promising methodological tool for investigating consumer
education. Since the participants are in a certain way “consumers” of the courses, and learners at the same
time, I decided that netnography method is suitable.
34

prepared questions. In my case, the interviews were supported by a set of open questions,

conducted through a Skype call, which is identical to a phone call interview.13

I have established a distinction between two relevant social groups and identified

appropriate research methods for each group. In the next section, I shall present the

discovered relevant social groups in detail.

4.3 Identification of relevant social groups

Identification of the groups has been done by investigation of the P2PU platform through

virtual participation and information found on the P2PU website14.

While reviewing the P2PU website, one can establish that there are several groups of

people involved in the “life” of this socio-technical ensemble. Everyone that registers

(creates a profile on the P2PU platform), becomes a member of P2PU community. Members

represent all the registered participants on P2PU. They can be divided into many groups,

the most visible ones being the following:

Operational team. This group of people are volunteers with a long history and commitment

to P2PU. This team includes co-founders of the platform, who are people of different

professions and skills; writers, lawyers, employees of universities, PhD students etc.15

During the making of this thesis, most members of operational team have ran a course on

13
The questions asked in the interviews can be found in the Appendix A.
14
http://p2pu.org/team
15
It is important to note that this team has also built the platform on basis of an open source content
management system. Therefore, some of them are programmers and designers as well as operational
managers.
35

P2PU. Therefore most of them have experiences with facilitating a course on their own

chosen topic.

Users. At the current stage of the platform the users are the largest social group. Users are

individuals that are subscribed for a course and attending it or have taken a course in the

past. They are course followers.

Others. These participants are not subscribed for any course, even though they are

registered members of P2PU, which allows them to access all the course materials, content,

forum discussions etc. Usually, these individuals are individual researchers or lurkers16. The

latter are not necessarily registered members and could be only external observers.

The two most relevant social groups are course followers, whom I will address as users, and

the operational team. The course runners in the first round of courses have been almost

exclusively members of the operational team. Because these two groups strongly overlap, I

will dedicate my research to the operational team, which includes course runners as well.

Course followers in P2PU environment are an important construction part of the

functioning of P2PU and provide valuable feedback. Other members, not course subscribed

and lurkers, have not been easily accessible for research, therefore I have decided to leave

this group out of my investigation17.

Identifying these two relevant social groups offers the opportunity to research the meaning

given by each of the groups to openness of the environment, which is so strongly promoted

16
Users, who observe the content but do not participate.
17
Although Sally Wyatt (2003) has established that non-users also matter, they are not a subject of
investigation in this thesis. The main reason is because the number of them is not known to an ordinary user
and it would take a lot of time and effort to access this social group.
36

at P2PU. Another goal is to find out if users of this particular platform create a

homogeneous perception of openness of P2PU, or if they differ in attributed meanings. If

these relevant social groups are heterogeneous, I will present them in subgroups according

to their perceptions of openness.

Up to this point, I have identified the place, the target groups and the methods of my

research. In the next section of the thesis I shall first, present how P2PU and its openness

are described on P2PU website by the operational team. Second, I will present operational

team’s views which I retrieved through online interviews. Third, I will describe netnography

and its results, which I carried out on users’ forums. Finally, I will present the comparison in

different meanings, attached to the P2PU environment.

4.4 Operational team

In this part of the thesis I will focus on the social group “operational team”. I shall first,

present how P2PU and its openness are described on P2PU website. Second, I will present

operational team’s views which I retrieved through online interviews and make an analysis

of interview transcripts.

4.4.1 Operational team: P2PU website

At the beginning, I took a look at how the P2PU environment is presented to its users by

browsing through their homepage, “about” section, “values” section, “Frequently Asked

Questions” section and P2PU blog.18 The motto of P2PU is “learning for everyone, by

18
The operational team created the content on P2PU website, therefore the description is their view of P2PU
and their desire of what they want P2PU to become.
37

everyone, about almost anything”. What they offer to users of P2PU is learning. On P2PU

home page19 they refer to P2PU as an online community of open study groups for short

university level courses. P2PU is described as having three functions: it helps users navigate

the wealth of open education materials that are out there, creates small groups of

motivated learners, and supports the design and facilitation of courses. What is more, they

promise students and tutors to get recognition for their work, but they do not specify what

kind of recognition that is.

The foundation of P2PU are said to be values of openness, community and peer learning.

On the openness part, they are convinced that open sharing and collaboration enable

participation, innovation, and accountability. Community, content, model, technology, and

processes of P2PU are described as open. The community is open so that everyone can

participate, content is open for everyone to use it. Model and technology are open to

experimentation and improvement (presumably by everyone, but not explicitly said). And

the processes in the community are open as well. With open engagement in offered topics

of interest, learning can be more effective and more compelling, the “about” page says.

The analysis of P2PU webpage has allowed us to understand what the creators of P2PU

want it to be a bit better. In order to gain a more insightful view on what kind of people

with what type of thinking stand behind this platform, I have decided to perform a few

interviews with the creators and volunteers that work at P2PU.

19 th
The state of the website http://p2pu.org/ on 10 of July 2010.
38

4.4.2 Operational team: the interviews

The interviews were conducted with the use of Skype calls in May and June 2010. I

interviewed four people, involved with P2PU; two of them were co-founders of P2PU and

two were volunteers. They also ran relatively successful courses at P2PU.

I later transcribed the interviews for analysis. The analysis was conducted of several parts:

first, reviewing the transcripts and marking sections of the transcript that were in any way

connected to openness; second, identifying key words of sections associated with openness

and third, classifying the section under a common denominator (e.g., openness of

education, values). With this analysis, I will present different meanings that members of the

operational team assign to openness. The key quotes from interviewees, which express

associations with openness, are used in the following sections.

 Openness of governance

The first meaning of openness is connected to the governance of P2PU. Philipp, the

conceptual leader of P2PU20, emphasizes that since the beginning, they have been working

on openness not only for learning, but openness of the entire project. He explains that the

reason for open governance is for others to learn from P2PU’s mistakes.

We believe in doing everything openly and explaining why we are making certain
decisions and how we’ve come to certain conclusions. Then if we fail, someone else

20
Philipp is the one who takes care of “the boring stuff” as he says, and he is the only person fully funded and
involved to work for P2PU. He takes care mostly of the organizational things, the funding, partnerships,
reports to the community etc. He is employed as a scholar at the University of Western Cape in South Africa.
39

can look at all of this and say: ‘Oh, they did a mistake here, and I’m going to do it
better than they did’. (Philipp)

Open governance of P2PU also means that it is run and governed by a community of

volunteers. Most aspects of P2PU, including strategy development, communications efforts,

and design of new technology features, are driven by community input and support, Philipp

says. The operational team communicates almost everything with the entire community.

“The things that are still closed are mostly closed because it’s just work to make them open

in a way that’s useful for people.” But some things will remain closed. “Those are things that

need to be discussed with individual people, for example if we want to hire someone”

(Philipp).

 Openness of education

All four interviewees are proponents of open education in some way. Delia, the national

copyright director for schools and technical institutes in Australia and two-time facilitator of

Copyrights for Educators course, explains that open education is the reason why she works

at P2PU. “I’m a very strong supporter of open education. /.../ I think education is a basic

human right. I’m a supporter of any way we could deliver education to everybody in the

world on free or low-cost basis.” Openness of education is one of the basic values of P2PU

which she really strongly supports. She connects this openness also to being free in

monetary terms. “What about people in developing countries and transitioning economies,

who don’t have the opportunities to go to universities? I’m for free education. It’s

absolutely essential for human kind” (Delia).


40

Jane, organizer of two Creative Non-fiction Writing courses and Communications

Coordinator at Creative Commons organization, also relates openness to helping people to

learn. “I realized that P2PU can actually become something rather than just this

experimental fun activity. That it can become more ambitious and actually help people to

learn when otherwise they couldn’t learn” (Jane). A similar idea was rolling around in

Philipp’s head when he decided to give P2PU a start. “I saw a huge opportunity that would

increase opportunities for people to learn and to get education” (Philipp). Niels, a student

and runner of Poker and Strategic Thinking course, relates openness to creativity with

learning topics. “I love the ‘learning for everyone, by everyone, about almost anything.’

Crazy stuff like poker and strategic thinking” (Niels). Creativity is an important outcome of

open education for Delia too.

Open education gives rights and licenses to help you be able to do more in a safe
environment and also leads to quite amazing creativity. I think we haven’t quite seen
yet the potential of collaboration and sharing, particularly in the education
environment. (Delia)

 Values associated with openness

One of the values already mentioned in connection to openness, was creativity. But the first

association that Philipp connects to openness, is participation.

For me, the key concept that openness makes possible is participation. I think
participation then drives a lot of other things. I believe in the idea of people making
decisions in a democratic way, where everyone can participate in the decision
41

making. It’s a good way for us as people to organize our lives and our communities.
(Philipp)

That is why he also believes in the success of community-driven projects. He also connects

openness to quality and diversity.

If you have more diverse participation and you’re not locking people out because of
some characteristics they might or might not have; for example, do they have a PhD
or a university degree, which is what universities do. We’re actually limiting quality
that way. So by being open to participation from anyone, it’s good for quality, it
increases quality. (Philipp)

Similarly, Jane is convinced that openness leads to quality of the educational materials.

