It’s the Feedback, Silly! P2PU’s Plan for Badges

At P2PU we’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about badges–and here is our plan for a qualitative, feedback-based system for our third badge iteration. This was presented at the Digital Media and Learning Grantees Conference in Irvine, CA on January 25, 2013.


We Met on Etsy: a Story of Serendipity and Learning

It started with the kind of problem that hatches romantic comedies: I lost a ring.

And not just any ring–one my girl Elena had bought me during a recent BFF-a-thon in Stockholm. Not only was I super bummed, but I felt like I’d let a solid piece of karma escape through my fingers.

So I started to hunt for a substitute on Etsy, perusing galleries of resin rings whenever I found myself in front of a TV. And then I came across Colin Butgereit’s store and his angular, mod, 3-D printed objects were *perfect*–I ordered two and considered the obstacle vanquished.

About an hour later, I got the sweetest email from the artist. Colin was stoked about the order, and would I be so kind as to leave feedback if I liked the rings?

A quick search unearthed that Colin actually works for MakerBot, the company that fashions hip 3-D printers, and his work had been featured on esteemed electronics hobbyist site Adafruit.  He also is an artist with a studio here in Brooklyn, just miles from where I sat.

So my response anted it up a level: I asked if I could swing by his studio & he could teach me something. It turned out that he was teaching an intro class on MakerBot that weekend at the Madagascar Institute and he generously welcomed me there.

I found Colin in the shop this past Saturday morning, sitting at a bay of purring electronics. The MakerBot, a machine like a pedestal from some steampunk gallery, efficiently spun its cocoon of plastic into the coordinates offered by the program.


We were making a wee Christmas tree topper, and Colin warmly walked me through the variables involved in preparing a drafted object for production. First we  selected an appropriate resolution in order to balance the needs of quality and speed. You can also determine the density of the object by selecting an internal “infill pattern”–like the honeycomb of a beehive.

Soon we generated the code to tell the MakerBot what to do, and all of the individual coordinates of the design whizzed by on the screen. This code establishes a “toolpath” for the machine–what it should make first, second and third.

Watching this festive token take shape, line by line, totally blew my mind. All of a sudden I found myself looking around the studio, seeing all of the objects around me as a series of engineered layers. Trippy.

Second major observation was the fascinating sound of the machine–the gentle soundlings of nurturing an object into being. I mentioned this to Colin and he laughed–a friend of his had actually captured this harmony with a MIDI pickup, and used it as the background soundtrack to a video of Colin putting together a Thing-O-Matic:

As we waited for my ornament to print, we started talking about how we think about project-based learning at P2PU.

Colin said: “When I was explaining P2PU to someone else here at Madagascar, I said ‘It’s kind like our How Hard Can It Be? sessions.’ If one of us wants to learn something, like say, bronze casting, we’ll get some people together to figure it out. We don’t exactly know what we’re doing, but…how hard can it be?”

I thought that was apt.

At P2PU, we facilitate an online community in order to prompt this kind of serendipity–connecting people who are passionate and want to learn.  As this kind of discovery can happen both online and face-to-face, we’re interested in how those ways can connect.
In 2013, we hope to explore more learning experiences between makerspaces and P2PU.

I leave you with my very humble prototype.


Merry Christmas.

A Very Special Episode of the P2PU Community Call

I give you the takeaways from a very special Community Call.


As we close 2012, it’s time to prompt a reflective practice. To wit, I asked those on the call today:
1. How would you define the P2PU community?
2. What are your big goals for 2013?


Hopefully our self-definition becomes our “compass” for how we approach our goals–and prod each other to achieve them–in 2013.


Question 1: How do we self-define?
Here’s what this looks like on a very high-level:


Question 2: What are our goals for 2013?

  • Leah: 3 School of Open Badges courses will be taking off with 15 people (at least) enrolled in each.
  • Chris: 2013 – MOOC Maker! And School of Sound has one course off the ground and running. Become better open source code participant
  • Dirk: Online/offline course – collaboration with 2/3 maker spaces. Streamline P2PU tech dev.
  • Vanessa: Implement and Ship Assessment Plan & Fiction MOOC using Git/Github for peer review and revisions
  • Zac: Social Networking graduate class embedded in SOE w/ possible grad credit from Antioch New England.

Full notes and chat from the Community Call can be found here:

The Hackathon, Revamped: Recs for Mixing Hackers & Storytellers

Storyslam session @Story Hack Day

Hello peers! So we’ve been working on an experiment over here at P2PU–with SoundCloud, we hatched a plan to revamp the hackathon, peer-learning style. The event was Story Hack Boston, and took place this past Saturday at the MIT Media Lab. 44 storytellers and hackers came together to tell stories. It was totally baller.

A Bit of Backstory

The idea for a P2PU/SoundCloud event came about during our Berlin popup office this summer. Longtime friend-of-P2PU and SoundCloud Developer Evangelist Paul Osman and I were drinking beers in Templehof Park, and he brought up the idea for a storytelling event. Since Philipp is now a visiting researcher at MIT, we had access to the Media Lab’s event space. And I’m very interested in bringing together different groups of folks to prompt sharing and learning, so this was fast shaping into a plan.

