The Cathedral and the Bazaar – and the Church Square outside

I’ve been aware of the essay entitled The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond for quite a few years now. I first learned about it when I was researching for an assignment about copyright and creative commons, and I was inspired by its imagery. The essay (which has since been extended to become a book) is an exploration of software development. It contrasts the Cathedral model, where software code is released in stages, largely controlled by a small group of developers, with the Bazaar model, where code development occurs publicly, and therefore able to be scrutinized, improved upon and redesigned by any interested person.
I had completely forgotten about the Cathedral and the Bazaar until I came across it today in the article Open education and critical pedagogy by Robert Farrow . Farrow uses the models in a discussion about the complexities inherent within the term ‘open’ when applied to education, specifically with regard to MOOCs.
MOOC Poster (V3) flickr photo by mathplourde shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

He suggests that xMOOCS provided by platforms such as Coursera, Udacity and EdX are ‘Cathedrals’. While they might be considered to be open in that they have no prerequisites and are accessible to anyone with a connection to the internet, they are structured by course co-ordinators, and are released in a planned progression. These online, open courses are quite different to what has been named the cMOOC, (connectivist MOOC, coined by Stephen Downes), the ‘Bazaar’, where the learners create the curriculum and the focus is on the autonomy and serendipity of learning that occurs when people connect and collaborate. (For terrific discussions about xMOOCs and cMOOCs, check out the work of Tony Bates and this excellent blog post by Jenny Mackness). Drawing upon this analogy, the xMOOC is structured, with a top down approach for releasing open content. The cMOOC, with greater emphasis on personal autonomy and flexibility is potentially messier, with a flatter organisation.

This post draws on the original concept of the Cathedral and the Bazaar, and the analogy Farrow has drawn between two types of open education, and directs it towards my own work looking at educators and their personal learning networks.

Image shared to the Public Domain by Skitterphoto

In my view, traditional school may be considered to be the cathedral. Just as there is a hierarchy in the church between God, ministers and those there to pray, there is a hierarchy between administrators, teachers and students. Holy texts and the curriculum are similarly written by wisdom figures, and ‘delivered’ to parishioners and students in planned chunks. Just like those attending church celebrations, in most cases, students have little say in what they are going to ‘learn’ from day to day, term to term, year to year. It all unfolds in a planned fashion, with either faith, knowledge or skills building and growing (hopefully!). In the school, standards, curricular and indepth scope and sequence documents detail how learning will take place, and this learning is seen as a linear progression from year level to year level.

School is important. Education is essential so that we have a literate and numerate population. Whether we need to fully embrace the traditional broadcast model, where the teacher holds the knowledge (and the power) and doles it out to students as if they were empty vessels, I’m yet to be convinced. However I do believe that we continue to need formal institutions where learning occurs – I’m not that much of an anarchist!

Image shared to the Public Domain by TheUjulala

Learning with a personal learning network is definitely more like a bazaar. Interestingly, while the bazaar is often quite temporary in its appearance, it probably has been operating in the same part of the city or village square for as long as the cathedral has stood. There are rules and expectations among stallholders, even though these may be unspoken. The same may be said for the PLN. Based upon reciprocity and sharing, there are rules guiding how to successfully navigate different social networks. If you SHOUT your messages, bombard people with too many requests without giving in return or are frequently ill-mannered, you may find that your PLN loses value. The bazaar is noisy, with competing calls promoting wares and offering great purchasing opportunities. So too is the PLN; but after a while, you soon realise which stalls (or participants) have high quality merchandise, and who are the shonks.

Teachers using a PLN are in an interesting position, spending equal time in the cathedral as the bazaar. Do they spend their days in highly structured settings and let loose in the bazaar of their PLN at night? Or do they find that the longer they spend in the bazaar, the more features of it they draw into the cathedral; until they drag themselves and their students into the church square, taking the best of the edifice and blending it with the messy excitement of the market? Perhaps the church square is connected learning – the blending of different contexts, where students and teachers work together to pursue personally engaging, yet academically oriented learning?

Image shared to the Public Domain by KirkandMimi

As I continue to ruminate, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Do you find that your PLN has influenced your pedagogy, and how you teach and learn? Has your PLN inspired you to drag your classroom out into the open, where you can take the best from both the cathedral and the bazaar? Drop me a line in the comments, or get in touch via Twitter.

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