“Openness can aid and lead to quality cause everything is out there. You can see who made

what edits on the material and you can also improve them” (Jane).

On the diversity aspect, Delia recognizes the benefits of cultural differences.

One of the attractive things doing this courses, is if you have someone from Africa
working with someone in India, working with someone in Europe and working with
someone in the US, and they’re doing something together with very different
expertise and experience, now that’s pretty exciting. They have different cultural
backgrounds, they probably have different industrial and educational backgrounds
but they all learn from each other. (Delia)

She also believes it is important to stay open and adjust to different methods of teaching

and learning. “The platform and the community is very flexible about experimenting in new

ways of teaching and learning. We’re not stuck in a particular pedagogy, methodology or
42

philosophy.” She thinks of P2PU as an experiment about how we learn in groups and how

those groups feel about the experience.

 Openness of access

Delia is concerned about the changing nature of the digital environment and restrictive

copyright laws. She connects openness to the question of accessibility.

Copyrights are very restrictive; they are not very well suited for a digital
environment and the way that people work in a digital way. It’s very much based on
the 19th century print publishing model which doesn’t really work in the 21 st century.
(Delia)

Jane mentioned that open access leads to the quality of educational materials. Delia

elaborates, that “access is very important, but it’s not only having access to use or review

something. It’s also having the ability to repurpose it, remix it, add to it or change it” (Delia).

But not only the material on P2PU, the whole platform should be available for mashing up.

“We want everything to be open so that everyone can take P2PU, they can take the entire

platform and make it better. The point is to have it be available and out there for anyone to

use it and build upon.” (Jane)

4.4.3 Summary

The relevant social group operational team is a homogeneous group. The interviewed

members share similar opinions and views on openness and are all proponents of open

education. The meanings that members of the operational team assign to openness of P2PU

are collected in the following table (Table 4.1).


43

Openness is...
open community volunteers, everyone can participate
openness of the entire project, a way to learn from others’ mistakes,
open governance
open model, transparency of decisions and processes
open education the new model for learning, beneficial to society, basic human right
a drive for creativity, quality, participation, community involvement
connected to other values flexibility, diversity, freeness in monetary terms
solution for digital environment, remixing of material, reuse of the
open access
model
Table 4.1: Interpretations of openness the social group “Operational team”

As we see, the meanings associated with openness, presented in the table above, are

mostly connected to open governance and benefits of open education. The operational

team’s beliefs in the beneficial potentials of openness make them keep the decisions and

processes of P2PU transparent. They believe people could build on the foundations of the

learning model they created, thus following the idea of remixing, reusing and distributing

the content of P2PU. I can conclude that the operational team views openness in strong

compliance with FLOSS values, since they mentioned, for example, volunteering,

community involvement, open access etc.

I have presented the findings of interviews with operational team members. In the next

section, I turn to investigate another relevant social group, the users. Is their experience and

expectation of openness the same as with the members of the operational team?
44

4.5 Users of P2PU: forum discussions

In this section, I will present the principles of netnography and how I followed those

principles in order to discover which interpretations of openness are found in the relevant

social group users of P2PU. As a result of this analysis, if the group proves to be

heterogeneous, I will divide users into subgroups according to the meaning they assign to

P2PU and its openness and present the subgroups’ characteristics. Finally, I will compare

their interpretations of openness with the captured interpretations of P2PU, given on the

website, and with interpretations by the operational team.

4.5.1 Netnography

I have followed five stages in netnography research as described by Jennifer A. Sandlin

(2007). Netnography was carried out on P2PU platform between the months of February

and July 2010.

Entrée. An entrée involved identifying the online community, which was most relevant to

my particular interest. I identified P2PU because of the nature of its functioning

(corresponding with the FLOSS-like learning principles). The part of community chosen for

research was the forum discussions in individual courses, since it was the most active area

of user participation.

Data collection. The collected material usually comes in two forms: the written

communications occurring between and among participants in online settings and personal
45

notes of the researcher. Kozinets (2002) suggests classifying data into on-topic or off-

topic21.

To collect data, I monitored the discussions between users on different forums. Each course

on the P2PU website has a few of its own forum discussions. I limited my research to the

forums in English language and monitored the discussions on each course’s forums to find

relevant topics. The most relevant ones proved to be the introduction forums and the ones

which involved participant feedback22. At the time of my research, P2PU ran 15 courses,

each involving between 4 and 15 participants, who contributed to several forum

discussions.

Since the forums are relatively “young” and participants did not know each other from

before, there were not a lot of off-topic discussions. I reviewed the on-topic comments for

analysis together with my fieldnotes and organized texts into different themes while

focusing on the question how the openness of the platform is interpreted by users.

Trustworthiness. The issue of trustworthiness is concerned with the fact that some

participants in discussions might present false identities. This could undermine the

trustworthiness of the data collected. The real identities of participants cannot be known to

a P2PU user. Nevertheless, many users presented their own blogs, Facebook profiles and

Twitter accounts, whereas one could see that this person has one consistent online identity.

It was in the interest of users to get to know each other and present themselves, since that

21
An off-topic comment means that the posted reply has nothing to do with the topic of the discussion.
22
The most relevant forums for my research were found at http://p2pu.org/node/3838/forums and
http://p2pu.org/node/809/forums.
46

offered an opportunuty of future collaboration in business, face-to-face meetings for

people from close geographical locations and social networking. Thus, presenting your real

identity on P2PU is beneficial and I concluded that most participants have done so.

Ethical research. There is no consent between authors who write on netnography, if

research conducted in online communities should be disclosed or covert. Since the nature

of P2PU is public, I chose the Kozinets’ (2002) approach, who suggests that researchers fully

disclose their presence to the online community and explain their research. I did so in the

Introductions forum at P2PU “Lounge” and on my profile page at P2PU. There is much

research going on at P2PU, since it is a new trend. Many newspapers write about it, thus

observers are welcome because it means publicity for P2PU. Also, researchers provide

important feedback which P2PU developers use for improvement of the platform.

Therefore, knowing that I will be kindly accepted was another reason to disclose my

presence as a researcher.

Participants’ feedback. Getting feedback from participants, or also known as ‘member

checking’ is the process of presenting research findings back to research participants, in

order to get their comments on researchers’ interpretations of data (Sandlin, 2007, p. 290).

I have presented collected data together with my personal experiences in a P2PU course in

a form of a report, and posted it on a blog23 as a part of my project in that same course. The

post is accessible to everyone, and I received feedback from the P2PU founder that this

report is very useful, feedback from the course organizer on what aspects of the course still

have to be improved and mostly positive replies that the report is well done, but no
23
http://www.e-taalim.com/featured-articles/special-report-e-journalism-course-p2pu.html (10.8.2010)
47

concrete replies on findings. The report has also been mentioned by many P2PU

participants through their Twitter and personal blog posts.

Following these five methodological steps has led me to the presentation of findings of

netnography research.

4.5.2 Findings

In this section, I will present the results of analysis of the users’ forum discussions in order

to understand how users of P2PU create their own interpretations of openness of the P2PU

learning environment.

Similarly to interview transcript analysis, described in the previous section, forum analysis

consisted of several analytical steps. Once the on-topic posts (involving reflections and

expectations regarding openness of P2PU) had been collected, key words in each post were

underlined. The key words (love, beneficial, throwback, flawed, etc.) helped me to classify

each forum post in one of three different connotations. The first classification was as a

positive connotation, i.e., positive emotional association expressed in the text, the second

as negative and the third under “other”. Inside this classification, I managed to read into

characteristics of users, who were separated into these three groups. I named them the

proponents, the rejecters and the sceptics regarding openness. Throughout my research, I

have decided to make a representative sample of 16 different users, who expressed

themselves through forum posts closely related to interpretations of openness. The names

of participants were changed for privacy, since all participants presumably used their real

first and last names.


48

 The proponents of openness

This group is formed by enthusiastic users who believe the concept of open education,

represented at P2PU, is the model for the future. They do not see any weak points in the

openness of P2PU. I identified that 7 out of 16 users, presented in this analysis, can be

assigned to this group.

Almost all of them have expressed excitement about the courses they have been taking,

already in the beginning of their learning experience at P2PU. Many of the participants

speak about openness in connection to education. They see P2PU as a medium which helps

to practice open education. “I've been a proponent of open education for many years, but

admit there are still questions as to how it might work in practice. I'm hoping my experience

here might help answer that,” commented Steve. Miranda is excited by the experience. “I'm

totally stoked to finally take part in one of the most reasonable new approaches to

education I've ever seen” (Miranda). For Arthur, “one of the main attractions of this place is

that it's trying to push education forward and find new models instead of just trying to

move the teacherclass structure online” (Arthur).

Addressing the founder of P2PU, Vladimir captures the spirit that was overwhelming the

P2PU introduction forum.

