Collaboration as Leveling Agent
January 28, 2009

Intellectual freedom denotes a leveling of the educational and informational playing fields. After all, no one is free when others are oppressed. Reading this article about the educational aims of President Obama’s stimulus plan this morning, I was struck by two readers’ comments:

“Don’t waste any taxpayer money on education. Only the wealthy or very lucky have access to higher education, and elitism is now ingrained in our ‘culture,’ such as it is.” —Smalldive, Montana

“The best schools in the country are 1)elite public schools with a select student body, 2) well endowed private schools, and 3) suburban public schools supported by high property taxes.” –David, Nevada

Specific political points aside, the readers’ concerns about inequality in higher education (and education as a whole) are completely valid. Yet, aside from pouring tax dollars into education, how does one eradicate educational and informational inequality?

How about this?  Dr. Desouza has amalgamated open access, text book exchange, digital initiatives, and interactive and collaborative learning to create an alternative to the burden of purchasing textbooks (a huge factor of financial inequality present in most educational systems).

As innovative as Dr. Desouza’s project is, perhaps, the most striking elements are the many degrees of collaboration. Dr. Desouza collaborates with his students to write the textbook; a new set of students collaborate with past students during the revision process; in shoring up theory to deepen the textbook’s content, students collaborate with a management consulting firm; and everyone involved in the project collaborates with the students who use the textbook as these students not only read the textbook, they also provide case studies to be included in future iterations.

The educational community fostered through this one project transcends culture, wealth, borders, and educational hierarchy. It empowers all involved, even those just reading the textbook. In other words, this free textbook levels many informational playing fields.