Peer Production

Contributors: Mimi Recker and Linda Polin

Increasing cyberInfrastructure access supports radically different forms of socially-distributed and decentralized content creation in which the line between producer and consumer is blurred. Sometimes termed collective intelligence, crowd sourcing, or commons-based peer production, famous examples abound. These include Wikipedia (user created encyclopedia), YouTube (video sharing), and Linux (software design).

Unlike traditional forms of content creation, user-generated content environments are typically characterized by low barriers to participation, weaker intellectual rights, non-rival use, and intrinsic (rather than extrinsic) reward systems. Indeed, the tag line for – remix, reuse, share – succinctly captures this movement. In the world of education, teachers and others are exploring creating commons-based repositories for lessons and course content; there are several sites with “open educational resources” available to be freely used and remixed by other learners around the world. Re-using and customizing (re-mixing) content developed by others can be very cost-effective, can promote learning by design, and ultimately produce higher quality materials than those created alone.

In the classroom, peer production can play a major role in how we teach and learn, though at a smaller scale than commons-based peer production. Encouraging learners to produce their own materials using digital media, computers, and the internet harnesses a powerful pedagogical method. Peer production takes students out of the passive role of receiving knowledge and puts them with another learner in the role of designing and adapting information to produce materials that might enhance the understanding of another.

Transformative Potential

Open Educational Resources

A growing trend toward sharing freely available online learning resources has spawned the global OpenCourseware movement (MIT OpenCourseWare, Open CourseWare Consortium, The Learning Registry and Open Education Resources) as well as other large repositories of freely available content. Often these resources are public domain or use licensing schemes permitting their use (reuse), adaptation (remix), and dissemination (share), thereby supporting sustainable cycles of continuous improvement. Born digital, these resources naturally include many media types and instructional genres, such as lesson plans, visualizations, videos, authentic datasets, maps, games, simulations, digital books, and virtual worlds.

Peer-based CyberLearning

Youth today live in a media-saturated environment with 24/7 connections to peers, information, and entertainment. Recognizing this shift, several recent initiatives focus on supporting youth in highly personalized learning around their interests. Examples include fan fiction websites and after-school technology clubs such as Digital Youth Network and Remix World. The key characteristic involves coordinating peers via cyber-technology around content that is shared and sharable.

Learning by Design

Creation of media and peer review requires students to make critical design decisions while creating representations. The tools that they use for creation shape the way students think and talk about representations, phenomena, and underlying processes.

Review and Reputation Management

Certainly the subject of peer production calls up the issue of quality, and the means by which quality is assessed and feedback given to the producer. Youth can and do critique freely on the web, but formal attention to notions of vetting knowledge/content, peer review by qualified peer reviewers, and feedback-based iteration could arise in under this topic. This might be a place where ‘badges’ can come into play, or other means of reputation and expertise management and certification.


At school one day, Raphaela’s sixth grade teacher, Mrs Cook, plans an activity around bridge design. Not being an area of her expertise, she asks for resource recommendations from the CyberLearning Educational Resource Collective (CERC). CERC uses knowledge of Mrs. Cook’s teaching approach and past activities, as well as knowledge of her students’ passions and knowledge, to recommend interactive and targeted resources. Selecting a few for Raphaela, Mrs. Cook makes a few customizations for her context, including a formative assessment component. These customizations are then automatically included back into the CERC for other teachers and students to access and use.


Challenges within peer production environments include

  • applying copyright and licensing concepts to a rapidly remixed products;
  • assessing the quality (for example accuracy, authority, or trustworthiness) of a peer-produced product;
  • supporting customization and adaptations of peer-produced content for learning purposes;
  • sustaining and scaling these peer-production practices;
  • developing policies in an heavily publisher-controlled environment that support peer-production practices;
  • creating the conditions in a classroom that encourage productive peer production so that learners can learn from each other in a collaborative and supported manner.

It may be that many of these challenges are best answered in a curriculum that includes these issues and skills around peer production as a 21stC skill. For instance, why not introduce high school or middle school students to the concepts embodied by the Creative Commons licensing categories and spirit?


Atkins, D. E., Brown, J. S., & Hammond, A. L. (2007). A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities. (February).

Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom: Yale University Press. New Haven, CT.

Computing Research Association. 2005. Cyber-infrastructure for Education and Learning for the Future: A vision and research agenda. Washington, D.C.

Michalchik, V., Rosenquist, A., Kozma, R., Coppola, B., Kreikemeier, P., & Schank, P. (2008). Representational resources for constructing shared understandings in the high school chemistry classroom. In J. Gilbert, M. Nakhleh, & M. Reiner (eds.). Visualization: Theory and practice in science education, pp. 233-282. New York: Springer.