You sir, are at the helm of a wonder-world about to give birth to a collective
consciousness! I love the concept of this web-ship you are directing. It's ‘power to
the individual’ however meagre and minuscule, but it's power none the less. Let no
one be left unheard. (Vladimir)
49

Furthermore, proponents of openness and open education see it as an overall benefit for

the society. “Open education and sharing of educational resources enhances creativity and

thus produces more knowledge to the overall community,” thinks Hasan, while Eve believes

that building on principles of openness for learning “would be the path to sustainable

development. Perhaps projects like p2pu have found the easiest path to those principles”

(Eve).

Many proponents see openness as something that includes different values, such as

flexibility, diversity and freedom. “I think it is beneficial to have the flexibility to learn from

people of different backgrounds and experiences,” says Hasan.

“I also learned the importance of embracing differences in levels of expertise rather than

being intimidated by them” commented Sara on her experience in one of the courses. Eve

sees openness as something without formal organizational restrictions.

“*Openness of the course+ gives me personal freedom to walk away from the course
if I don’t find it interesting, there is no pressure and I can get involved as much as I
like, from contributing a lot to only lurking.” (Eve)

Users find it beneficial that the courses are open in terms of access for everyone. Again,

they point out open learning as economically beneficial to the society, like Eve did. “I love

the fact that everyone can participate. If every type of education would be organized like

this, we would be able to educate much more people.” (Eve)

I believe open learning or informal learning is the future and that it will solve a lot of
economic problems not only to developing countries but also to developed
countries. (Hasan)
50

Jimmy expresses indifference to openness except in terms of access. “The openness was a

draw only because I wanted to take the course, there may be lurkers in this course, but they

are generally not making an impact on me personally.” Although he does hope that the

course he took will evolve: “I hope that someone will run this course again and keep

building on the foundation that [our course runner] has created. This is really great

content.” (Jimmy)

The proponents of openness thus express the following interpretations of openness at P2PU

(Table 4.2):

Openness is...
connected to open education

the new model for learning

beneficial to society and economic activity

flexibility, diversity, freedom

access for everyone

represented at P2PU
Table 4.2: Interpretations of openness by social group “The proponents”

Overall, these participants are very enthusiastic and they adopt the same view as the

operational team on benefits of openness of education. They believe to be a part of a new,

innovative learning model that they could only find at P2PU.

 The rejecters

The rejecters are participants who followed courses at P2PU but are disappointed with their

course and with P2PU in general. It seems to them that this concept of openness did not
51

work in practice. Most of them had a bad experience in the course and do not see the open

nature that P2PU promotes. I was able to assign 5 out of 16 users, taken in the sample, into

this group.

Some participants noticed that some of P2PU decisions limit them. They recognized that the

openness does not necessarily mean that you can do whatever you want, whenever you

want. The courses are limited with the number of seats for each course; one has to be

accepted to a course through an application form. Also, there are application deadlines for

assigning to courses, and one can only subscribe to a course 2 times a year. “Tying courses

to the calendar seems like a throwback to more traditional learning. Is there a reason not to

start and stop courses when they are ready to go?” asks Kenny.

Others strongly criticize the concept of P2PU, and have not embraced the idea of open

learning at all:

With all due respect, my experience with the P2P course/…/ leads me to conclude
that the P2PU concept may be fatally flawed; or at best can only work within a small
subset of social contexts and/or subjects. It's definitely not appropriate for maths
and sciences, and the courses are not modular or fully reusable. Essentially P2PU
seems to me more of a collection of closed-interest groups with tasked discussion
forums than anything resembling a pedagogically sound educational platform. (Ben)

Ben’s experience clashes with the operational team’s expectation about courses that can be

reused or remixed. He even emphasizes the closed nature of group discussions which, for

him, has nothing to do with the new open educational model that P2PU is promoting.
52

Some participants realize that the idea which P2PU stands for is somewhat different from

what they experienced. “An educational or social site which interferes badly with the user

experience because of counter-intuitive navigation leads to frustration, limits growth and

drives people away, which is not exactly P2PU'S aim,” Kate established, while Fred thinks

that “overall, the P2P thing was a brilliant concept but really poorly executed”.

This subgroup of users recognized mostly the downsides of P2PU openness concept, which

in actual courses were attrition, lack of community building and lack of feedback from peers

and tutors. All the courses have struggled with similar problems. The hard-working students

that stayed in the course until the end were disappointed in not receiving any

acknowledgment for having completed the course.

One thing that took everyone by surprise was the attrition within groups. By the
third week our 6-person group was down to three, and soon that became two. /.../ I
suppose 50% or higher attrition shouldn’t come as a surprise when you are dealing
with busy professionals who are learning for the sake of learning. Reality tends to
interfere with such pure motives. (Mike)

The 6 week course had no provision to stop and think and engage with the content
and in the end it became a matter of just "getting it done". /.../ It was too rushed,
and I didn't find the high level of attrition from other groups at all surprising, in fact I
was amazed that so many finished it at all. (Fred)

Fred, just like Ben, feels that the concept of open study groups did not succeed in this case.

Participants recognized that having too much openness can lead to having no feeling of

community. Therefore many suggested that there should be more emphasis on interaction,

facilitation and community building.


53

The content itself was excellent, but the method of interacting with that content
was poorly delivered. We only got through it because we were determined not to
quit, and we had enough tech skill to fill in the gaps that the course itself had
created. (Fred)

Fred also expressed the lack of feedback from the course runner and the lack of connection

between peers and course organizers. He recognizes that the peer assessment model is not

satisfactory. “As far as I am aware we have still not heard back from our final assessment

task so I don't know whether it passed or not, or what the feedback was. There needs to be

a greater connection between the tutors and the participants, even if it is peer-run.” (Fred)

The rejecters of openness express the following interpretations (Table 4.3), connected to

P2PU, and explain how in practice openness is not as beneficial as in theory.

Openness is...
closed study groups
not the new educational model
too open: attrition, lack of community building, lack of feedback
access for a limited number of people only when the courses are open for signup
not represented at P2PU; P2PU concept is flawed
Table 4.3: Interpretations of openness by social group “The rejecters”

The users in this subgroup do not interpret openness in the same way as the proponents.

They base their view on their experience of following a course at P2PU; they view the study

groups – groups of participants inside the course – as closed, with restricted discussions.

They believe that what they find at P2PU is a failed educational model. All in all, these

participants do not embrace the idea of openness, promoted at P2PU, rather claiming they

think there is no openness at all or seeing it as a source of many pitfalls.


54

 The sceptics

The sceptical participants at P2PU, compared to the rejecters, have not been so

disappointed with the courses. Nevertheless, they do stop and think on what could be

improved, what bothered them, and where mistakes were made. They question openness

of P2PU environment, and do not embrace P2PU as enthusiastically as the proponents. It is

the smallest group of users - only three users out of 16 within the sample - but significant

because of the nature of the issues they raise, which none of the other groups did.

Most of the users in this group find the fact that courses on P2PU are open and accessible

to everyone, generally beneficial. But they do express some doubts regarding privacy issues

and the lack of participation that may arise from having every discussion available for

anyone to read.

I think we are all on unsteady ground when talking about the new openness. For
example, many spoke of only presenting a professional persona when online etc.
There have been comments I have hesitated to make (and some have been left
unsaid) because of the openness. (George)

George explains that hesitation on participating in discussions is connected to his

professional persona he wants to present online. Some participants function online as

having many different identities, meaning their personal views might differ from their

professional views. The openness of the environment makes it more difficult to decide

which identity to “use”, since the content readers might be from the “professional” or the

“personal side” of somebody’s identity. Similarly, Anna and Simone emphasize the benefits

of having private discussions on certain topics.


55

I do think private, walled online gardens are essential sometimes to frank


discussions. Archiving of everything shared could be painful for students in the
future if they're not cognizant of the public nature of the course. And sometimes,
people can inadvertently share too much. (Anna)

Simone thinks that “if students (particularly younger ones) are on record saying something

in what is supposed to be an academic environment, there are clearly risks of people

avoiding giving honest opinions etc.”

Users also connect openness to practical issues. “If specific information of a higher level

[e.g., university level] was being addressed, prerequisites or filtering of class participants

might be in order, but generally love the idea of many different levels participating, as long

as all are comfortable with a quick pace,” Anna emphasizes the problem that could arise

along having the course open in terms of access.

This group of users connects values of privacy, flexibility and diversity to openness; privacy

as something that is not being considered, but it should be, and diversity in levels of

expertise as a benefit. George emphasizes the benefit of flexibility when it comes to leaving

the content open for later reviews. Although, similarly to the rejecters group, he recognizes

some failures in the open communication system and lack of facilitation of group

communication.

Communication seems to be the main challenge. And a lot of the appeal is that the
seminars are recorded and so give flexibility. But at the same time, I've only really
worked properly with [one of the participants] during the course. Most importantly
is setting up some sort of failsafe system for communication between
admin/teachers and the students. (George)
56

This issue might be connected to the privacy issues, where openness can actually limit the

communication in the course. It is an interesting and most important negative aspect of

openness that the sceptics have pointed out.

The sceptics expressed the following interpretations of openness at P2PU (Table 4.4):

Openness is...
generally beneficial
sometimes too open: not enough privacy
limiting to communication
confusing to online identities
diversity, flexibility
represented at P2PU
Table 4.4: Interpretations of openness by social group “The sceptics”

Mainly, they see openness as beneficial, but nonetheless, they point out possible pitfalls.

