The Tyranny of Sharing

I have really enjoyed listening to Erik Duval this week in his presentation to ChangeMOOC   on Learning in Times of Abundance

I was particularly interested in Erik’s second presentation where he described how his students are required to comment on each other’s blogs – to be ‘open’, ‘to share’.  His approach is – ‘if you can’t /won’t  agree to this, then don’t sign up for my course. Evidently, this is what learning in times of abundance means. But not for me 🙂

Erik also referred us to Dean Shareski’s video from his keynote presentation ‘Sharing: The Moral Imperative’

That word ‘moral’ made my ears prick up and I have to say my hackles rise. I hate being lectured about morality and I long ago decided that ‘duty’ is a word that I do not wish to include in my vocabulary – at least not in reference to my own actions. If I am going to do something it has to be because I believe it to be the right thing to do – not from a sense of duty which could be misplaced.

Despite this – there is lots about Dean’s video that is inspiring on quite a few fronts – but not all 🙂

His starting point is that he personally  is a giant derivative of his network – because each and every one of his network embraces a culture of sharing, he benefits.  Well – yes, I can see how much I have benefited from the open sharing of others, but at times I have also been ‘led up the garden path’ as we say in the UK.

He then goes on to say that the entire premise on which education is built is sharing and that if there is no sharing there is no education – not learning please note, but education – and he appears to equate education with teaching and vice versa – so I wonder where is learning positioned in this.

According to Dean a sharing culture begs the questions:

  • Is it safe
  • Is it worthwhile
  • Is it valuable/meaningful
  • Is it an obligation

… we need also to consider who, where and how we share – which all seems reasonable.

According to one speaker on the video – sharing (online) can mean that the time spent on developing a resource is more cost efficient because it is shared with numerous people on the net. That seems fair enough if you have bought into the sharing mantra.

According to another, sharing means that we can share in people’s experiences and lives, people who we would not meet face-to face. That also seems fair enough, although whether you want to it a different matter.

Alan Levine has shared ‘Amazing Stories of Openness’  –

My response to all this and to Erik Duval is that this is great for those who wish to do it.

What about those who are introverts?

What about those who wish to protect their privacy (I wonder what Jabiz’ 4 year old daughter Kaia will say, when she is old enough to understand, about her father taking the decision to share her life with the world when she was not old enough to question it)? (see Dean’s video)

What about learner autonomy?

What about those who wish to resist the power and control of educators/teachers  who  exert a tyranny of participation?

What about those who do not wish to live their lives in a fish bowl (thanks to vhaustudent for this image)?

I for one reject the obligation to share (not sharing itself, but the obligation to share), the obligation to help others, the idea that I owe it to others , that it is an ethical responsibility.

If I do share in any way it is not because of a moral imperative, but simply because I believe that is the right thing to do at that particular time in that particular context – i.e. as I have mentioned before I am ‘selfish’ in my sharing –  and I strongly believe that people have the right to resist comments like ‘sharing is a moral imperative’ or ‘lurking = taking’ and work out for themselves, without being subjected to power influences or controls what sharing means to them.

28 thoughts on “The Tyranny of Sharing

  1. erikduval November 18, 2011 / 9:04 pm

    You may be a bit surprised, Jenny, but I kind of agree 😉

    Actually, I mentioned yesterday (in the chat, I think) that I do NOT think one has to share to learn. Some people spend a lot of time all by themselves and learn a lot. That is fine.

    What I did say is that I organize my courses in an open way. You don’t have to take them. But if you choose to do so, then openness is part of what we will do.

    By the way, I also believe that there is a case to be made that sharing should be mandatory if you are teaching at a publicly funded university – as I am. At least, in my opinion, sharing should be the default in that case.

    Hope this clarifies at least my position!

  2. jennymackness November 18, 2011 / 9:24 pm

    Erik – no I am not surprised. It was clear from your presentations how much you reflect on your teaching and why you take the approaches you do.

