Week 10: OERs – The dream

This blog post relates to my study of Open Educational Resources as part of my Emerging Technologies for Learning Program of study at the University of Manitoba. Our instructor has asked us:

What are your impressions of Open data, open research, open books, open journals, open government? Is this the reality or just a dream? Can this happen in your school or business environment? What are the implications? Blog about this.

Is this the reality or just a dream?

Taking a deeply philosophical analysis of this question, consider the following quote from Social Evolution, Psychoanalysis, and Human Nature by Daniel Kriegman and Charles Knight in relation to Freud’s evolutionary biology:

Freud’s view of human nature is generally consistent with the experience of capitalist competition and its adjunct philosophy at the extreme, social Darwinism. The inevitable tendency of human motivation is toward competition. Inevitably struggles ensue and yield a “survival of the fittest” dominance hierarchy.

Information has increasingly become a commodity that can be bought and sold and therefore has inherent value.  Modern online companies for instance provide free services in exchange for information about their customers.  This information is often aggregated and/or sold to other companies.  In the context of competition and survival of the fittest, sharing information is counter-productive.  By this reasoning, you are giving wealth in the form of information to your competitors thus strengthening their position while weakening your own.  Western society is largely based on capitalist models, so it is no wonder there is such an emphasis on ownership of information such as in the form of copyright.  So one could argue that while there is an economy based on information as a commodity, it is not likely that these open initatives will become mainstream.

The paper continues with discussion of the more modern theories of social evolution and reciprocal altruism:

… [Trivers] developed the concept of “reciprocal altruism.” This fascinating evolutionary construct undermines the simplistic notions of social Darwinism and provides a basis for reviewing the erroneous thinking underlying the misuse of evolutionary theory in support of reactionary dogma.

The concept of reciprocal altruism suggests that there may be a bio-genetic basis to altruistic behavior. At first glance, altruistic behavior, which in evolutionary terms reduces the altruist’s fitness and leads to an increase in the recipient’s fitness, appears to be in contradiction to the basic self-serving survival interest of any organism. However, the concept of reciprocal altruism is based on the notion that an altruistic act is often returned to the altruistically behaving organism.

So contrary to Freudian views, and considering the development of OERs as altruistic, perhaps there is hope for OERs afterall. The authors of the paper continue with what they believe to be the prerequisites for the evolution of reciprocal altruism.

What can be demonstrated by the evolutionary analysis are the prerequisites for the evolution of reciprocal altruism: high frequency of association, the reliability of association over time, and the ability of two organisms to behave in ways that benefit the other…   The prerequisites for the evolution of reciprocal altruism are present in our species and have been shown in other species to be capable of shaping extremely cooperative behaviors.

So in the context of these open initiatives, will they involve frequent and reliable association and interaction between collaborators; and will such association and interaction be mutually beneficial?  It would be interesting to conduct an analysis of OER initiatives to see whether those with the above prerequisites perform better than those that don’t.  From my perspective, while the production of open resources can be mutually beneficial to contributors, I suspect the first two elements (frequent and reliable association) are under-represented in OER initiatives.  To me it implies frequent and ongoing collaboration for mutual benefit.  With the current rate of change in modern society, long-term collaboration does not seem likely in many instances.  Consider your own work initiatives over the past 5 years.  My guess is many have a duration of no longer than a year or two before moving onto something else.  So can these prerequisites be artificially contrived, or must it be organically arranged by chance? Perhaps the slow uptake of OERs and open initiatives is a result of lower naturally occurring situations with the right prerequisites for reciprocal altruism?  Time will ultimately answer this question.

A final quote from the article: “Once a cooperative strategy begins to invade a population, it should be able to outcompete the selfish strategies.”  On this reasoning, perhaps there is hope for a future of more open sharing of information and co-operation for the benefit of all.

3 thoughts on “Week 10: OERs – The dream

Add yours

  1. Damien,
    An interesting article.. it would seem to me that there is indeed greater inherent value in the data collected from users that search for and utilize OER than perhaps the OER itself. Data capturing and analytics provide more value on marketing to man companies and that this residual use of data is a primary commodity that is untapped. Since more companies emulate the existence of free to capture user attention in order to attract them to the fee-based materials. Certainly this is a model of greater emphasis today, but the value is in the connection and user data captured as well. As a frequent visitor to sites, free journals and subscriptions and online purchases of fee-based content, there is an increase in the frequency of followup.

    I also think you are correct that in order to sustain OER there need sot be greater collaboration and sharing of mutual derived content. This is away forward but will come in waves.


  2. This is a fantastic examination of the forces that might limit or enhance the possibility that OER’s become mainstream.

    Even in K12 education the natural [according to Freud] tendency for organisms to compete comes into play…I have seen it first hand and it most definitely does get in the way of the creation and sharing of content. However….the notion of reciprocal altruism is also obvious in many things that teachers do.

    The final quote you provided says it all…we probably need to work a little harder to develop, encourage, sustain the cooperative strategies required to free the content we need.

    Thanks for the great synopisis.


  3. Hi Damien,

    Interesting post. You are right in that we will often move on from a project (or initiative) too quickly, rather than building something that will last (and continue growing) over time. Perhaps this is human nature or maybe there is just so much information around that we are constantly distracted (and this is definitely a topic that would require further research). With information being so easily accessible this could be why other learners will not collaborate with us long-term (as there are so many other options available for them to switch to).

    You summed up the nature of our society quite well. Unlike other cultures that do not worry about copyright restrictions ours is definitely one of control. I am certain things will change with time as they are already changing. For instance, in the Canadian context, sharing of information in the workplace between employees is now of greater importance and promoted – keeping your knowledge and expertise to yourself is not looked on fondly.

    The resources available to learners have definitely grown and are meeting a demand of certain groups of learners (the ones who are aware of such resources).

    Thank you for sharing your ideas.


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