They partially embrace the idea of openness, promoted by P2PU.

4.6 Comparison

In this chapter, I will present how netnography and interview analysis helped me to

comprehend the complex meanings users and operational team create through the

processes of teaching and learning at P2PU. I shall try to figure out the interpretative

flexibility of the artefact by comparing different views of different social groups. I compared

each of the users’ subgroups between each other, compared them to the operational

team’s views, and to descriptions on P2PU website.


57

According to the question “What meanings are attributed to openness in the relevant social

group operational team,” I have found - through online interviews which I conducted with

members of this group - that the operational team has quite unified views of openness of

P2PU. They connect openness to “fighting for a greater good” such as delivering free

education to people who cannot afford or do not have access to traditional education. They

are all working on open governance of P2PU which they connect to transparency of

decisions and processes in P2PU. They also associate openness to open access to materials

and freedom to modify these materials. Thus, this group offers a conceptual vision of

openness regarding P2PU. They emphasize the functional relation between open politics,

techniques and education, which form the integrated world of P2PU. The group has proved

to be homogeneous in attributing the meaning of openness to P2PU. Is their construction of

this artifact similar to users’ construction?

In order to answer the question “What interpretations of openness are found in the

relevant social group users,” I divided users into subgroups, according to their views.

Netnographic research helped me to determine that some users, instead of accepting the

interpretations of openness, suggested by the P2PU website, find meaning in experiences

they had with P2PU. They create alternative constructions of openness and critically assess

what it means for P2PU to be “open”.

Three different subgroups of users have been found: the proponents of openness, the

rejecters of openness and the sceptics about openness. The proponents are the most

enthusiastic users of P2PU, almost like fans that do not see weaknesses in P2PU and
58

embrace the idea of open education. They share the view with the operational team on

importance of openness for education, and even expand it on economic benefits for the

society. They participate in P2PU because they strongly believe it is one of the most

important steps in education they have ever seen. These users accept the interpretations of

openness, suggested by the P2PU website and are most similar to operational team, since

they interpret openness as connected to political and ideological elements. Their

interpretations are connected to beliefs and expectations about openness, while they

neglect what is really going on in practice.

There is a sharp distinction between the rejecters and the proponents groups, as well as

between the rejecters’ and the operational team’s interpretations of openness. Rejecters do

not see the open nature that P2PU website promotes. Most of all, they focus on the

functionality of the educational model of P2PU. They find that the open study group model

is not open in practice, and recognize openness of entire community as insufficient. They

see openness as the problem which is making community too loose and vague, which

causes students to drop out, and causes a lack of feedback between peers and course

facilitators. Their interpretation of openness is very different from the interpretation of two

previous groups, as they offer a very technical and operational view. It seems that the

previous groups perceive openness in a wider context, mostly connected to beliefs, while

the rejecters focus on the practices; the tangible context of P2PU environment’s

functionality. The biggest tension is found in the friction between beliefs and practices.

Expectations prior to the experience (in the proponents case) and experiences, gained once

the course is over (in the rejecters case), shape different visions on openness.
59

The sceptics group is not so enthusiastic about P2PU and its openness, but not as critical as

the rejecters either. They believe the P2PU open education model is generally beneficial,

although they do not specify those benefits. What they focus the most is an issue that too

much openness brings, which is lack of communication and a safe private environment

which could stimulate more intimate topics and opinions. Thus, their view is focused on the

individual participant and what openness could mean for him/her in relation to privacy and

identity issues. They are somewhere in between the groups of proponents and rejecters,

carefully and intriguingly testing P2PU.

4.7 Conclusion

In the previous chapters, I have analyzed different relevant social groups in the open

participatory learning environment of P2PU in order to demonstrate the interpretative

flexibility of P2PU.

In my research, I have focused on openness of this environment, which is the essence of

functioning and a guiding principle of P2PU. I separated members of P2PU into different

relevant social groups according to the nature of their involvement with P2PU; those groups

were operational team, which runs courses and takes care of organization of P2PU, and

users, who are followers of courses24. I chose an appropriate methodological approach for

each group; online interviews and netnography. The findings are that the interpretations of

operational team are homogeneous, while the interpretations of users were grouped into

24
In the future, this structure might change because everyone is allowed to run courses, not only the
operational team members. Also, P2PU strives towards being ran by the community, therefore in the future,
the boundaries between who runs the platform and who follows courses, might be very blurred.
60

three subgroups: the proponents, the rejecters and the sceptics. To sum up, there are

distinctions between users in their views on openness. The proponents and operational

team connect openness most of all to benefits of P2PU to open education, while the

rejecters connect openness to drawbacks in functionality of P2PU. The operational team

offers a holistic, conceptual view of P2PU where political, technical and educational

elements are connected. This view is partially adopted by the proponents, since it is driven

by ideological elements, connected to their beliefs. The rejecters’ view is technical and

operational, motivated by practices, while in the sceptics group, individual vision is most

influential. These different interpretations, offered by different groups, demonstrate that

even a virtual artifact possesses interpretative flexibility.

Seeing participants of P2PU as members of different social groups allows one to see there is

no one unified meaning of this artefact. Viewing P2PU through the eyes of Social

Construction of Technology theory makes us understand that the development of this

technology, artefact, or socio-technical ensemble, is not due to an inner logic, not even to a

fistful of people, but an ongoing project of improvements through all the social groups

involved in the process of making a technology.

In the previous chapter, I have focused on the social construction of the open participatory

learning environment of P2PU by relevant social groups. In the next research part of this

thesis, I explore the construction of a particular P2PU course, with a focus on networks in

order to find out how knowledge is transferred in P2PU community.


61

5. Transfer of knowledge at P2PU

In this part of my research, I will focus on the processes of learning in P2PU environment.

The first aim is to find out how learning in P2PU is organized by looking at the infrastructure

of a certain P2PU course, and the second aim is to find out how FLOSS-like learning

organization and principles can be implemented and beneficial in practice to the learning

environments of P2PU.

The research question I am trying to answer is:

- How is knowledge transferred in P2PU environment?

In the theoretical part, I have presented characteristics of FLOSS-like learning (Table 2.1)

and values of FLOSS communities, found in P2PU (Table 3.1). As a subtask, I will turn to

investigate if the structure and organization of knowledge transfer in FLOSS communities

can be found in the learning environment of P2PU.25 In addition, empirical research is set

to:

- compare actors in the learning network of FLOSS communities to the actors of P2PU;

- compare transfer of knowledge which takes place in FLOSS communities to the

transfer of knowledge in P2PU community.

The unit of analysis is a particular course at P2PU, named Digital Journalism. First, I will

describe the course, its content, structure and functioning. Next, I will present the concept

of Actor-Network Theory (ANT), which is used for framing of this empirical part.

25
The term “transfer of knowledge” is used to emphasize that the process of learning is dependent on
different actors in the network of P2PU environment.
62

Furthermore, I shall describe the methodology which I carried out additional to the five

steps of netnography. Using the concept of heterogeneous networks (Akrich, 1992; Law,

1991) I will describe the elements in the infrastructure of the course, following the

principles of FLOSS-like learning as found in reports on FLOSS communities (Glott et al.,

2007; Weller and Meiszner, 2008). Finally, I will describe the methods of knowledge transfer

inside the course’s community and use basic social network analysis to discover

communication processes and knowledge transfer among participants.

5.1 Presentation of Digital Journalism course

Content. The course, named Digital Journalism, was described as an introduction to online

journalism, citizen media and the use of social networks for journalism and collective

action26. It covered the topics of new media for journalism, business models for online

journalism, using the Web 2.0 tools for reporting, and more. The objectives of this course

were to learn about how the Internet and new social media is impacting journalism, to use

tools for researching, participating in and creating news and stories online, and finally, to

create and publish a story as a team using the Web 2.0 tools and present it to the class.

Organization. The course was hosted as an online course at P2PU, and at the same time, as

a physical course at Keio University in Japan. This means that it included “virtual”

participants from all over the world, gathered at P2PU, as well as “physical” participants at

Keio University, mostly Japanese students. The course organizer was Joi Ito, Chief Executive

26
Everything about the course is accessible at http://p2pu.org/journalism (6.8.2010)
63

Officer of Creative Commons and a researcher at Keio Research Institute27. Guest lecturers,

who came from all over the word, were journalists (New York Times, Al Jazeera, Boing

Boing), university scholars, writers and also the Chief Technology Officer of Science and

Technology Policy Office at the White House.

Structure. The course was constructed out of lectures, weekly assignments, and projects.

The participant collaboration and discussions took place on P2PU web platform

(screenshots of the course are in Appendix B: Figure I), with the use of forums and Internet

Relay Chat (IRC). Lectures took place at Keio University (Appendix B: Figure II) every Monday

at 9a.m. JST (Japan Standard Time)28, and were accessible to virtual participants through live

streaming via UStream.tv29. Guest lecturers used Skype video calls to give lectures, and

these calls were projected at the physical and virtual classroom (Appendix B: Figure III).

Much like in a traditional course, the lectures were held every week and assignments were

organized according to the topic of each week. The untraditional part of the course was the

use of multiple information-communication technologies (ICT), web tools for content

management, and the combination of the physical and virtual environment.