    I agree that sharing is not a condition of learning – as we have seen many times in history.

    I do wonder though whether openness is ‘all or nothing’ as it appears to be in your courses. i.e. you are either ‘in’ or ‘out’ depending on your response to requirements for openness.

    My ‘off the top of my head’ thinking about whether sharing should be mandatory in a publicly funded university – or any other – is that ‘mandatory’ militates against ‘autonomy’ and ultimately I believe that for really effective learning – learners need to be be able to exercise autonomy.

    Thanks so much for your comment. I have really enjoyed your presentations. I still have the COOLCast one to listen to, which I look forward to 🙂

  3. Jeffrey Keefer November 20, 2011 / 1:22 am

    I really like that statement you made, “the power and control of educators/teachers who exert a tyranny of participation.” Really nicely captures how a culture of sharing can become just as tyrannical for those who do not want to do it, who don’t care, who don’t think they know enough, or lack the time or the self-directednesss. I agree that sharing is a net benefit, though it also presupposes the content warrants that, or that people are somehow engaged sufficiently with the content that they can then be free to learn in other, creative ways. I do not want to imply that content is necessarily different from sharing creatively, but for undergraduate learning where dates and names and places need to be known, creativity and interaction can be just further distractions if X content just needs to be known (somewhat like the “just tell us what we need to know for the test.”).

  4. erikduval November 20, 2011 / 10:28 am

    It seems to me that ‘tyranny of participation’ is a bit of a contradiction-in-terms…

    If we agree that knowledge can not just be transferred into the student’s head, then doesn’t it follow that we need students to participate if they want to learn?

    If a student sits in the back of the classroom, and does not want to engage with the rest of the group, is it then not reasonable to let her know that she will not be learning in that way and that it therefor makes no sense for her to be in class?

    If she decides to go, because the class is not relevant to her, then that is just fine with me. But if she would stay and expect to learn without participating, then I would think that is problematic.

  5. antonella esposito (@antoesp) November 20, 2011 / 3:34 pm

    @Jenny, I think you raised a relevant issue here. I can’t more agree with your conclusions: “If I do share in any way it is not because of a moral imperative, but simply because I believe that is the right thing to do at that particular time in that particular context”.
    Indeed I am inclined to consider ‘sharing’ (or attitude towards openness) as a situated practice, not as a moral imperative. Moreover I like to intend ‘student engagement’ as a range of opportunities, not as one default mode.
    However, I realize that what Erik underlines in his reply – to prevent students from assuming a passive behaviour – has been a long-standing issue in educational contexts. In addition, probably to a degree it is not possibie to avoid that students in a class have to rely on the teaching approach endorsed by faculty. So a teacher might locate her/his action between an intention to foster self-directedness in students and an effort to neglect students’ autonomy just proposing as ‘mandatory’ a continuining sharing attitude. This is an interesting issue to think about…

    In fact for me Jenny’s statements reasonate a recent key note by Lesley Gourlay just about the ‘Tyranny of participation’ in an incresingly digital university:

    All that has to do with our expectations of students’ engagement in a social media age: what a plural/flexible notion of student engagement mean and imply?
    Thanks for your thoughtful discussion.

  6. Dean Shareski (@shareski) November 21, 2011 / 4:32 pm


    Thanks for honestly “sharing”. I certainly didn’t intend to present this as a tyrannical. But certainly am hoping it sparks conversation. Obviously you writing about it here is my point and goal exactly.

    After creating this video over a year ago, I’m even more convinced of the obligation to share. First off, the word “share” could use a little more unpacking. For me I me share in the broadest term possible. Anything you wish.

    There’s something very selfish about not sharing. That remark may seem tyrannical too but I believe it. As educators we are in the business of sharing. We’re paid to do it. Perhaps we are only obligated to share with the students in our classrooms but I dont’ understand why we would ever limit ourselves to that. If a doctor found a cure or had a glimmer of an idea that might useful to others, wouldn’t you want them to share it? Do they have an moral obligation to share? I think they do. It may not be a perfect analogy but as educators it doesn’t take much to share a link or an idea or a question. I’m not suggesting everyone share everything or in the same ways. That’s the beauty of today’s landscape, there are lots of opportunities for everyone.

