Altruism and OER /OED: sharing, charity and the process of giving

Read any article about open educational resources or designs and the term ‘sharing’ pops up time and again. Whilst an apparently innocuous, self-explanatory term, for something so closely bound to notions of openness of why we think people want and are open and of how we imagine the mechanism of interaction and co-creation of common resources, it is often evoked with scarily little critical reflection. I propose here that it can be a misnomer and, as such, is operating as much to obstruct our analysis and critical understanding of the mechanisms for enacting openness.

The idea of sharing refers to what could be termed ‘reciprocal altruism’ – a form of altruism where there is anticipated to be exchange of things, often of those judged of broadly similar value. This notion of reciprocal altruism, often with an emphasis on the interaction that takes place not reasons for it, forms a cornerstone of how many people imagine how open education systems will work and should be configured; designers exchange designs, students review each others work, teachers share their resources. Ask why they think such interaction will take place and either the fall-back position of reciprocal altruism is assumed accepts begrudgingly accepts conscious self-interest.

Yet psychological, sociological and economic research tells us that there is more to altruism than reciprocity or sharing. Altruism for example can also take the form of kin selection, or nepotism, with individuals supporting others seen as similar to themselves thereby binding communities closer together. It can also take the form of charity – the act of giving to a stranger; the understanding of this is fundamental to entire sectors!

It seems to me that focusing on the act of ‘giving’ – looking at individual and structural motivations, intents, behaviours and social norms – can enrich our models of OER use. What if we look to interpret contributions to OER repositories or other open learning and design repositories as acts of altruism such as charity or kin-selection? Can we use such perspectives to build a complete picture of what openness is or could be like?

So why do people ‘give’? There are many overlapping theories. One perspective holds that people give to feel good or better about themselves (even to remove a sense of guilt or obligation). This ‘warm glow’ comes from Read more of this post

Advertisements