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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

The CEO of Creative Commons, Joi Ito, is currently teaching a free online journalism class through Peer 2 Peer University, an online community of “open study groups for short university-level courses.” The online class syncs with a graduate-level class Ito teaches at Keio University in Japan, and features a UStream presentation and IRC chat once a week.

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Joi Ito

IRC chat? Yes, the class glues together tools like UStream and IRC, and the platform, which was built on a Drupal base, continues to evolve. P2PU’s organizers make it clear they know the tools aren’t perfect, so they’re using feedback from participants to refine things as they go.

I joined the class at the last minute. The New York Times had written about P2PU in April, as well as other open learning communities outside of traditional institutions. I stumbled across the article while searching the word “edupunks.”

A Proposal

The concept of providing coaching outside of traditional educational institutions has fascinated me for close to a year. I’m focused on how professional journalists can share their knowledge with new creators of online content, be they “citizen journalists,” neighborhood activists or seasoned newspaper people working on building online skills.

In the fall, I submitted a Knight News Challenge proposal for an online class, 260 Open, with face-to-face components. Students would have been required to produce coverage of civic events, and experienced journalists would have edited their work closely. The concept was designed to not only spread civic knowledge, media literacy and strong journalism skills, but also to increase the amount of news coverage in particular communities.

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I proposed that the class use Moodle, an open source learning management system that has been adopted for institutional use in many places, including the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College. (In the end, I didn’t receive a News Challenge grant.)

Then, in May, I pitched the concept at the news entrepreneur boot camp held at the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California. One strength of that pitch was that many others at the boot camp are building news organizations with educational components to broaden the capacity of communities to help cover their own news.

What I needed, though, was a proven business model with customers who can pay.

Certainly, many large media companies are seeking help from their respective communities in covering the news, and the need exists to improve skills in communities that have lost local news coverage. But finding actual paying customers willing to support classes for the public good is a tough nut to crack. As large companies rush to create content to wrap around new online local ads for small businesses, though, perhaps the business model will become clearer.

P2PU

In contrast, P2PU isn’t focusing on the business model at the moment. Instead, organizers are building a community, refining tools and experimenting. That’s inspiring.

P2PU co-founder Jan Philipp Schmidt explains the concept of the online school:

In fact, Mozilla teamed up with Hacks & Hackers in a collaboration launched at Knight’s recent Future of News and Civic Media conference to use P2PU to allow programmers to teach journalists and journalists to teach programmers. Mozilla and P2PU are also launching the School of Webcraft, with a call for course proposals by July 18.

P2PU’s current journalism class has shown me that perhaps it’s possible to just start, with imperfect tools, even before funding or business models are clear.

In Charlotte, where I’m based, media folks have demonstrated a commitment to peer coaching and support with some journo/bloggers meetups. We just started holding them, with little regard to organizational structure. David Cohn of Spot.Us showed up via Skype for one meeting.

P2PU shows that possibilities exist. It demonstrates the power of asynchronous communication and online tools for learning, as students in Japan go to class at 9 a.m. on a Monday and I listen and watch at 8 p.m. on a Sunday, at the same time. It’s quite a time shifter, right out of “Harry Potter.”

What’s Next

What I’d like to see next: Take the concept to local communities, with tools that individuals can use to easily create independent, civic journalism courses. Those classes could be augmented with local meetups to strengthen ties and build strong networks. Local journalists familiar with the civic and social nuances of particular communities would add unmatched value.

Perhaps there’s a business model in there somewhere. But, more importantly, the concept provides more tools for journalists to share knowledge and perhaps help sustain themselves as teachers and coaches, while broadening the capacity for communities to tell their own stories.

Maybe we can make it so. What do you think?

Andria Krewson is editor for two community sections of the McClatchy-owned Charlotte Observer in Charlotte, N.C. She is @underoak on Twitter.


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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.