Part 2 of 3: The Gift of Knowledge
According to Eric S. Raymond in his essay about open-source development, â€œThe Cathedral & the Bazaar,â€ the free market is an exchange economy based on the trading of scarce goods and services. Scarcity is what creates the value. Raymond argues that a gift economy, essential to the open-source concept, is based on abundance not scarcity.
Higher education, as we today know it, is largely based on the scarcity principle of a free market. The perception is that the students trade scarce money for scarce knowledge. The flaw in that thinking is that knowledge isnâ€™t scarce -- itâ€™s abundant. What has been historically scarce is access to knowledge, not knowledge itself. At a key moment in human history, books became plentiful which led to the Age of Enlightenment and the birth of modern democracies. With the aid of this burgeoning collective knowledge, lovers of learning have, as mentioned before, banded together to create improvement clubs and organizations, but have always been limited by geography and the cost of communications. Even the success of Linux, as Raymond points out, tracks along exactly with the cheap access to the Internet. As the Internet grew, participation in Linux grew. Because of the Internet, geography has become irrelevant, and access to knowledge is no longer scarce.
In 1995, Bill Gates, in his book â€œThe Road Ahead,â€ prophetically asks, â€œWhat if communication were almost free?â€ My answer, based on the road we are standing on, is that education will become almost free. This is already happening. Wikipedia, with its 8.29 million articles and growing shows us what is possible. In order for someone to be able to charge for dispensing knowledge, it must either be knowledge he or she owns the intellectual property to, like a book, or it must be a closely held secret. The knowledge dispensed in formal institutions are generally neither. Algebra is still algebra at Harvard. They donâ€™t teach a secret version of algebra that no one else knows. And even if they did have secrets at the premier institutions, in order for a secret to be kept, everyone must keep it. In order for a secret to be leaked, only one person must leak it.
Weâ€™re not talking about leaking secrets, though; weâ€™re talking about sharing knowledge. An educated populace is essential to a healthy democracy, so it is in societiesâ€™ best interest that knowledge be shared. Thomas Jefferson wrote: â€œIf a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.â€ Wikipedia is proof that there are enough generous people out there willing to share knowledge freely. This generosity with information is key to open-source education.
Open-source is not only far less expensive, it is comparable, and perhaps superior to closed-source. Not only is Wikipedia free, itâ€™s remarkably accurate. Raymond in his essay states what he dubs as â€œLinusâ€™s Lawâ€ that â€œgiven enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.â€ For Wikipedia this means that with enough people reviewing content, errors are likely to be caught and corrected. This isnâ€™t theory anymore. Linux and Wikipedia prove the principle can work.
The preconditions and tools for wide spread open-source education exist. Personally, I use Squidoo.com as a platform for open-source education because it is easy to use. It makes sense that the open-source concept worked on a grand scale for the software development community first. The tools that made it possible were technology-based, and that technology was hard to understand and use. You had to know what a software developer knew. With tools like Squidoo, that has all changed. Squidoo is excellent aggregator of Internet technologies like YouTube, and Amazon that does not require the user to know HTML or the ins and outs of hosting services to create web pages that harness the full power of the Internet. A good Squidoo page, called a lens, can be structured like online syllabus that provides the map to learning new skills. All that is required is that experts leave breadcrumbs on their intellectual travels.
To demonstrate what I mean, Iâ€™ve created several tools for learning on Squidoo already. For instance, I created a lens about becoming an illustrator that aggregates the tools Iâ€™ve found most helpful in learning to illustrate.
Learn to be an Illustrator
Notice at how the end of the lens I link to Bryan Engramâ€™s lens on becoming a character animator.
Bryan is an animator who has worked on the Transformers game for XBOX, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and Disneyâ€™s, The Wild. Like my lens, Bryanâ€™s lens can be used as a roadmap for learning. Taken together with my lens, a diligent learner can travel a long way. As more intellectual areas get mapped, even more ground can be successfully navigated as long as experts like Byan are willing to share what they know.
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