Jan Philipp Schmidt – Education for Self-Learners

Millions of students across the world enroll in various academic programs to gain knowledge and learn new skills. Acknowledgement or recognition of their learning achievement often marks the culmination of the program. The recognition is usually in form of a credential or a degree, which is awarded by the faculty members and the institution. However, recognition of peers is an important aspect of academic achievement as well. Computer scientist and educator Jan Philipp Schmidt believes that the peer evaluation of assessment papers and projects using online open source software may be a better option as it will ensure:

  • Trust
  • Relevance
  • Transparency
  • Scalability

Schmidt believes the wide spread adoption of the internet across the globe has led to the creation of online communities, social networking platforms and open source software that help educators, working professionals and students everywhere to exchange their knowledge in an open forum. This has revolutionized the way people view education and learning. It is no longer limited to a classroom. People can learn a new skill from the comfort of their home without altering their work or personal schedule. Most of the programs are self-paced and flexible as well.

Many educators have taken advantage of the current trend to create online platforms which allow them to teach millions of students across the globe for free. Although the students do not receive the tradition degrees and credentials, they are in it for the knowledge and experience of learning it directly from some of the best teachers and educators from top universities and colleges in the world such as Penn State, MIT, Stanford and University of California, Berkley. Many experts and policymakers, including Schmidt, have predicted exponential growth and significant changes in the field of education. They believe that the days of closed classrooms and heavy books may soon be over.

Schmidt has also co-founded the Peer2Peer University, a grassroots open education project that promotes lifelong learning by leveraging the open resources available on the internet. It is open to everyone, and is based on the three principles of openness, community and peer learning. The project began two years ago with five people. By the time it completed three cycles of courses, hundreds of students, innovators and professionals joined the community. The number of courses also doubled after each semester. The portal is completely managed by volunteers, who submit their course idea, and receive knowledge and guidance from a huge community of experts to create comprehensive open source materials. They also partner with other schools and educational institutions to create their courses. Your work during the program is critiqued and evaluated by peers, although you do not receive any official certificate or credential upon completion of the coursework.

Schmidt has worked hard to create the various features of the website. He has also collaborated with several organizations such as Hewlett Foundation, Shuttleworth Foundation and Mozilla Foundation to obtain funding for the project. Apart from the Peer2Peer project, Schmidt is also a computer scientist, who also works at the Open Courseware Project of the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa