TU: a learning ecosystem in Poland
Today I had a Hangout conversation with Kacper and Martyna, two polish guys who are designing TU, a self-directed learning network that already has three established groups in different polish cities (a fourth one is being created).
Kacper used to live in Chicago and started a first group there. Then, when he moved back to Poland, he and another friend started TU (first it started in Finland, actually, but to cut a long story short, that’s it). There was another similar group in Warsaw before that, so Kacper joined forces with them.
At first, the initiative would focus on creating a kind of democratic pedagogy for athletes (he played tennis). Later, they decided to move to the field of education in a more general way. Martyna is a young unschooler that is organizing one of TU’s groups focused on high-school students in a countryside city. (not all of the groups are focused on this public. Just hers)
“TU here is like a gap year for youths that have just finished high-school”. — Martyna
“Sports are worst than education. Coachs think that they must be harsh on you” — Kacper
The last thing they decided (two months ago) was to not duplicate the spaces that already existed in education. They wanted to use the spaces that already existed (universities, youtube etc) in a different way, and then design their own curriculums around that. So, they are kinda like a network of people between learning spaces.
Every local group have autonomy.
They’re trying right now to build communication means for people among the different local groups to connect. They want to share the information about each person to the whole community (what each one is good at, their portfolios etc. For this, they’re doing what they called “business cards”).
For them, building the sense of community between the local groups in different cities is being a struggle.
Each group has an organizing team (sometimes its just one person). They have meetings from time to time to get all the organizing teams together (sometimes other people from the groups attend as well).
Later on the conversation we talked about what we called the “guest approach”, a common trick in some starting-level self-directed learning communities. It really attracts people when you promote a meeting that has a “special” guest — a person who knows a lot in a specific field of interest. You can bring lots of people using this approach. The TU initiative is experimenting with that, and I’ve seen lots of projects here and in other places doing the same. The problem is when people get dependent on guests. For Kacper it happens because in at the very deep “people don’t see value in themselves”. The guest always knows more and does better than me.
How to build that sense of empowerment that allows people not to feel dependent on “guests” and start doing their own learning paths?
Is the guest approach really that harmful? How could it be used in a self-directed way?
The last topic was brought by Kacper and it has to be with the value of physical spaces for self-directed learning communities. Right now they are having meetings in different places, but he is thinking that maybe they would feel a stronger sense of community if they found their own physical space (a “campus”). I told him that maybe this is true, but what lies behind the need of a physical space is the need for belonging, and maybe there would be other options for satisfying it. Rituals, for example, can deliver a strong sense of belonging. Maybe if they created some simple rituals in each meeting they would be able to strengthen their sense of community without having to look for a physical space. But maybe getting a physical space can be good for other reasons: showing that the project has credibility, allowing different types of activities etc.
Another things that could enhance the sense of belonging in a self-directed learning group:
- Doing real projects together (short projects with a clear deliverable at the end of it);
- Cooking together.