    I’ll leave you with this video as some encouragement too.

    Seriously, all the best and thank you for pushing the conversation.

  7. Apostolos K. November 22, 2011 / 3:08 pm

    without reading any of the comments (yet) I see where you are coming from, and I agree and disagree at the same time!

    I think that being forced to participate, in general, is not good. In cases where I am asked to participate I almost have a guttural reaction against it, sort like like having “the man” tell you what to do.

    At the same time, if you are in a class, you are agreeing to a certain set of assumptions that are part of being a member of that class. For example, let’s substitute participation or sharing with “reading,” or attending class. What of learner independency then? What if learners don’t want to read, but still want the grade (or indication that they passed the course)? What if they don’t want to do any of the papers (or any other activity) that will show off their mastery of the material?

    I tend to see a course as a contract: you’ve signed up for it, you knew (hopefully) up front what the commitments were and what you needed to do to satisfy those commitments.

    I like sharing, as anyone who’s read my blogs knows, but I want to do it on my own time table (when inspiration strikes) not when someone else dictates (this is after all unauthentic)…at the same time, most classes are time-bound and you need to show your mastery of the materials in a certain amount of time…so a compromise needs to be had 🙂

  8. jennymackness November 23, 2011 / 9:15 am

    @ Jeffrey – Yes – sometimes we have to think who the ‘mandatory’ sharing is for in accredited courses. I suspect that it can sometimes conveniently ticks the boxes that institutions need filled for their quality assurance – or am I being too cynical!

    I first started thinking about all this when Ferreday and Hodgson published their paper in 2008 –…/Hodgson_640-647.pdf

  9. jennymackness November 23, 2011 / 9:27 am

    Erik – I suppose the problem that I have with what you have written is that you appear to be trying to control how the student learns. My own feeling is that students can be advised, but they have to make the decision for themselves.

    > If we agree that knowledge can not just be transferred into the student’s head, then doesn’t it follow that we need students to participate if they want to learn?

    I agree, but doesn’t it depend on how we interpret participation. In my view the student can participate in the learning process by actively listening, reading, observing.

    > If a student sits in the back of the classroom, and does not want to engage with the rest of the group, is it then not reasonable to let her know that she will not be learning in that way and that it therefor makes no sense for her to be in class?

    Of course you can share your views with the student – that is your choice – but shouldn’t the student also be free to make their own choice about sharing, even if it is the wrong one – and she might learn a lot from observing what others get from engaging with each other as opposed to just listening.

    I don’t understand why it is necessary to impose sharing on others – which as the teacher you have the power to do – but as the student they have less power to resist.

  10. jennymackness November 23, 2011 / 9:37 am

    Antonella – thanks for your comment and particularly for the link to Lesley Gourlay’s video and slides, which I found thought provoking.

    I think you raise an important point about the challenge of working with passive students, but as teachers perhaps we need to think deeply about what motivates our students and why – what switches them on. However, I don’t equate ‘passiveness’ in class with ‘not sharing’. A student might have an intense dislike of group work and open sharing, but at the same time be fully engaged in the learning process and highly motivated.

    I think my bottom line is student autonomy. To what extent are they free to make their own choices about how and what they learn and how, as a teacher, can I enable this? I don’t think it is through mandatory sharing – although I might still encourage it if I thought it would be beneficial to the students’ learning.

  11. jennymackness November 23, 2011 / 9:49 am

    Dean – many thanks for taking the time to comment here and thank you for the link to the video – which of course is so true – but doesn’t make it any easier to continue to have feelings of inadequacy when openly sharing.

