One of the things we think didn't work well in this term's online run of the course was peer-to-peer discussion among students. Such discussion is one sign of a vibrant open source project or educational community, but our mailing list was almost silent except for announcements we posted ourselves, and other than a few bug reports, there were very few comments from students on the lecture pages. We think students will get more out of the course if they talk more amongst themselves for several reasons:
- Learning: you don't really know something well until you teach it yourself.
- Scalability: there aren't enough of us to give everyone personal help (particularly not with numbers tripling next time 'round).
- Relevance: grad students in geology are more likely to know what other geology grad students need and will understand than we are.
- Sustainability: right now, Software Carpentry has a bus factor of 1. The more course participants help each other, the more likely it is that this project will survive its founder being hit by a bus abducted by aliens having to get a real job.
What could we have done this time around to encourage more peer-to-peer discussion? What could we do next time? Please add your thoughts as comments...