Open Ed and ‘The Gift’

In November of 2015 I attended the very excellent 3-day Open Education Conference in Vancouver. Among the many lines of thought I encountered and learned about, I was surprised that there was a rather uniform assumption around reified knowledge as a commodity of exchange.

There was a lot of talk around how to make the development of Open Ed resources scaleable, and sustainable, and to get buy-in from instructors, students, administrators, tenured professors, funders, bookstores, libraries etc…. all the players in the various business models/marketplaces where the exchange of reified knowledge for money occurs. Then there was talk about Creative Commons licensing and how it can be implemented/added to this marketplace. It seems to me that Creative Commons has (elegantly) emerged to pacify the anxieties, but from my perspective, it’s still ‘playing the game’ of the exchange marketplace.

But couldn’t open educational resources be taken out of the marketplace paradigm and be re-interpreted as ‘gifts’. From the critiques I heard of open educational resources as part of the greater open ed movement, I’m wondering if it’s this assumption, that open ed has to work within the market paradigm, that is limiting people, and making some of them grumpy #opened15

From Lewis Hyde’s The Gift:

“A gift that cannot be given away ceases to be a gift. The spirit of a gift is kept alive by its constant donation.”

An open educational resource ceases to be open when it can no longer be accessible. The spirit of the open resources is kept alive by its content availability and accessibility. Remove the barriers or don’t call it open.

“There have been times and places in which a person came into his or her social being through the dispersal of his gifts, the “big man” or “big woman” being that one through whom the most gifts flowed. The mythology of a market society reverses the picture: getting rather than giving is the mark of a substantial person….So long as these assumptions rule, a disquieting sense of triviality, of worthlessness even, will nag the man or woman who labors in the service of a gift and whose products¬† are not adequately described as commodities, the gifts of the gifted man are powerless to make him substantial.”

For those who create and share open educational resources, your power comes from giving it away.¬† The more you give, the more powerful you are. Let’s recognize that within our various education models. Giving it away, that’s what makes us successful as teachers when working with students. But package that into a product and suddenly it’s different? Make it a gift. Consider the possibility that your name will be lost in association with the resource, assume that you are made anonymous, that other people might mix it up into something new. Release your knowledge product and let it live its own life.

The same can be applied to Open Education in general: let’s give away the opportunity to learn, which as I type this, realize that is what public education is supposed to be. The private-sector ideological attacks on old-time publically-funded democracy-building public education strike us as an affront because it’s the mixing of paradigms, applying the market ideology to the gift that the state makes of education, doing so for the good of the public, the gift we give ourselves as a people.