A Dangerous Idea on Defining Value in Education

ASSESSING COOPERATION OVER COMPARISON: "No wonder our students find cheating to be the most reasonable response to assessment and evaluation." That's Mr. Stephen Downes remarking on the Enrons, Worldcoms, interest rate scandals, and Bernie Madoffs that have come to dominate mainstream news. It's also why he feels the most recent responses to online cheating at Coursera and Udacity are a losing effort: "people have been educated since birth to engage in cutthroat competition with each other," he says.

Online education aside, he proposes assessing cooperation instead of comparison. That shouldn't be confused with collaboration which he labels as the "school-level emulation of the creation of cliques and corporations." No, he wants to measure how much students contribute to the common good -- a large-scale abstracted Wikipedia if you will. And it's not limited to K-12 students; offering open, peer-reviewed online courses should be a requirement of PhD education, says Mr. Downes.

We sense more than a little social engineering here but alas, what is education? The switch in semantics is thought-provoking -- it teases out some really hard questions about human nature. After all, we can only hope that in Mr. Downes world we don't move from a society of cheaters to one of freeloaders!

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