I think a lot about how people share. As a student, the willingness of some faculty to share their time and projects with me helped shape my career in education. What generally attracts me to the open education movement is the notion that knowledge should be free, reliable, and broadly shareable. Relatedly, the influence of digital technology on (re)packaging and (re)distributing educational content has further shown me that such sharing is not only possible but may even get us to a more ideal form of teaching and learning: individuals, communities, and institutions sharing the burden of making an educational opportunities accessible to anyone who wants them. This sort of sharing is desirable, perhaps, because giving people means to better themselves can be rewarding for everyone involved. It represents a greater social good. In turn, society impresses the importance of sharing on us at a young age, right? Let’s consider some of the early childhood sharing that I’ve seen recently:
Sharing as Unilateral Trade
My nephew, Charlie, is a year older than my daughter, Viv. When we visit his family, however, the latter seems more mature than the former on the basis of sharing, specifically. If Viv is playing with one of Charlie’s toys, even if it is one that he does not usually play with, he immediately wants it from her. What his parents have thus implemented is a system where Charlie must exchange another toy for the one Viv is playing with. This is more unilateral trading than sharing and losses occur on both sides. My nephew gets a toy that he only wants because his cousin has it, and my daughter is left with a toy that she did not choose to play with.
Is sharing merely giving up something because I’m being given something else?
Public Use as Sharing
Charlie and Viv are at their best in terms of sharing toys when they are either content with or able to ignore the ways in which the other cousin is playing alone. When there are multiple toys worth choosing, each is likely to play with a toy s/he selected as long as desired. One may give an exceptionally fun toy to the other in hopes that s/he will play with it, and the receiver may play with that same toy a different way before losing interest. What’s important is that neither toddler gets upset during playtime.
Is sharing best realized when my private use of shared resources avoids controversy?
The Shame About Sharing
As you may have gathered, Charlie has a hard time sharing. When he is unable to practice one of the forms of sharing described above, his parents institute a timeout—having him sit in a corner until he is willing to comply with socially expected behavior. When he comes back to play, it is difficult to know whether he learned the value of sharing or, simply, how/why to avoid timeout.
To what degree do negative consequences motivate my willingness to share with others?
What We Share in Education
One of my favorite definitions of “learning” labels it a “social becoming” in which a person realigns her personal experiences around the socially-defined competencies that a community finds important (Wenger, 2010). Accordingly, our becoming negotiates a necessary tension between who we are and what others value—things to be shared and learned. When sharing produces social tension, we learn. When there is no tension, opportunities for us to learn wane because we are either already who we wish to be or perpetually who others want us to be. Paradoxically, I fear our educational practices in sharing/learning often privilege applications that are void of tension:
- We choose to stop sharing with certain faculty because they don’t respond to our emails or attend our events.
- Faculty limit how much they share about their instructional practices because they are worried about how well they will be received by colleagues.
- Students refrain from sharing too much on course evaluations because they are uncertain of what (if anything) the outcome will be.
- I make sure to contribute something to every meeting because I’ve read that people favor those who participate over those who do not.
- There are myriad examples of tensionless sharing.
Sharing does not matter when we think there is nothing to learn. If we do not feel vulnerable when we share, our social imperative to just be has overtaken our capacity to learn and become more. I invite education professionals to interrogate moments where sharing is little more than a convenient transaction, sanctioned activity, or anxious response. After all, what we share is who we wish to be.
Join the discussion as Dr. Lashley presents on Faculty Development & Learning Design at OLC Collaborate, hosted by Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina on October 10th. Learn more.
Wenger E. (2010) Communities of practice and social learning systems: The career of a concept. In: Blackmore C. (Ed.), Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice (pp. 179-198). London: Springer.
Dr. Lashley serves as the Senior Instructional Technologist at Boise State University, where he designs teaching and learning initiatives and organizes communities of practice around open, online, and technology-enhanced learning. He also teaches as a lead faculty member in the First-Year Writing program. Best known for his work in open education, Lashley has mentored others as both an OER Research Fellow and a Designing with OER (DOER) Fellow in association with the Open Education Group, has advised universities across the country about open education strategy as a Faculty Presenter for the Open Textbook Network, and recently co-edited and -authored OER: A Field Guide for Academic Librarians. A Doctor of Philosophy in Learning Sciences, his scholarship focuses on design-based strategies for promoting choice, diversifying collaboration, and supporting risk as faculty explore open and distributed educational practices.