Open Education Scoop

Danny from 2017: My stated goal in going to OISE and bashing myself against a master’s degree was to figure out how to make post-secondary education free for everyone, obviating the boundaries of socioeconomics and geography.  Meeting Stian during an orientation session before the start of my first year was both humbling and a massive relief: he was working and developing systems alongside folks at the forefront of “open education” (imagine, I wasn’t the first one to come up with the idea…), and he was in command of stupendous contextual knowledge of the field; so, better men than I were on the job (sigh), and I didn’t need to save the world because better men than I were on the job (hooray!).

As I acquaint myself with WordPress’ levers, pulleys, and screws, I’m haphazardly contributing to a directory of links you can find south (at time of writing) of my biography on the left-hand column. My intention was to devote a section entirely to Open Education links and then gradually introduce them (and the concept of open education itself) to you, patient readers, over the course and career of this ’blog. In typical fashion, however, Stian Håklev just brought together much more information that I would have mastered in the next few months, and presented it with nearly TED-like production value to a largely awed and enthusiastic crowd of our OISE professors. So, uh, you should read his ’blog.

I will still gradually introduce many of these resources myself, largely because I am myself gradually exploring them for the first time and find that they are less daunting if approached more leisurely (this is my pedagogical gambit to avoid a Semelean tan). For those of you with interest in the topic and even less expertise than me, just bear in mind that others have tread here first and if you’d like to move more quickly, Stian is your man. The fast track starts here.

So, what is open education, and why should we care about it?  I like to approach the phenomenon of openness by thinking about the concept of a “zero-sum game.”  This refers (initially in game theory and economics, I figure) to a situation in which several interests are competing for a finite and set total of resources or wealth, such as a game of poker with a limited buy-in, or more simply, a game of tug-of-war (where the resources contested are chips and ground, respectively).  In a zero-sum game, any improvement in the position of one player corresponds precisely to the loss of another player (or the shared loss of the other players).  Totally the gains and losses of all players results in a value of zero, hence, “zero-sum.”

In a zero-sum game, genuine altruism toward one’s competitors is absurd: assuming that your only objective is to pull your team’s end of the rope to the winning boundary, there is no value in genuinely working to help any of your opponents.1  It seems that barring specific consideration, we often default to thinking of any transaction, conflict, or inequality as a zero-sum game, leading to a mindset that anyone else’s gain, if not balanced by a corresponding remuneration to me, is my loss: there is no elasticity in the rope.  Clearly (or at least, plausibly, I hope), truly zero-sum relationships rarely exist where the rarefied, contrived simplicity of these basic game models is exchanged for the complexity of real life: it is a fictional fellow who holds a rope against which the rest of the world tugs (and why “you’re either with us or against us” thinkers should always trip alarm bells).

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