Howard Rheingold Offering Online Course on Cooperation and Co-Learning

Hi everyone, For anyone who wants more theory about co-learning, Howard Rheingold (father of Mamie, who visited our class) has retired from UC Berkeley and Stanford but is still running some low cost (I believe) courses online, on his own.  If you haven’t had your fill of co-learning theory, he’s leading conversations about all the convergences in many fields and how these can apply to both formal co-learning situations (i.e. teaching) and online anonymous communities of co-learners.  The syllabus is below.  And here’s the link:

Rheingold U:

Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Introduction to Cooperation Theory

May 20 – July 10, 2015

A six week course using asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter to introduce the fundamentals of an interdisciplinary study of cooperation: social dilemmas, institutions for collective action, the commons, evolution of cooperation, technologies of cooperation, and cooperative arrangements in biology from cells to ecosystems.

On Cooperation Theory, Social Dilemmas, and Technologies of Cooperation

Cost: $300. $250 if you’ve taken a Rheingold U course ($200 if you’ve taken two RU courses, etc.) $500 if your company reimburses you.

If you are interested in signing up, contact — cohort limited to 30 learners.

Week One: Cooperation in Biology Required Texts

Week One: Cooperation in Biology Recommended Texts

Roland Legrand’s blog post about the live session on cooperation in biology, January 24, 2012

Legrand did an excellent job summarizing the key points.

Do Trees Communicate?

Short video and paragraph with links about the role of networks in tree roots that encourage rhizobium symbiosis

Plants know their relatives — and like them

“In a study of more than 3,000 mustard seedlings, scientists discovered that the young plants recognize their siblings — other plants grown from the seeds of the same momma plant — using chemical cues given off during root growth. And it turns out mustard plants won’t compete with their brethren the way they will with strangers: Instead of rapidly growing roots to suck up as much water and minerals as possible, plants who sensed nearby siblings developed a shallower root system and more intertwined leaves.”

David Wiley, Mycorrhizal networks and learning (blog post)

A great introduction to symbiosis with an intriguing extrapolation to human self-organization. Highly readable. Read it.

Bacteria ‘R’ Us (article)

“Emerging research shows that bacteria have powers to engineer the environment, to communicate and to affect human well-being. They may even think.”

More on Bacterial Cooperation

“MIT researchers have found that cells in a bacterial colony grow in a way that benefits the community as a whole. That is, while an individual cell may divide in the presence of plentiful resources to benefit itself, when a cell is a member of a larger colony, it may choose instead to grow in a more cooperative fashion, increasing an entire colony’s chance of survival.”

Mindmap of ecological relationships (mindmap)

Shows examples of mutualism within a system of complex biological interdependencies in an ecosystem.

Explore the Human Microbion (cool interactive graphic of the internal human ecosystem)

Rediscovering Symbiogenesis (blog post)

This post refers to the prescient work of Russian botanist Boris Kozo-Polyansky, who proposed a theory of symbiogenesis in the 1920s.

Plants talk to each other, using an Internet ( blog post)

“No, we’re not talking about the internet, we’re talking about fungi. While mushrooms might be the most familiar part of a fungus, most of their bodies are made up of a mass of thin threads, known as a mycelium. We now know that these threads act as a kind of underground internet, linking the roots of different plants. “

Week Two: Evolution of Cooperation Required Texts

Martin Nowak, The Evolution of Cooperation, MIT, (available online)

The video is 20 minutes long. The transcript of a longer video, which is no longer available, is also valuable. Please read.

Do primates share an evolved sense of fairness? (available online)

This video, a bit over 2 minutes long, is not only “the funniest moments” from de Waal’s TED presentation, but gets the point across within the first minute. There is a longer version in the recommended texts.