Motivations for participation. Following P2PU participant discussions on one of the

course’s forums30, it was discovered that the main motive for course participation was the

interestedness in the course topic. Participants were mostly passionate about journalism,

27
From http://joiwiki.ito.com/jstatic/index.cgi?joi_ito_s_cv (6.8.2010).
28
This was every Monday, 2 a.m. CEST (Central European Summer Time), which was the only obstacle
regarding my research and a general obstacle for participants from different time zones.
29
UStream is a web platform, providing a network of channels for video streaming of events online. The
archive of lectures from Digital Journalism course was always acessible during the course, for later viewing,
and is still accessible at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/kmd-p2pu-digital-journalism (6.8.2010).
30
Introduction forum at http://p2pu.org/node/3838/forums/4036 (6.8.2010)
64

enthusiastic blog readers or just news lovers. It also felt important and exciting for them to

be a part of a project, such as P2PU.

Technology. There were many communication streams and Web 2.0 tools used for this

course. To a large extent, participants used forums on P2PU platform for discussion on

assignments, on current topics and for exchange of useful resources. Another

communication stream was the IRC channel during lectures for discussion among virtual

and Keio students. Participants also used Google groups’ mailing list for updates and their

own Twitter accounts for promotion of this class to a wider public.

In this chapter, I have briefly described the course.31 In order to provide a research

framework to observe different elements of the course and their interaction in transfer of

knowledge, I will present actor-network theory (ANT) and its concept of heterogeneous

networks in the next chapter.

5.2 STS theoretical frame

Actor-network theory (ANT) explains the construction of technology by focusing on

networks. Networks are infrastructures, surrounding technological artefacts. Those

networks consist not only of people and social groups, but also of artefacts, devices and

entities. What seems, on the surface, to be social is partly technical, and what may appear

31
One should mention that the course had a different meaning for students of Keio University, who took the
course for credit, than for P2PU participants, who took the course mostly only because of the interestedness
in the topic. Nevertheless, the fact that there was an additional offline portion of the course does not interfere
with my research. I regard it only an extra space where students could meet face-to-face. I also believe that
the fact that the course was facilitated at a real university does not interfere with the structure, organization,
or performance of the course at P2PU. What is different in comparison to other P2PU courses is that this
course was more diverse in terms of elements that structured it.
65

to be only technical, is partly social. ANT is concerned with the social-technical divide by

denying that purely technical or purely social relations are possible (Tatnall and Guilding,

1999). Akrich (1992) argues that technical objects participate in building heterogeneous

networks that bring together actants of all types and sizes, whether human or non-human

(Akrich, 1992, p. 206). This allows treating human and non-human actors in the same

relational terms and conduct analyses that do not discriminate against any part of the

ecologies of scientific facts and technological objects. It does not privilege any particular set

of variables, because every variable (or set of actors) depends upon others (Sismondo,

2004, p. 69).

The metaphor of heterogeneous network is described by Law (1992) as the heart of actor-

network theory, “and is a way of suggesting that society, organisations, agents and

machines are all effects generated in patterned networks of diverse (not simply human)

materials” (Law, 1992, p. 2). Since the course is a technology in the making and not a

stabilized technology, my investigation will not concern de-scriptions (Akrich, 1992) or

translations (Latour, 1983). I intend to use the concept of heterogeneous networks (Akrich,

1992) to describe the infrastructure around the P2PU course, which contains both human

and non-human elements and to describe the process of knowledge transfer among

different actors in the network. This non-distinction eases my task as a researcher since I do

not have to give any special explanatory status to either of these elements and it enables to

outline the infrastructure, containing different actors.


66

As Madeleine Akrich (1992) puts it, even the most mundane objects appear to be the

product of a set of diverse forces. Since describing all the relations embedded in a

technology would be “a mammoth task” (Akrich, 1992), I did not choose P2PU environment

as a unit of research - which would involve everything from copyrights, programmers, open

educational resources, universities, governments and so on - but a certain P2PU course. The

network in question is the heterogeneous network of human and non-human actors

(Akrich, 1992), which surround a technical object – the Digital Journalism course. This is not

a technical object like a car or a mobile phone, but a virtual technical object which might be

subset to even more influences than a physical object. Since technical objects

“simultaneously embody and measure a set of relations between heterogeneous elements”

(Akrich, 1992, p. 205) the choice of this “object” is appropriate; its construction simply

results in a virtual entity.

If the previous research has focused on social groups in construction of technology, I now

abandon that focus and follow as human as non-human entities in the process of

knowledge transfer to find out how different elements form a whole. Methodology, which I

used for the assigned investigation, is presented in the next section.

5.3 Methodology

Just like in the first part of my research, I turn to the method of netnography. Netnography

is a research methodology that uses ethnographic research techniques in a virtual setting

(Kozinets, 2002), while ethnography was presented as a most suitable data collecting

methodology in the scope of actor-network theory (ANT) by Tantall and Gilding (1999). They
67

suggest that actor-network theory is useful in handling complexity without filtering.

Ethnography does the same, thus, ANT and ethnography share fundamental principles. In

their research, these authors suggest that ethnography can be used in the areas of

computer-supported cooperative work, studies of Internet and virtual communities, and

information system design. This has lead me to the conclusion that ethnographic research,

such as netnography and participant observation, is a suitable method inside the frame of

actor-network theory as well as a method for research of a complex entity in a virtual

context.

Three steps out of five steps of netnography on ensuring trustworthiness, ethical research

and participant feedback took place as described in the Social construction of technology

chapter. The first two steps required some additional work for a successful investigation.

Additional to the first step, entrée into the community, I had to perform an entrée into the

course32. There were no prerequisites for following the course, except having a Twitter

account, basic understanding of the internet and knowledge of English language, since the

course was conducted in English. After creating a Twitter account, I was able to enter,

participate, observe and explore the course with no obstacles, because I signed-up for the

course on time.

Regarding the second step of netnography, gathering and analyzing data, Kozinets (2002)

suggests that collected material should come in two forms; the written communications

32
I chose this particular course because it was the only course carried out outside the time frame of two yearly
course cycles, set at P2PU. In the time of making of this thesis it was the only course carried out from
beginning to the end, what made my participation possible.
68

occurring among participants, which were used for the first part of my research, and the

observer’s personal notes. The personal notes that I made during my participation in a

Digital Journalism course will be used for this part of my research.

I extended this step with not only observation, but also with active participation.

Participant observation is a method, usually used in ethnographic research for

anthropology, but also in the fields of sociology and communication studies, for gaining a

close familiarity with a certain group of individuals and their practices. Online participant

observation is, just like netnography, a form of ethnographic research in a virtual setting.

Therefore, I decided that the use of these two ethnographic methods would be appropriate

for a virtual setting. Furthermore, since the goal was to collect as much information on

different actors in the network, the only possible way to do that was through active

participation in the course’s lectures, assignments and projects as a student at P2PU.

Additional to netnography, which is a qualitative approach, I conducted a basic social

network analysis to observe the transfer of information and communication between

participants in the course. Social network analysis is a quantitative approach, which can be

conducted independently of qualitative approaches. In my case, it concerned counting the

number of replies in each discussion and establishing the direction of the reply (from whom

to whom it was addressed).

The benefits of social network analysis are that it helps us understand how communities are

organized, to analyze the structure of social interaction, to understand knowledge


69

collaboration, and to visualize how individuals interact (Glott et al., 2007, p. 41). Latour

(1997) explains in his clarifications on actor-network theory that ANT has very little to do

with the study of social networks. He describes social network analyses as studies that

concern themselves with the social relations of individual human actors and their

frequency, distribution, homogeneity and proximity (Latour, 1997). Nevertheless, he

includes social networks in his research, but marks that they have no privilege or

prominence. I shall follow his idea and include the social network analysis on knowledge

transfer between participants without giving it any special status. The reason why it is

important to study communication flow between users in this part of my research, is

because communications is a mean that makes transfer of knowledge possible.

The course started on the 4th of June and finished on the 23rd of July. I carried out

participant observation in addition to first five steps of netnography, following the course

from beginning to the end, contributing in forum discussions, following lectures,

participating in IRC chatroom, doing assignments and working in a team on a course project.

I engaged myself as a participant in order to experience and understand the functioning of

the course and in order not to miss any important actors in the network. The best way to

follow all the actors was to become a part of an actor in the network myself. I conducted

the social network analysis on a particular forum discussion which I found representative of

the process of learning and knowledge transfer.

Up to this point, I have presented the subject of research of this empirical part (the Digital

Journalism course), the concept of heterogeneous networks from actor-network theory that
70

is used for framing of my research, and the types of methodology together with how I

justify their use.

The upcoming presentation of research is divided in two closely connected parts. In the first

part, I ask myself what artifacts, devices and entities are involved in the network of

interactions in a Digital Journalism course at P2PU. In the second part, I discover the

transfer of knowledge in the P2PU community – the methods and the structures.

Throughout this research, I compare characteristics of FLOSS communities to characteristics

of P2PU in order to illustrate how FLOSS communities function as open participatory

learning environments in practice.

