Monday, November 12, 2012

Teaching Concurrent Interests -- By Experience

The last three years, I have forced my students to join Dropboxand a shared folder instead of loading materials through TWEN (I have an unhealthy hatred for TWEN, and likewise an unhealthy love for Dropbox).  

This year, I had a revelation.   What I have been doing is creating shared space subject to community expectations for how that space could be used.   For example, because the way I set up the space, students can take things out of the shared folder; they can create their own folders; and they can alter documents within the folder and then save the documents for everyone else.  Thus every year, several times during the course of the year, I have to (a) repopulate the dropbox with documents that have been taken out (really quite easy despite what I tell students); and (b) make an announcement about the space being open and shared and requesting stduents to leave the documents in place.   

This year, I have received what feels like the same number of students that have complained because a document went missing, and I have repopulated it, but I have not inforced the norm creating admonition about us sharing the open space.   My idea is to start a dicussion on Wednesday about how collective space sharing inherently requires norms for deciding how duties and rights shape interaction within the space.  I am going to ask the students to reflect on their experience in the shared space and then come up with a list of rules for how the space should be used.  

I think this is not unlike what we do in concurrent interests.  Rules based on accounting for profits, paying for repairs, and allocating taxes ulitmately define the space that multiple parties are seeking to occupy. The fiction of concurrent use is balanced by the pragmatism that "two men can't plow the same furrow." The imposition of legal rules necessarily defines not only who can use the space, but also the underlying preferences for which use is socially better.  

So, will the use of Dropbox shift when the community establishes rules?   We'll see.....

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