Robert Axelrod, “Evolution of Cooperation” (available online)

Axelrod’s work is fundamental.  Thinking about cooperation, evolution, game theory, and computer simulation led him to use what has since become the e. coli of cooperation studies, the computer-simulated interated prisoner’s dilemma game, a strategy game that probes the ways human react when given the choice between assured self interest and potential but not guaranteed benefits of cooperation. Axelrod’s “Three Conditions” brings the gist of his research to a practical level that can then be used as a lens for looking at collective action online: what are the most important conditions for ensuring cooperation among strangers in a competetive environment.

Robert Boyd, Joseph Henrich, and Peter Richerson, Cultural Evolution of Human Cooperation: Summaries and Findings (summary)

Joseph Henrich, “How Culture Drove Human Evolution” (39 minute video — or read the transcript that accompanies it).

Peter Richerson, Robert Boyd, and Joseph Henrich, Cultural Evolution of Human Cooperation (PDF)

Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution Introduction and Conclusion (PDF)

Mark Pagel, Wired for Culture: The natural history of human cooperation (16 minute video)


Week Two: Evolution of Cooperation: Recommended Texts


E.O Wilson, “The Riddle of the Human Species

Wilson is controversial, but the rarity of “eusocial” species and the coincidence of the cognitive, cultural, social growth of humans with the advent of hunting and gathering in cooperative groups is strongly supportive of his hypothesis.

Alan Honick and Gordon Orians, “Are We Born With a Sense of Fairness?”

Intriguing short, easily readable article about clever experiments that provide evidence that 15 month olds have a sense of fairness. Also, this research adds the useful phrase “altruistic sharing” to the lexicon of cooperation theory.

Daniel Hrushka, “Searching for the Origins of Individualism and Collectivism

Recent research and theory into evolutionary explanations for individualism and collective action — the two poles of social dilemmas and building blocks of cooperation.

 Oren Harman, “The Evolution of Altruism

A review of David Sloan Wilson’s book “Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others. “

Martin Nowak and Roger  Highfield,  Supercooperators: How altruism and cooperation fit into the larger evolutionary puzzle (1/2 hr video)Martin Nowak on The Evolution of Cooperation (1 hr video)

Martin Nowak, Five Rules for the Evolution of Cooperation (public access scientific article)

George W. Grace, “Reflections on the Evolution of Language: Robin Dunbar’s Social Bonding Hypothesis” (web page with Howard’s highlighting)


The Evolution of Cooperation 1: Selfish genes and helpful family (blog post)


The Evolution of Cooperation 2: Group Selection (blog post)

The Evolution of Cooperation 3: Mutualism (blog post)


Capuchin monkeys reject unequal pay (video)

Reknowned primatologist shows a task he gave Capuchin monkeys to see if they responded to a sense of fairness.

Rick Nauert, “Cooperation Trumps Payback in Evolution of Generosity” (article) 


Yochai Benkler, The Unselfish Gene (Harvard Business Review — most of the article is behind a paywall, but the visible part is useful)

 Mark Pagel on Social Learning (interview)

Yochai Benkler, “The Penguin and the Leviathan: Towards Cooperative Human Systems Design” CSCW 2012 (PDF of slides)

Sharing knowledge is the key difference between humans and chimps, say scientists (news report of research)

Mcnally, Brown, Jackson, “Cooperation and the Evolution of Intelligence” (scientific research article)

Studies Show That Gossip Isn’t All Loose Talk (NY Times article)

Eric Michael Johnson, “Ayn Rand vs. the Pygmies: Did human evolution favor individualists or altruists?” (Slate article)

Lee Alan Dugatkin, “The Russian Anarchist Prince Who Challenged Evolution,” (Slate Article)

“The Baby Lab,” CBS News transcript about research conducted at The Infant Cognition Lab about evidence that babies make moral decisions.

David G. Rand, Martin Nowak, “Reciprocity is Fundamental” (research report)

If you want to do your own systems simulations and agent-based modeling to study cooperation-related phenomena, you could use Insight Maker, a free, browser-based tool for exploring interactive systems. Here is Insight-Maker’s webbrain and

Ethan Watters, “We aren’t the world,” article about Joe Henrich’s work with ultimatum game in different cultures

Catherine Crawley, “The Altruistic Side of Aggressive Greed:” Evidence that social hierarchy and bullying can reduce the free-rider problem and catalyze collective action.