Our Approach to Story Hack Day

We wanted to take a distinctly peer learning approach to the event. All of our sessions would be “facilitated” rather than “led,” and all sessions would lead to a project. And since I’m so gosh darn constructionist, it’s important to me to strike a collaborative (versus competitive) tone. There would be no prizes, but rather folks will be motivated by intrinsic motivation and personal interest. Another goal would be to prompt interaction between these two groups–hackers and storytellers–for learning, discovery and delight.

What the Heck Happened?

In the morning, we offered 4 very different sessions that led to storytelling projects. These sessions were:

  • Heartbeat of MIT: Soundscapes, facilitated by Michael Boezi
  • Arc of the API: How to Use APIs to Tell Stories, facilitated by Paul Osman
  • Beyond Vox Pop: Creative Ways to Engage Your Audience, facilitated by Brendan Baker
  • Storyslamming, facilitated by Yours Truly

In the afternoon, folks worked on their projects until demos at 6.

A Few Highlights

There are 9 awesome projects that demo’d at the end of the day–those are all up on Hacker League.

A few of my favorite moments from the day:

  1. Serena and Leo: while Leo is a programmer and runs off to hackathons quite a bit, his girlfriend Serena (who is also a teacher and a mime) had never been to one. Story Hack Day was a hackathon that peaked both of their interests.
    They worked together on an awesome project where they interviewed Story Hackers about their dads. They presented at the demo, and check out their *amazing* project (featuring P2PU Executive Director Philipp Schmidt).  
  2. Story Hack Chain: When the Vox Pop group noticed that we needed to prompt more Hacker-Storyteller interactions, they decided that their project would be to interview both Hackers and Storytellers, and get them to ask questions of each other, and record the answers. The result was a *badass* storychain–take a gander.

Lessons Learned & Recommendations

At P2PU, we use the feedback mechanism “red yellow green” to reflect on activities and think about solutions & recommendations for next time. As the day ended, we sat down to think about what worked, what didn’t, and what we would change for next time. We hope this forms a roadmap for others who want to create interdisciplinary hackathons, and open up this project-based learning style to more folks.

Paul Osman

  • Red: registration retention–this is an unsolved mystery, 45 show-ups was surprising when we have 130 registrations
    • Recommendations: we should have hammered out the programming earlier–we did it piecemeal instead of all up front.
  • Yellow
    • Pitch for the event was a little too loose–>people didn’t really know what they were coming for
    • Goal for next time–everyone who registers knows whats going on and gets it
    • Give examples of related projects
    • Collaboration between hackers and storytellers
      • Integrate the API demos into all sessions?
      • Storytelling speed dating AS THE FIRST ACTIVITY to prime folks to think like storytellers
      • Group project like a storychain
  • Green
    • Space
    • Sessions–that got people who might not have been into it recording and actually doing
    • The demos. Oh man, the demos.

Amit Jotwani

  • Green
    • THE SPACE–if I could pack it and take it with me, I would
    • Creative people coming together with hackers
    • Use the platform we built as an example/template
    • People stayed all day who didn’t expect to…..people blew other options off in order to stay
  • Red: NO RED
  • Yellow
    • Need more ideas to bring hackers and storytellers together more so

Philipp Schmidt

  • Yellow:
    • I think we had a sweet spot with number of people–it wasn’t mayhem
  • Green
    • Overall most people made some connection across the hacker-storyteller divide–dont beat yourself up about it
    • Sometimes developers don’t talk to each other at all!!!
    • My day was awesome despite the hangover (VMG +1 Brendan +1)

Brendan Baker

  • Yellow
    • Reluctance on storytelling side to dive into a project
    • Storytellers don’t really know what hackathons are about–a little enculturation is necessary
  • Green
    • Some students who didnt initially plan to come from the hackathon–just for the food
    • When explained, they asked a bunch of questions and it turned into a really great conversation
    • What kind of outreach is possible in the educational establishment?

Michael Boezi

  • Red
    • Community around the list ahead of time
    • Get people to opt-in earlier?
  • Yellow
    • Enough hacking in his session, or sharing iterations or drafts
    • More horizontal sharing in the creating process
  • Green
    • Erin–saying she was not creative, only here because of her husband, but was inspired to jump in and do–she had NEVER opened garageband before & was innovative with the platform

 Evan Tenenbaum

  • Red: there was a dip of half hour after the sessions where people needed help actually digging in to their project–what next?
  • Yellow: individual motivation that storytellers took to make something happen
  • Green:
    • Demos–so, so stoked about those
    • Last 3 hours


Update from Digital Media and Learning @Duke

Greetings peers–I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Durham for the DML Grantee workshop. All of us grantees gathered together to share how we approach assessment and badging systems.  As P2PU has been doing this stuff for awhile, we were asked by DML to talk about what we’re up to.