5.4 Transfer of knowledge in a network of actors

In this section, I take an insight on the Digital Journalism course, embedded in a larger

network of different actors. Trying to find how knowledge is transferred at P2PU, the first

aim is to recognize the infrastructure surrounding this artefact and to find how various

elements participate in constructing that network. The second aim is to compare those

elements to the elements of FLOSS communities in order to establish similarities and

differences between a P2PU course and a FLOSS project. Everything that I describe in this

section was conducted with my participant observation and with the use of field notes.
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5.4.1 Actors in the network

Spaces. Internet is a building platform for most parts of the network surrounding the Digital

Journalism course. It enables computer-mediated communication, offers tools for carrying

out student work, useful resources etc. It constructs the course since all the content of the

course is provided through internet sites and resources. P2PU as well as FLOSS base their

functioning on the World Wide Web. The Digital Journalism course had one special

characteristic; it was implemented at a real university, as well as at P2PU. This course

connected the virtual space of P2PU with the real physical space of Keio University.

Students came from both environments.

Human actors. Interaction between community members is an important part in

community’s functioning. Participating in a FLOSS community is aligned with a high degree

of collaboration and communication between numerous people; core developers,

community managers, project managers, developers, active users and observers (Glott et

al., 2007). In a Digital Journalism course, the people involved, or the human actors, were

“students”, the facilitator of the course, lecturers, operational managers and other

observers. Students were users of P2PU and students at Keio University (altogether 41

students), who followed the course and collaborated online, similar to active users in FLOSS.

Another group of participants were guest lecturers, which appeared in weekly real-time

seminars to give lectures and answer questions from participants (perhaps most similar to

project managers in FLOSS). Members of P2PU operational team took care of the

operational issues and gave directions at the beginning of the course, which puts them in a
72

position of community managers. The facilitator, Joi Ito, had a critical role in the whole

process. He was in charge of the organization and structure of the course, the topic provider

and discussion leader at seminars. Like core developers in FLOSS, he provided the content

on which users work and had the possibility to direct the design and evolution of the

projects. Following the FLOSS recipe of a good community leader, he was the one who

listened to the voices from within the community, forged relationships and gave credits

where it is due (Glott et al., 2007, p. 15). There were also neutral outside observers which

appear in every open virtual community - also in FLOSS - who, for example, viewed the

streamed lectures or read the forums but never contributed in the discussions. To sum up,

the distribution of participants in a Digital Journalism course was very similar to distribution

of participants in FLOSS projects.

Activities. Activities in which participants were involved consisted of weekly seminars,

where we listened to lectures, asked questions and discussed topics. Furthermore, we had a

few assignments. These were to write reflections on a reading, to create an online identity

through a blog, and another time to write a short report on an aspect of the World Cup,

using new journalism tools. The overall task of the course was to start a journalistic project

in teams. This resulted in a few blog posts from participants, covering different topics on

Muslims in Tokyo, new abilities for modern journalists, digital journalism in Tokyo and a

report on the course (my project).

The greatest similarity with FLOSS in this aspect is that participants in FLOSS communities

also work on projects, while some of them are involved with smaller tasks, like organizing or
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communicating activities. While some participants carried out projects in this course, others

just contributed in discussions. Communicating activities (reading questions and answers in

forums, participating in discussions and answering questions) are the main activities within

FLOSS communities (Glott et al., 2007) and so they were in this course as well.

Learning resources. Collaborative learning in a FLOSS community is highly dependent on the

interaction between community members and the resources the community provides (Glott

et al., 2007). “FLOSS communities provide users with various types of learning resources,

the ‘common’ ones like manuals, tutorials, or wikis, but also resources that might not be

considered as learning resources at first point like mailing lists and forums.” (p. 44) Learning

resources that resembled manuals and tutorials were the course materials, such as

Logistics, Good to know, Weekly course seminars and Goals sections33. This was more of a

how-to material, which helped users learn how to participate in the course. The most useful

resource in the course proved to be forum discussions, where participants shared their own

opinions and experiences. The richness of geographical and cultural diversity of participants

contributed to interesting debates and additional sharing of resources34. UStream as a

resource, providing recordings of the seminars, was also very appreciated among

participants. Other learning resources were blog posts, articles and lectures mostly from

respected journalists at different well-known news houses. Thus, the course provided

“traditional” learning material in form of text articles and video lectures, as well as

33
http://p2pu.org/node/3838/document (11.8.2010)
34
View for example the discussion board at http://p2pu.org/node/3838/forums/4151 (11.8.2010)
74

untraditional (e.g., forum discussions). This distribution and types of learning resources can

also be seen in FLOSS communities.

Communication technologies. In FLOSS, to offer opportunities for learning and self-

development for newcomers (in our case, users), as well as on the horizontal level between

experienced community members (the facilitator, lecturers), the platform has to provide

channels in which knowledge is transferred from one community member to another and

from experienced to the newcomers (Glott et al., 2007). One of the most important

prerequisites for knowledge transfer is the functionality of various communication tools,

which are the channels through which the knowledge is transferred. Knowledge transfer

occurred through many tools or communication technologies for interaction between peers

(forum discussion, IRC chat, mailing list, Twitter), between lecturers and peers (Skype,

UStream, IRC chat), and for interaction between participants and their assignments and

projects (participants’ personal blogs and wikis, forum discussions). FLOSS communities

similarly use mailing lists, forums, chat and instant messaging for community

communications. In FLOSS discussions, messages do not consist of questions and answers

only, but also include the “path” of leading to an answer (Glott et al., 2007). In almost all

discussions on forums and also in IRC chats of the Digital Journalism course, links to other

resources were used.


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5.4.2 Findings

In the following table (Table 5.1), I have presented actors in the network of a Digital

Journalism course and described their elements. It answers my question on what artifacts,

devices and entities are involved in the network of interactions in a Digital Journalism

course at P2PU.

actors in the network elements


spaces the web platform (http://p2pu.org), Keio University
human actors users at P2PU, operational team, lecturers, facilitator, lurkers
activities seminars, assignments, projects, discussions, communications
OER, online news sites, journalism blogs, online newspapers,
learning resources- common
recorded lectures...
learning resources- other how-to material, forum discussions, chat logs...
communication technologies blogs, wikis, forum, IRC, mailing list, Skype, UStream, Twitter
Table 5.1: A heterogeneous network of a Digital Journalism course

As we see, this network of actors is heterogeneous, containing both human and non-human

actors. The network, infrastructure of Digital Journalism course, brings together actants of

all types and sizes, from communication technologies, virtual spaces, activities, resources,

students and media; thus, be it human or non-human (Akrich, 1992).

In addition, to embed the theoretical part of this thesis into research, my intention in this

chapter was to present the characteristics of FLOSS projects, how and if they are used in

this particular course. The comparison is presented in the following table (Table 5.3).
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Characteristics FLOSS projects P2PU course


area of functioning virtual space virtual + physical
human actors active users students
core developers facilitator
project managers lecturers
community managers operational team
main activities projects, communication projects, communication
main outcome of product new knowledge
learning
learning resources - manuals, tutorials, wikis course material, OER, websites,
common recorded lectures
learning resources - mailing list, forums, chat logs mailing list, forums, chat logs
other
communication streams mailing lists, forums, chat, instant mailing lists, forums, IRC chat,
messaging; Skype, UStream;
outside the project: not indicated outside the course: Twitter,
Facebook, LinkedIn...
Table 5.2: Comparison between FLOSS project characteristics and P2PU course characteristics

The functioning of FLOSS projects is based strictly in a virtual environment, while this

particular course also had a physical component. The participant roles in communities

coincide. The place of a core developer in FLOSS is taken by the facilitator at P2PU, the

lecturers work similarly to project managers, operational team manages the community and

active users function like users at P2PU, named students. Main activities in both areas are

carrying out projects and communication between participants. The main outcome of

collaborative learning is a commons-based product (Benkler, 2002), while the emphasis at

P2PU is on learning for the sake of learning. There, a final product (the project) is only a

mean for learning, not the main goal. Common learning resources differ since the nature of

work is different (in FLOSS, creation of open source software, and at P2PU, following a

course). The resources for learning at FLOSS are more like transcripts of past experiences on

how to get things done, while at P2PU, the resources can be more diverse, because the
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courses are more exploratory in nature and not so much a process of building something

(e.g., software). Other learning resources, such as forums and past discussions are useful in

both cases. The use of communication streams is similar, although P2PU tries to extend

channels for communication through social media (e.g., Twitter) and uses more

synchronous communication streams (UStream, Skype). Some participants at P2PU have

connected also through other social networking sites, like Facebook and LinkedIn. This

indicates that participants in P2PU courses expand the social activity outside the course and

share personal information through social media, while FLOSS research does not mention

connectivity of participants on that level.

This was a step in exploring a case of how the effectiveness of a FLOSS-like learning

community can function in an educational setting, a P2PU course. The next step is to

observe the process of knowledge transfer among participants in that same setting.

5.5 Transfer of knowledge in the community of participants

In the previous section, I have established the course’s infrastructure and interaction

between actors in the network, surrounding the course. The aim of this section is to

observe how the described network of actors enables transfer of knowledge among

participants. I will first, present different methods of knowledge transfer inside the course

as found in FLOSS communities, and second, carry out a basic social network analysis of the

course communication among participants. The aim is to find reflections of knowledge


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transfer in communication structures and compare the findings to those of FLOSS

communities.