    I don’t have any problem with promoting sharing as part of the learning process. I certainly wouldn’t be here now if hadn’t been for the open sharing of Stephen Downes and George Siemens.

    But I do have a problem with making sharing ‘mandatory’, assessing it, making it an obligation and considering it a ‘moral imperative’. I’m absolutely fine with you thinking it is a moral obligation/imperative for you, but not for trying to impose what suits your learning style on others.

    So although of course the title of your video was great for catching people’s attention and for ensuring that you could share your message with as many as possible, I would not myself want to rail people with the message that ‘sharing is a moral imperative’, although I think an open discussion about the benefits if sharing in this age of information abundance is helpful.

    Thanks for making me think about this further 🙂

  12. jennymackness November 23, 2011 / 9:59 am

    @ Apostolos K – thanks for your comment. It’s interesting to think about a course as a ‘contract’ between the teacher/institution and the student. I think this is how Erik Duval thinks about it and if I have understood him correctly, this is made explicit to the students. If the students have ‘signed’ or committed to a contract that requires open sharing – then of course, if the students want the qualification, they will need to comply and adhere to the requirements of the contract.

    But my question is about whether a requirement to share should be part of that contract in the first place. My interest is in how we interpret learner autonomy. Just how much choice over what and how they learn should they be given? Is making sharing mandatory militating against learner autonomy? And ultimately – I agree that compromises probably need to be made.

  13. roy November 23, 2011 / 3:58 pm

    Sharing is a two-way street, not a broadcast, no?

    Similarly silence – I would not share meditation with just anyone, but its a wonderful way to share in the world.

    And …

    Participation is exposure, it requires mutual trust, and respect – (or a thick skin).

  14. jennymackness November 23, 2011 / 7:27 pm

    Those are great comments Roy. Many thanks.

    > Similarly silence – I would not share meditation with just anyone, but its a wonderful way to share in the world.

    This is intriguing. If you come back – could you say more about how meditation is a wonderful way to share in the world. 🙂

  15. erikduval November 24, 2011 / 7:09 pm

    I like the continued feedback and thinking on this topic.

    At least with my students, in my courses, I find it important that they also learn how to work together, how to share. At least in that context, I do not believe that they should have an option not to share.

    In a similar way, I want the people in my research group to share. If they don’t want to do that, then they should not work in my group. That is fine – I don’t expect everybody to want to work with us 😉

    I’m not a big sports guy, but I think it is a bit similar to how you play soccer: it’s fine if you want to just play on your own, but if you want to be part of a team, your friends are going to expect that you pass the ball to them from time to time. I you don’t like that, then pick a different game – I, for one, like to run all alone…

  16. jennymackness November 25, 2011 / 2:56 pm

    Hi Erik – it’s great to have your alternative perspective – are you this challenging with your students too? 🙂

    Do you ever feel that you lose a really good student through your insistence on sharing? I raise this because I remember a PhD physics student who did not attend lectures and didn’t even socialise informally, never mind getting involved in sharing. He got a first class degree!

    I also wonder how you would react if all your students – en masse – decided that sharing was not for them. Of course this couldn’t happen because you control whether or not they will get their qualification, and of course, in order to do this they would need to share the idea with each other in the first place 🙂

    I think as you said right at the beginning of this discussion the learners on your course have to exert their autonomy in their initial decision of whether or not to sign up for your course. Would it be fair to say that after that their autonomy is at least in some part constrained?

  17. erikduval November 26, 2011 / 6:26 pm

    I’m not sure that I ever lose a really good student: nobody has ever explicitly told me that our sharing attitude was a reason not to become a student of mine.