DML Demo
The prompt was to give a brief overview of our system, and to answer the question “How do we test our system or prototype?”
Here’s how I choose to engage that question (P2PU starts at about minute 30:00 or so).
And the slide deck I used for the presentation:
The questions were awesome, and shoutout to David Wiley for the request to mention “marimba” or “xylophone.”


Unconference, Peer-Learning Style: User-Generated Content
As soon as I arrived in Durham, I heard some buzzing about the thorny issue of UGC. Since participatory assessment means that many users will be creating their own badges, this is an important issue to consider and address. As I’ve mentioned before, having a good content strategy is particularly relevant here. I decided to propose an unconference session on the guidelines we use at P2PU when thinking about UGC.


 So we started off by talking about several tips one can consider to prime your community to create solid content.
After walking through the different strategies that might be useful–curation, supply good tools, give in-line help content, make awesome resources, and create safeguards–it was time to get to the peer learnin’.
Folks were asked to form small groups and complete the following activity:
  1. Come up with three things that you are good at. Select one to share with your small group.
  2. Create a product or service that hits upon your collective talents, and relies on user-generated content.
  3. Draft an interface that uses the strategies we talked about to make awesome content.
  4. Pitch your product or service to the larger group.
A bit of background on this design of this activitiy–I asked folks to brainstorm a talent of theirs so the project would be interest-driven. Both the product and the interface design are good examples of project-based learning. Grouping people together with different strengths and sharing the results–well, that is peer learning at its finest 🙂
The outcome was awesome. One group came up with an idea for a dream-blogging community, which was totally rad.
Another group came up with an idea to make short, just-in-time activities to engage your kids when you’re in a tight spot:
And check out the totally badass interfaces the small groups came up with:
Special shoutout to Fiona Barnett at HASTAC, Lia Morgan and Damien Ewens for being totally awesome. Peer learning FTW!

P2PU & SoundCloud Present Story Hack Boston at MIT

Interested in the latest tools in digital storytelling? Curious about this whole “peer learning” thing? Want to make stuff using the SoundCloud API? Come to Story Hack Day!

When: Saturday, September 29th @ 9am. Plan on hacking until 6.
Where: MIT Media Media Lab–75 Amherst Street, Cambridge, MA
Who: Anyone who is passionate about telling stories. Radio folks, spoken word folks, developers, songwriters, noise artists–we’ll be hacking storytelling and learning together.

Sign up here!

What If People Make Bad Badges? P2PU’s Plan of Action.

Our Executive Director Philipp Schmidt issued a call to action in his post “Let’s Make Badges Not Stink.” But, inevitably some badges will stink. Perhaps even on our platform–we’re creating a “Badge Issuer” that will encourage anyone to create a badge for their P2PU course.

So how can the P2PU brand, voice, tone and core values coexist with user-generated content (UGC)? It’s a question for the digital ages.

Here P2PU has something to learn from the discipline of Content Strategy, which is an approach to planning and maintaining web content. Earlier this summer, I consulted rockstar Content Strategist Erin Kissane on how to think about this issue. We discussed the following 2 paths:

  • Recognize folks who do it well. For instance, we love recent badges from Mick Fuzz and Leah Macvie. We need to elevate good badges to a status that people want, encouraging them to be thoughtful. Perhaps a badges Hall of Fame is in our future?
  • Give users the tools to make good badges. We’ll prompt folks with templates and suggestions. Verifyapp, an online user-testing service, provides sample questions that they have found to be very reliable, which helps their users get solid results from their tests.
    We can also include access to our voice and tone guidelines, reminding users about the character of P2PU.

Some things that I’ve also been considering on this issue:

  • Provide help content in context. Airbnb is a good example of help content expertly placed when people need it–users don’t have to go sleuthing for FAQs, and create a better result on their first attempt. Total win. Notice how they direct the user on the importance of a first video, below:Here we will also feature suggestions from our Theory of Learning and how our core values work at P2PU.
  • Customer education. Mailchimp has countless educational resources–they are both slickly-designed and engaging. We probably can’t out-slick them, but we can do our darndest 🙂 We already have our Create a Course resource, but perhaps a tour of P2PU upon sign-up would be just the ticket.
  • Encourage folks to use badges for real-life applications. For instance, would you hire people who had this badge? What badges would you want them to have to show their areas of interest or competencies? These questions help suss out what are core skills and what is fluff.

But in an open ecosystem, we will encourage users to create any kind of badge they want. Even tacky badges. Or badges that don’t represent our perspective on learning.

Blasphemy? Nay.

We offer our users the freedom to experiment.  This is a lab, with the latitude to try what you think will work. At the same time, we’ll be examining what folks do with the badge-issuing platform, and learning from how they use it.

However, we will differentiate the badges that do reflect our perspective. While all badges issued by P2PU will have the URL in the Badge Backpack, only the ones that have received consultation from the P2PU team & community will feature P2PU branding.

That’s the plan for now. How will you work to create robust, reliable badges?