5.5.1 Methods of knowledge transfer

There are several methods of knowledge transfer identified in FLOSS communities. Glott,

Meiszner and Sowe (2007) identified three main types; mentorship and pulling that signify

learning between experts and newcomers, and learning between peers.

Mentorship. Authors describe the concept of mentorship in FLOSS communities as a mean

of knowledge flow from the experienced (lecturers and facilitators in case of P2PU) to the

newcomers (new users). Mentorship is an informal relationship between an expert and a

newcomer for the purpose of learning and self-development (Glott et al., 2007, p. 52). The

lecturers and the facilitator of Digital Journalism course had similar roles; to transfer their

knowledge through Skype video lectures to participants at P2PU and Keio University. They

provided important insights with their experience on the new form of journalism since they

all worked as journalists at respected newspapers or online news sites. As Glott (ibid.)

further describes, providing mentorship for each newcomer is not possible since the

newcomers severely outnumber the mentors. Therefore, many participants, in FLOSS as in

P2PU, take positions of externalizing their knowledge and answer knowledge seekers’

questions, thus sharing their knowledge with the whole community through appropriate

communication streams.
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Pulling. Another way of knowledge transfer in FLOSS is described as pulling. Any participant

can become a knowledge-puller. Pulling is described as a learning process where a

newcomer asks a question to a more advanced learner (Glott et al., 2007, p. 55). In the case

of P2PU, users address questions to the community as a whole. Other participants or

lecturers then provide their answers. This is a very common method of knowledge transfer

at P2PU. The pulling learning process is not only important for users, but also for mentors

(experts) because it involves some form of reflection-in-action. As newcomers may have

different perspectives and may come up with pertinent questions, the mentor is forced to

reflect on granted assumptions and consequently improve the learning process (ibid., p. 58).

Peer learning. What characterizes knowledge transfer within FLOSS communities is that this

transfer can take place between community members that have only marginal differences

with regard to their expertise (Glott et al., 2007).

The technology that is used within the FLOSS community in order to communicate
and facilitate knowledge exchange enables knowledge transfer between community
members that do not know each other (personally) and / or that live in completely
different places of the world. (ibid., p. 53)

Knowledge transfer in P2PU is similar. It is not based completely on transferring knowledge

from the more to the less experienced; the main idea of the course is to strive towards

lively community participation, where peers could learn from other peers. Why this is as

important as gaining knowledge from an expert is because the virtual environment enables

participation from geographically distributed users. Thus, users’ cultural, political or


80

educational background may differ, and the profit of that is to provide access to these

different experiences and opinions in a course. This is following the idea of peer learning,

which emphasizes the necessity and benefits of learning from your peers, by your peers and

with your peers.

I have identified three different methods of knowledge transfer in FLOSS that are

represented at P2PU. The next task is to establish how these different methods of

knowledge transfer are reflected in the communications structure of P2PU community. This

step will be investigated with the method of social network analysis.

5.5.2 Social network analysis

Communication and collaboration between various participants in the course was the

driving force of Digital Journalism course. In this section, I abandon the position of

participant observant and perform a social network analysis as a mean for graphical

presentation of interaction among participants. This analysis offers a mechanism to discover

key individuals in FLOSS communities, to determine who is who, how much participants are

contributing to the community discourse etc. (Glott et al., 2007, p. 44). I use it in P2PU

environment for the same purpose, to map the interactions inside the community of

participants and in order to establish the patterns and characteristics of knowledge transfer

between participants.
81

In this exploration, the unit of analysis is one of the forum discussions, which was at the

same time a place to discuss an assignment35. This discussion was found as appropriate for

observation since it had many participants, many replies, and it nicely represented the use

of this communication technology (the forums) and communication between participants in

this course. The discussion took place in the second week of the course. The social network

analysis was constructed by counting the posts from each participant in the discussion and

counting from who to whom the post was addressed. The figures, shown in this chapter, are

a result of these counts, performed with the use of Pajek software, an open source software

tool for social network analysis.

5.5.2.1 Results

In Figure 1, we see the social interaction between the 22 participants in the course, which

contributed in the discussion in question. The participants are presented with nodes. The

ties between the nodes represent a forum post, a message from one person to another

(indicated with the direction of the arrow).

35
The forum discussion can be found at this address: http://p2pu.org/node/3838/forums/4048 (15.8.2010)
82

Figure 5.1: A social network analysis - representation of communication in the course’s forum discussion

Connections. There are 33 lines in this network, plus two two-way lines (in blue), which

means that there were 37 messages posted in this forum discussion. Rebecca possesses

most connections (21), pointing towards her (her input degree is the highest). In this forum

discussion, she had the function of a facilitator; she posted instructions for the assignment

(the task was to read and discuss an article). She posted a few guiding questions but the

main idea was to write what one thinks of the article. Thus, other participants had to reply

to her assignment post.

There are only two two-way connections. The blue line indicates a reciprocal relationship.

This means that when David replied to the assignment, Rebecca commented on his post

(she answered back). David was the only participant who she replied to. She did not
83

function as a full facilitator; she only provided the guidelines at the beginning of the

discussion. Thus, all the discussion was based on participants’ interaction.

Participants. As we see, there are a lot of single-way interactions. The participants with only

one connection are marked in yellow. Many replies did not provoke any other interaction or

contributions from other students, e.g., the connections Dean-Rebecca, Nadhir-Rebecca,

Hala-Rebecca and so on. These are in FLOSS communities called peripheral users (Glott et

al., 2007). The participants with level two connections are marked in green. Level two

connections mean that there are two lines connected to the node, either pointing in or out

of the node. Thus, participants in green have either posted two messages or posted one and

received one reply (nobody in green received two replies). They have more connections

than the users in yellow (two), but not as much as users in red, who all have at least three

connections. The “red users” have the highest level of interactions.

Input connections. If we exclude Rebecca - the participant with most input connections

because of the nature of her message - the person who most people replied to, is John.

Most people did not receive any replies from other participants, or they received one. But

John received four replies, David received three and Gueorgui received two replies (arrows

pointing inwards the node). These participants can be characterized as the discussion

enablers, since their postings provoked other participants to reflect on the issues they

raised, or provide answers to their questions. They are not specifically noted in FLOSS, thus

this may be an important difference in knowledge transfer between FLOSS communities


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and an online participatory learning environment - the importance of discussion enablers

for community’s communication. In contrast to the type of knowledge transfer, described

as pulling, they have not addressed questions to experts, but to all the participants in the

discussion.

Output connections. The participants commented on other participant’s posts; these

comments are presented as output connections. The ones who replied to most forum posts

were Andria and Richard, both with five replies to others’ postings. They are the posters

that externalized their knowledge the most, either helping answer questions or share their

expertise and useful resources. They were acting similarly to mentors in FLOSS

communities, except that they were not considered to be the experts by other users; they

merely provided their own opinion on the given topic.

Figure 5.2: Cluster of the most active participants in a forum discussion

In the Figure 2 above, I have extracted the participants with most activity in this forum

discussion. This is called the core of participants with the highest level of connections
85

between them (level 3 – all the participants have at least 3 connections to other

participants in this cluster). In FLOSS communities, these participants would be called

knowledge brokers (Glott et al. 2007). They serve as community facilitators and are active

members that dominate the structure of the network.

5.5.3 Findings

This social network analysis has mapped the social interaction between participants in a

P2PU course. The aim was to understand knowledge transfer among participants. There are

two important findings to this analysis. The first one is that the transfer of knowledge is

dependent on participant interaction and not on mentors, facilitators or experts.

Participants cooperate in discussions, giving each other their own insights, replies, and

sharing resources. A very interesting fact is that most of these connections are not

reciprocal (as we saw, only in two cases the interaction was in both directions). Thus, some

participants prefer to act as knowledge brokers (mentorship) and some as discussion

enablers (pulling), while others stay in the periphery and do not interact with others (they

only do the demanded share – post the assignment). Nevertheless, what could be further

explored through other methods of analysis, is if the peripheral users provide some sort of

stimulation for other participants. Even though they do not engage in the debate, they

could be important for the community in the role of an audience.


86

The second finding is that participants can be grouped into clusters, similar to those in

FLOSS communities36. I found groups of peripheral users (yellow), knowledge brokers (red),

the ones who externalize their knowledge (with most output connections) and discussion

enablers (with most input connections). It seems that this distribution of roles presents an

appropriate environment for knowledge transfer, where each participant occupies a critical

role in relation to the other participants.

In FLOSS, as in P2PU, an important part for reciprocal activity in the community is a cluster

of knowledge brokers with most communication activities between them. Since the

participants in the group of knowledge brokers are also the discussion enablers and the

ones who externalize their knowledge the most, they are found to be the driving force of

knowledge transfer in the community. If I connect this finding of one core of strongly

connected participants to my research as a participant observant, I can conclude that the

participants in this core are the participants that stayed in the course until the end. P2PU

deals with a very high drop-out rate among students; i.e., if there were 22 students in this

discussion that took place in the second week of the course, only about eight students were

left as active participants by the sixth week, when the course ended. Five out of those

students that stayed, are represented in this strongly connected cluster (Figure 5.2).

