Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

On Openness, Reciprocity and Power

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A conversation on the difference between sharing and giving among kids gave me an aha moment related to open education.

Bear with me.

I usually think of sharing and giving as being the same thing. Ish. I usually think of both being a form of giving. But my spouse recently made the distinction (a correct one, I think) that giving means bringing something to gift to others…whereas sharing means reciprocity…you bring something of yours to give some to others, but others also bring some of theirs to give you, whether immediate or over time. Sharing is a reciprocal term.

Whenever we talk about openness, we use the term sharing. But by “share” we really mean give or gift without expecting reciprocity. But maybe some of us do expect reciprocity, from at least some others in our network, if not all of them. This is why I think conversations about “lurking” or “legitimate silent participation” or whatever term people use are tricky. There are, I think, a spectrum of attitudes towards this behavior (or lack of observable reciprocal sharing) and I don’t think we talk about “power” enough when we discuss it.

When we say lurkers or silent observers are welcome, we might mean…

  1. Recognizing that this is a legitimate way to learn, and that f2f many people learn without interacting in obvious ways. That someone may do this indefinitely
  2. Recognizing that it is not always easy to jump in and participate *at first* but after people observe silently for a while, they may eventually decide to jump in to the spaces they find most appropriate or attractive
  3. Recognizing that some people may lack confidence in what they may have to contribute and so simply don’t contribute

However, the reciprocity angle has often bothered me.

  1. Why is it OK for some people to always be giving and other to always be taking and giving nothing in return?
  2. What does this say about our labor? Think about the person who blogs openly and another who gets inspired by those ideas without directly engaging with them…then goes and applies for a grant or publishes an academic piece based on them…without acknowledging the original..
  3. When we create something open, do we do it as a gift or do we expect something in return? Thinking of all authors of e.g. books…they expect that a few people will also write books for them to read and may cite them… and a small number of people will review books ..but for the most part, readers do nothing to give back to the author except i guess royalties from buying the book. With open access, you don’t get that part but perhaps the satisfaction that more people can potentially access your work
  4. The questions of power – who has the luxury and privilege to be open? Privilege of time and position such that openness does not threaten one’s livelihood or life balance… or any number of other things

When we talk of reciprocity, I think we need to talk of reciprocity among equals.

For example…when students from different socioeconomic classes eat together, it really would be unfair for the poor kid to share what they have with the rich kid, but seems fair that the rich kid should give. However, this behavior exacerbates the power differences between them and sometimes you want to give the poor the opportunity to share something back, even if it is not equivalent. But to be an active partner.

And then there is just the privilege of time and priority.

One piece of feedback we got on Equity Unbound (we got this several times) is that the facilitators are not engaging enough, responding enough, to open participants. This is a dangerous expectation. Equity Unbound was never a MOOC. It was 3 of us openly sharing a curriculum we had developed to use in our courses in our institutions…making it open for others to see what we were doing when, and welcoming them to interact with our students if they could/wanted… not an invitation to become our students. We could have put more effort in community building with open participants and we could have had different results…but we had such limited bandwidth and we had to prioritize what we needed to do for our own students and our own wellbeing during stressful times.

In terms of reciprocity here… the act of GIVING the curriculum openly should not, in my humble opinion, be met with additional demands on our time as givers to GIVE more to participants. Participants can take it or leave it. Or they can take it and give back by participating with our students or contributing additional material. But taking and demanding is a really strange response that assumes infinite energy on the part of the original giver.

It’s also a bit like vconnecting. We do what we can with time and effort of volunteers. If people want more they can volunteer to do it…join us and do more… but definitely don’t demand more of volunteers than they are willing to give. Take it or leave it…or take it and give back…but definitely don’t take and demand more.

I thought I was onto something here but I lost my line of thought haha

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