The emergence of Web 2.0 has accelerated the growth of human networks, both in a social as well as a professional context. The growth of human networks has aided learning both in formal settings (universities and colleges) as well as informal settings in the form of community learning websites (For ex. Stack Overflow, Github, etc.).1
Being a graduate student, I have lost count of the number of times I have visited Stack Overflow exchange to obtain solutions to tricky coding challenges in research from other netizens. Similarly, I have provided solutions to problems posted by other (no I have never obtained help for class assignments if you were wondering). This is one of the easiest examples of networked learning whereby individuals all over the globe come together and provides solutions to each other’s problems. The popular phenomenon of Crowdsourcing, first coined by Jeff Howe in 20062, whereby organizations and governments seek to utilize the power of the crowd in solving issues both at a local and a global level also falls under the umbrella of networked learning. The only difference, in this instance, being that knowledge flows from individuals to organizations and governments.3
Fig 1. An example of a crowd-sourcing fail or brilliance depending on how we see it4
Having successfully diverted my reader away from the current week’s reading, I will now undertake a feeble attempt at doing justice to the role of networked learning in institutions of formal learning. Campbell (2016)5 in his article argues in the favor of online collaboration as a form of experiential learning. This he argues goes above and beyond the class room learning as it forces students to tackle multiple challenges and instead of simply collaborating with one another, to co-create knowledge. In my opinion, his arguments will go uncontested.
However, I would like to draw your attention to the blog by Tim Hitchcock6, who argues in favor of researchers using their online presence to further their respective fields of knowledge. The author highlights various success stories associated with the use of networking tools in research. The validity of his arguments are however, diminished by a very simple phenomenon in economics known as the Prisoners’ Dilemma.7 As the game goes two individuals acting simultaneously and bereft of the benefit of communication with one another, always selects an action which hurts them both due to the nature of payoffs (See fig. 2).
Fig 2. An illustration of the prisoner’s dilemma game. Defect is the dominating strategy for all individuals8
Research materials when shared online may be prone to plagiarism. Research ideas are be prone to be stolen (Hitchcock himself admits this being a major concern). Have we as individuals, who are part of a larger society, evolved enough to control our needs for immediate gratification? Can we curb ourselves from stealing our neighbor’s (not in the literal sense) well thought out research ideas? The presence of websites such as Github where contributors share codes and real time data with others is a step towards the right direction. However in my opinion, we, as part of a larger society of researchers, must do more in order to prevent us from going down the route of the two dear prisoners. Else we risk falling into a vicious cycle from which academia might not be able to extricate itself.
P.S. I decided to keep my views about the remedies required to help academia get out of the vicious cycle of non-cooperation private. I would however gladly discuss this offline. Also Go Hokies!!
- For a detailed exposition on Learning Networks, refer to Sloep, P., & Berlanga, A. (2010). Learning networks, networked learning.
- Please refer to “The Rise of Crowdsourcing” here https://www.wired.com/2006/06/crowds/
- For crowdsourcing challenges hosted by the United States Government please visits – https://www.challenge.gov/list/
- Campbell, Gardner (2016). Networked Learning as Experiential Learning.
- Refer to http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/07/28/twitter-and-blogs-academic-public-sphere/
- For a quick insight on Prisoner’s Dilemma game, refer to the Wikipedia article on the same at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner%27s_dilemma
- Source: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/02/08/why-reducing-co2-emissions-is-like-the-prisoners-dilemma/