Collaborative Learning Opportunities for All

Author: Stephen Kastner

How to Create a Course in FreeU

The following slideshow is an interpretation of the article below it, by Larry Smith on developing the FreeU system of student-led courses…

Free Universe(ity)

By Larry Smith

FreeU runs on participatory management grounded by peer review at all levels.   FreeU grounds its quality control and marketing on a combination of dialogue and peer review called user reviews and expands this concept to include self review/evaluation.  If you are not comfortable with user reviews, or think they are only another form of marketing hype, look into the outstanding examples at AirBnB.

Dialogue among participants guided by systems perspectives, serves as FreeU’s teacher and is mostly practiced online.  Remarkably, on-line dialogue is very easy and seems quite natural. But many participants will prefer face-to-face interaction when possible and this will occur wherever proximity and coffee shops, cafes, libraries, park pavilions or the like encourage quiet conversation.  If you do choose face-to-face interaction, please provide a brief overview about the experience to any on-line FreeU classmates, so that all learning activity is documented and everyone has some access to all class interaction. You might consider live-streaming these events using a smartphone app like Periscope or Bambuser.

Dialogue starts with classmates usually by sharing one-page reactions, or an equivalent on line discussion post, about a topic or reading.   Here are some useful examples of one-pagers but these are more elaborately illustrated than is typical for most FreeU interaction, which will typically be posted in text or other software formats.   The key to FreeU-style, serious, academic growth in any subject area is to start from quality material.  The easiest way to find quality material is to ask someone with academic interest in the topic and whenever possible FreeU helpers will make such suggestions at the start of FreeU courses.

But the best, most robust, and always accessible way to find quality material on any topic is to seek accessible writings by authors of relevant peer-reviewed literature.  Jstor is a great place to access information about peer-reviewed material, including references to and summaries of such material and information about citation history, on nearly any subject.   Access to peer-reviewed material, especially references and abstracts, grows almost daily so don’t be discouraged, and by all means don’t “bite” when some sources try to charge for access to full-text articles.  You don’t need full text articles to find summary material about who writes about and is respected in any subject area.

In fact, especially regarding any new-to-you topic, you should beware of peer-reviewed literature itself.  Some is intelligible but much is not, especially for folks new to a topic.  Look at reviews of books and abstracts or other summaries of articles and at information about where and how much they have been cited in other articles or books, which is a very good peer-review based indicator of their quality.  But don’t try to read the articles unless they seem comfortable for you and are accessible without cost.   Also abstracts are much more accessible on line at no cost than full-text articles.

Instead start building a resource list, of titles and authors of books and especially articles that seem both relevant and widely respected among the author’s peers even if the resource is not immediately accessible.  If you keep this list in a computer document you can often include the link to the citation and thus have and share easy access to it.

Supplement the resource list with a timeline of the relevant literature, its contributors, and a topic-focused dictionary, in essence  a glossary of relevant terms, the origins of which are also included in the timeline.  Note that within nearly every topic area many words have quite specialized meanings and learning about such meanings is a major part of serious learning in that topic area.

Work back and forth among these interrelated tools (timeline, resource list, and dictionary) on your own and in consort with your classmates via on line or face-to-face discussion until you start to recognize key contributors to the topic by name and are starting to feel some comfort with the topic’s history and language.  Then search in more accessible areas of the Internet for things, like books, opinion pieces, or blogs some of these folk have written for more general audiences.  “Read” some of these things lightly and share your reactions to them in “one-pagers” that will start the real content-focused FreeU dialogue.  FreeU’s helpers will support this process at all stages.

April 2015 FreeU Launch

One of the important findings at the April 2, 2015 discussion in Sturgeon Bay, concerns the method of interaction between participants or those who might simply be curious about what opportunities might be developed using the FreeU model. Rather than invent another social network, we decided that a discussion board might serve the immediate need regarding a way to formulate concepts and propose potential classes.

Photos by Alisa Landman…

FreeU Seeks to Redefine Higher Education with Collaborative Learning

Everyone is invited to learn about FreeU, a free Univers(ity) being developed in Door County by Professor Larry Smith, at a public, informative meeting on Thursday, April 2 at 6:30 pm in the Jane Green Room of the Door County Library in Sturgeon Bay.

Larry SmithSmith envisions a new form of learning environment in which students utilize a combination of online tools and face-to-face meetings to collaborate on creating course content and peer-review of individual input. The result is a new form of validation, unlike a college degree. In Smith’s FreeU the work created by students is published by them in a variety of journals and publicly accessible venues, thus granting evidential credibility to the participants who create valuable resources.

As an example, Smith plans to help lead the first course, perhaps chosen by the participating students or as a suggestion, he has a proposal to study the Great Lakes, a class quite appropriate for local residents. Anyone is welcome to join and the cost is free! Find out more on the FreeU Facebook Page or email

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