#rhizo14: Week 1 – When Cheating is great, and when it has consequences

I’ll be participating in the Rhizomatic Learning “course” over the next few weeks, and excited about expanding my notions of what learning can be through it. The first week is already compelling, as Dave Cormier challenged us to think about how we can use cheating to restructure what think learning to be.

Already, I’m seeing great tweets in #rhizo14 about ways that cheating is ok. For example:

This idea that cheating is related to scarcity is interesting to me and makes sense. If we openly share our ideas and knowledge, and invite others to take that information to do what they will, amazing things happen. For example, I often learn how to cook by directly copying others, or finding a YouTube video. It’s not cheating because the information is not scarce and the benefits culled from the learning activity are not scarce. e.g. we all benefit to learn how to cook.

But this understanding leads me to also reflect on the conditions of “scarcity” that are more difficult to bypass or deconstruct; which illuminates, for me, the conditions where cheating has tremendous consequence. For example, imagine there was one job as a head chef left available in the world, and the choice was between me (a novice chef) and Anthony Bourdain. Imagine also that Mr. Bourdain was so amazing that he uploaded his entire history of cooking experience online through writings and YouTube videos, which I copied through the years, to have a cooking style very similar to his. It may very well be that Mr. Bourdain might feel that I “cheated”. I merely took his creative work, followed along, and now may threaten his ability to get this job, and subsequently his well-being and survival.

The “scarcity” in this hypothetical is not about information or learning. I would argue that my learning was rich and valid – I learned how to cook! I agree that cheating does not exist as a concept under conditions of abundance. I can envision a less high-stakes situation – e.g. a college course – where we can create a situation of abundance, and hence a culture where cheating is irrelevant.

However, the scarcity in my scenario is in consequences and benefits (e.g. scarcity of economic opportunity, ability to survive), that are closely linked to broader structures such as capitalism. In this condition of scarcity – the act of “cheating” will be negative to somebody. Could we ever be in a societal situation where “scarcity” of opportunity and resources is eliminated? And because this ideal has been so difficult to create for us as a human species – could this be a reason why our education system is often structured to “weed out” individuals even though a great many of us care about issues of equity and open-ness?

These are the conundrums in my mind when I think about cheating.