    I agree that student autonomy is constrained when they take my class. So is my autonomy when I agree to ‘teach’ it. I cannot just decide half way through that I’m no longer interested 😉

    OTOH, I think that students are typically way more autonomous in my courses than they are in more ‘conventional’ ones. A lot of what they do, how they do it, how they report on it, how it is assessed, etc. is very open for discussion and negotiation… It is more on the fundamental principles of openness and sharing in learning together that I am a bit less flexible…

  18. jennymackness November 27, 2011 / 8:51 am

    Erik – I love your persistence at sticking to your point 🙂 and even more – your comment – ‘I cannot just decide half way through that I’m no longer interested’ – made me smile. I had never thought of it – and of course it is true if you don’t want to lose your job, but I suppose you could choose to do that. Have you ever walked away from a job where you could not align yourself with the institutional philosophy? I have – twice!

    I could tell from your presentation that you are a very successful teacher, so I am not surprised that you do not lose good students –and I suspect that the students that withdraw are not up to your exacting demands – but I often wonder how much students jump through our hoops for the sake of the qualification – and whether we, as tutors, lose out on learning from them because of this.


  19. Dean Shareski (@shareski) November 29, 2011 / 5:29 am

    I hope it’s not the technology that is the sticking point here. Can we agree that sharing is the act of educating? If so, and that’s how I’m using the word, do you have an obligation to share/teach to more than just your assigned classroom?

    I think some people would say no. However, in the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Code of Ethics, where I teach, it says,

    “To work with colleagues in mutually supportive ways and develop effective professional relationships with members of the educational community.”

    To me that says we have an obligation to our colleagues. Maybe you don’t feel the obligation portion but I do. When I say a “moral obligation” I mean that opting out, saying, “I won’t or don’t share” is unethical and immoral given that sharing is teaching. Where this became very real to me was a teacher who refused to share her work with a colleague because she felt she had invested the time and that the other teacher should too. I was appalled that that mindset existed. To me that was unethical behaviour.

    The addition of online simply means that you can now impact those you don’t even realize. Everyone needs to decide how and when they’ll share. But having an online presence of any kind can lead to wonderful things for others. To not be willing to share is selfish. Online is no longer a big deal.

    To quote David Wiley again, “if there is no sharing, there is no education”.

    Thank you for sharing and allowing this conversation.

  20. jennymackness November 30, 2011 / 4:46 pm

    Hi Dean – believe it or not, I understand where you are coming from, because my career has been in teaching and having to reinvent the wheel, when a teacher in the next classroom won’t share, is something I have personally experienced.

    But I do feel a little ambivalent about it. First, I think sharing has to be a choice and second I think it needs to be reciprocal if it is going to work. So, if I need a resource that the teacher in the next classroom has spent hours developing, I must not only attribute the resource as his/her work, but share something with him/her in return.

    But I do agree that technology might be the sticking point. In MOOCs in particular there is an expectation to ‘share’ with a whole network of people you have never met, will probably never meet, never mind work with. Here, it is easy to feel pressurised by a ‘tyranny of sharing’. As I mentioned very early on, I have nothing against sharing, but feel it must be an individual choice, either in the classroom or in a network.

    Thanks for your return visit 🙂

  21. brainysmurf January 5, 2012 / 3:47 pm

    Such a rich discussion, thank you all! I weigh in on the side of autonomy and choice as being top priorities. I constantly choose how, when, what and where to share, and with whom.

    As a learning professional,I tend to set my default to share at work because my information is generally not sensitive or confidential. Most of what I find from others, or develop on my own, seems to have value for a bigger audience. The vast majority of my colleagues do not share as widely as I do and that is a shame. They seem to be caught up in withholding information as power.

    In a physical or virtual classroom, I choose a level of participation along a spectrum from least to most engaged. It depends on my mood, my health, the relevance of the material and many other factors.

    For example, I once put my earbuds in during mandatory training at work and flipped through my music library to tune out the speaker. Rude and selfish? Yes, absolutely and I don’t regret it. It was my way of protesting the terrible content and delivery. I hate wasting my time like that so I voted with my ears and eyes rather than my feet.

    At home and work, I am fanatical about protecting my identity and I only share personal information with a very small number of people. Thankfully, I have been able to balance privacy and participation in the #change11 mooc through the use of pseudonyms.

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