Case studies of the commons

The material here is based on a course coordinated and delivered by Prof. Vasilis Kostakis. The course builds upon Harvard’s Teaching by the Case Method as well as Andersen’s and Schiano’s Teaching with Cases book.

This course explores the challenges and potentialities of the commons. The course is structured in eight semi-autonomous sessions, each one contributing with a distinct perspective on alternative ways of organizing production and society. From Wikipedia, GNU/Linux and open hardware to the six-time NBA champions Chicago Bulls, students study and reflect on diverse case studies that involve commoning. Students are thus expected to adopt a critical approach and formulate their own outlook on the subject, informed by the lectures and the other teaching activities.

Each class uses a central question as its starting point. The task of the students is to prepare and address the central question in class. They need to take a stand. To reply to the question, students need to search on places from Wikipedia, YouTube and Google scholar to popular media outlets. They are free to search for info anywhere. However, students are provided with recommended material.

Indicatively some questions around which our classes develop: How to resolve “the tragedy of the commons”? Do organizations or the players and the coach win championships? How to compensate for coders’ work on publicly available projects? If you were sitting on the Wikimedia board of directors how would you propose to address Wikipedia’s governance problems? If you were the Prime Minister of Greece, what would be the role of the commons in your policy strategy?

A normal case class may proceed like this:

  • A few weeks before the first class, this email is sent to students. It includes concise information about the case teaching method, the necessary preparation, the classes, the grading and the promise of the course.
  • At the beginning of each class, a student gets a “cold call”. This means that s/he is asked to open the discussion, giving an overview of the organization or the ecosystem, the problem to be analyzed, and her/his solution to the problem or reply to the question.
  • When the first student is done, the floor is open for comments and alternative solutions/replies, from as many people as possible.
  • To speak, students ask for the floor by raising a hand.
  • The teacher takes notes and guides the discussion, but ideally almost all the talking should be done by the students. To facilitate the discussion of the cases, this guide maybe helpful for teachers/facilitators.
  • At the end of each class, all participants try to synthesize and conclude.
  • During the last two classes, students have to provide policy proposals to address a real-life social, economic and political crisis building on the commons (e.g., regarding the Greek/EU crisis as documented by the AGORA documentaries).

At the end of the course, students must self-evaluate their progress during the classes. The teacher grades (PASS/FAIL) their self-evaluation (500 words max.) in relation to and in combination with the general performance as understood by her/him.