36
This comparison was done according to the findings of the study of mailing list networks by Sowe, Angelis
and Stamelos (2006), titled “Identifying Knowledge Brokers that Yield Software Engineering Knowledge in OSS
Projects”.
87

5.6 Conclusion

In this research part, I have focused on transfer of knowledge in a particular course at P2PU.

I have presented the Digital Journalism course, the STS frame of actor-network theory, and

the research methodology: steps of netnography, participant observation and social

network analysis.

The investigation on how knowledge is transferred at P2PU has been separated into several

parts. First, I used participant observation and followed the actors in the network,

surrounding the Digital Journalism course. I have found that there are many actors involved,

as human as non-human (spaces, participants, activities, learning resources and different

communication technologies). Moreover, I wanted to find elements of FLOSS projects which

are present in this course’s network. The most visible elements of FLOSS project

characteristics found are the structure of human participants, main activities, some types of

learning resources and streams of communication. These findings suggest that the FLOSS

learning structures are in fact used in practice at P2PU. Differences are found in the use of

common learning resources, since P2PU uses a larger variety of resources, also audio and

video contents, whereas in FLOSS, the emphasis is on learning from online written material.

Another difference is that participants in P2PU course connect through social media outside

the course, while social contacts amongst participants in FLOSS are not indicated in

available studies.

The actor-network theory approach has allowed me to use the concept of heterogeneous

networks in order to understand the structure of a Digital Journalism course at P2PU. It has
88

proved that its construction depends on a set of diverse forces, while the elements in the

network contribute to specifications in the transfer of knowledge. The success or failure of

the technology is the upshot of the socio-technical networks within which it is produced and

consumed (Mackay, 2000). Thus, attention should be paid to both human and non-human

actors if the P2PU team wants the platform to succeed.

In the second part of this research, I have observed different methods of knowledge

transfer among the participants in this network. The recognized “transfer” methods have

been mentorship, pulling and learning between peers. I have performed a short social

network analysis on the network of participants in a particular forum discussion to find

those three methods reflect in practice. I have found that, like in FLOSS communities, there

is one strongly connected core of participant that is responsible for most of the activity,

discussion and knowledge transfer in the community. Surprisingly, most relationships are

not reciprocal, which means the participants take separate roles either in knowledge-

providing (mentorship) or discussion-enabling (pulling). In the general concluding part, I

shall present main findings in the light of STS research. Last, but not least, I shall point out

guidelines for possible further research.


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6. General conclusions and implications for further research

The aim of this thesis was to look into the “black box” of a technology, an Open

Participatory Learning Environment of Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU). It has focused on the

importance of open source software communities for educational settings, on the social

meaning of the technological artefact and on transfer of knowledge in the network of actors

of this environment. Throughout the thesis, the emphasis was on comparison of open

source software communities (FLOSS) to the learning environment of P2PU.

The main research questions that were addressed in this thesis are:

- How is openness of P2PU constructed by relevant social groups?

- How is knowledge transferred in P2PU environment?

The first task was to discover if there is consensus between relevant social groups through

negotiation of meanings of the artefact. Two distinct social groups, involved in the

development of the technology, have been recognized; the operational team (founders and

course runners) and the users (course followers). It was discovered that the consensus on

openness of this artefact has not been reached, since different subgroups of these users

(divided into the proponents, the rejecters and the sceptics on openness), as well as the

operational team, interpret openness each in their own way. The operational team offers a

conceptual, holistic vision of openness. Most similar view is the proponents’ view, who offer

a political and conceptual vision, mostly concerned with benefits to education and society

as a whole. The rejecters see openness as a source of community’s malfunction, offering a

very technical and operational view. The sceptical users offer a personalized view, related to
90

their privacy and identity. We have seen that interpretations on “working” or “non-

working” of the technology are socially constructed and that meanings, given to the artefact

by social groups, constitute that artefact.

In the second part, I moved from investigating the vision of openness to investigating how

openness is put in practice. As a participant observant, I followed different actors, human as

non-human, on the path of knowledge transfer. The aim was to disclose the transfer of

knowledge in a P2PU course – elements in the network, the methods and the structures.

The infrastructure of a technology, surrounding a P2PU course, has been discovered by

participant observation through the concept of heterogeneous networks, presented in

actor-network theory. It has been found that this network does not consist only of users or

social groups, but also of different spaces, activities, learning resources and communication

technologies. Methods and structures of knowledge transfer have been visualised with

social network analysis, finding that each participant occupies a critical role in relation to

other participants, be it as a knowledge broker, discussion enabler or peripheral user.

Transfer of knowledge mostly depends on non-reciprocal interaction between students in

the course.

The findings show that many features of FLOSS-like learning organization and FLOSS-project

characteristics can, in fact, be observed in an open participatory learning environment. This

was found on the case of the Digital Journalism course. Properties of FLOSS projects, found

in a P2PU course, are the structure of human actors, peer-to-peer methods of knowledge

transfer, and distribution of communication roles in the community.


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From this case study of P2PU I can conclude that FLOSS principles can be implemented in

open participatory learning environments, although the issue remains that this

implementation is not successful in every aspect, judging by drawbacks of openness

presented by users through netnography research.

One very interesting thing to do would be to take a look at the case of P2PU a few years

from now and examine the failures and successes of this technology. Unfortunately, we do

not know if this technology will reach stabilization and momentum any time soon, since its

functioning is based on constant development and improvements. Perhaps it will establish a

new educational model which will be used widely, or perhaps it will gradually die out and

other projects will evolve from its bits and pieces. Nevertheless, we can be certain that it

will change within the course of time.

Another interesting issue to be resolved is to find out if the success of this technology is

dependent on technical or learning challenges. Throughout my research, I have noted many

disagreements and complaints on the structure of the platform. It could be that the user-

unfriendliness of the P2PU platform and the tools that it uses is an obstacle for efficient

learning. The benefits of building a whole platform from scratch (as in P2PU) and the

benefits of building on tested open source content management systems (e.g., Drupal)

should be weighted out by the creators and designers of the learning platforms. The politics

and ethics hidden behind the construction of learning platforms could be an interesting

issue to address.
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There are many ways in which FLOSS principles can be implemented in formal higher

education settings. Weller and Meiszner report on a FLOSS-like learning community in

formal educational settings (2008), that gives good insight in which principles of higher

education and which principles of FLOSS would be desirable to keep in an optimal mix to

improve formal education. This is a very interesting subject, which could be developed in a

thesis, considering the potentials of P2PU for connection with universities and

governments. For example, P2PU could lend its virtual space for courses to universities,

which otherwise would not have the capacities or money to run these courses in physical

classrooms.

All in all, I would like to conclude with the thought that perhaps the most beneficial

outcome of this thesis was to realize that open source as a concept, as well as open

standards, may be extremely important to society as a whole, especially in the domain of

learning and education.


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7. References

 Akrich, M. (1992). The de-scription of technical objects. In Bijker, W. and Law, J.


(Eds.) Shaping Technology (pp. 205-224). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

 Atkins, D. E., Brown, J. S. & Hammond, A. E. (2007). A review of the open educational
resources (OER) movement. Achievements, challenges, and new opportunities. [On-
line]. Available: Retrieved from
http://www.kcweb.org.uk/weblibrary/open_educational_resources.pdf.

 Aviv, R., Erlich, Z., Ravid, G. & Geva, A. (2003). Network analysis of knowledge
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Appendix A: Interview questions for the social group operational team at Peer-2-Peer
University

About you:

- What exactly do you do at p2pu?


- You’re a part of operational team? What does this involve?
- And you do this completely voluntarily?
- What do you do otherwise, when you don’t volunteer for p2pu?
- Why do you work at p2pu? / What is the driving force behind your voluntarism? /
What is the reason that you started to work on this open learning project?
- Do you know any other such projects?
- Why do you think projects like p2pu were developed in the first place?

About values:

- On p2pu website there are several values mentioned, like an ideology behind the
functioning. (The following values and principles are the foundation of P2PU:
openness, community, peer learning). Why do you think we should build on these
principles when it comes to learning?
- Why is the value of openness important for you?
- Are there other values that you would regard as important as openness when it
comes to learning?
- What is the comparative advantage of the kind of learning that you stand for at
p2pu, so peer learning? What is different regarding distant and classical learning?
What is different regarding OER?
- Can you think of any negative sides of this kind of learning, or this type of
education?
- What do you believe is the future of p2pu? Can you think of any ways it could fail?
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About courses:

- Have you run any courses at p2pu?


- Were there many participants in this course? Did they follow a course from the
beginning to the end or did some of them drop-out?
- What was the communication inside a course like? How do you communicate with
your students? What technology do you use?
- What was the assessment like?
- Did you follow any courses?
- Did you have anything to do with the design of the platform?

Thank you very much for your time and good luck with p2pu in the future!
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Appendix B: Screenshots of the Digital Journalism course at P2PU

Figure I: The Digital Journalism course at P2PU platform

Figure II: Mashing up the real and the virtual; participants are following the lecture online
via UStream and IRC discussion and physically at Keio University
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Figure III: Screen within a screen – streaming a Skype video call of a guest lecturer from Al
Jazeera through UStream