Robert Sapolsky, “Understanding the Effects of Hierarchy in Society,” “If they(baboons) are able to, in one generation transform what are supposed to be textbook social systems sort of engraved in stone, we don’t have any excuse when we say that there are certain inevitabilities about human social systems.” (9 minute video of a lecture by Stanford professor)

Maria Konnikova, “The Limits of Friendship” (about the “Dunbar Number), the New Yorker, October 17, 2014,

Week Three: Social Dilemmas: Required Texts

Peter Kollock Social Dilemmas (video)

Kollock, who died in a traffic accident in 2009, addressed the Stanford seminar on “A new literacy of cooperation,” led by Andrea Saveri and Howard Rheingold, in 2005.

Peter Kollock: Social Dilemmas (PDF)

After you watch Kollock’s screencast and want to read a superbly written literature review of interdisciplinary research and theory regarding social dilemmas, this paper (PDF download) is essential. 

Howard Rheingold (with assistance of So-Eun Park): Kollock’s literature review of social dilemma research as a concept map.

Also a work in progress — a way to remind yourself about the material covered by Kollock

Barry Wellman, Rochelle R. Cote and Gabriele Plickert, “Tit-for-Tat and All That: Reciprocity in East York in the 1970s” (PDF Online)

You don’t have to work your way through the experimental methodology portions if that doesn’t interest you. While social dilemmas exist, so does reciprocity. These sociological researchers used survey data to discover that the single most important indicator of whether someone in a face to face neighborhood receives help from others is whether they have given help to others. There’s competition — and there’s also reciprocity.

Week Three: Social Dilemmas: Recommended Texts

 Leon Felkin, The Social Dilemmas (an overview)

This is a succinct overview of social dilemmas, game theory, proposed solutions.

Game Theory and Social Dilemmas (article)

If you really want to dig into the relationship between formal game theory, social dilemmas, and human cooperation, this entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a great place to start.

Robert Wright TED Talk on Non-zero (18 minute video)

Author Robert Wright explains “non-zero-sumness,” a game-theory term describing how players with linked fortunes tend to cooperate for mutual benefit. This dynamic has guided our biological and cultural evolution, he says — but our unwillingness to understand one another, as in the clash between the Muslim world and the West, will lead to all of us losing the “game.” Once we recognize that life is a non-zero-sum game, in which we all must cooperate to succeed, it will force us to see that moral progress — a move toward empathy — is our only hope.” (Transcript of this video)

Introduction to social dilemmas

Less technical than Kollock, an excellent introduction to social dilemmas. I almost made this a required reading.

The Parable of the Tribes (article)

The persistence of violence in human relations is a vexing and potentially suicidal form of social dilemma. I lean more toward Kollock because he thinks culture can help change our ways (by teaching cooperative games to very young people, for example), but Shmookler’s take on why it is so difficult to deal with violence without either resorting or surrendering to it is worthy of critical consideration.


Deep Pragmatism (interview)

This cooperation business is complex. Certainly humans are strongly influenced by the shaping forces of evolution. And certainly humans have distinguished ourselves by inventing cultural workarounds such as morality. But there’s the rub. Different cultures develop different workarounds. There may or may not be an absolute morality, but it is clear that people don’t act as if there is a single, universal behavioral code. A set of cultural norms may encourage and enforce cooperation within a group, but the world consists of many groups, different cultures, and the deep problem is precisely the one that Joshua Greene is pursuing.

Week Four: The Commons and Institutions for Collective Action: Required Texts:

Garrett Hardin, (1968) “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science, 162 (1968):1243-1248. available online

This is the foundational paper for the modern study of the commons (and modern students of the commons would say that Hardin is not referring to a commons, which is managed in some way by a community, but to an open access common pool resource). Looking ahead to the 21st century from the late 1900s, Hardin foresaw disaster in the way the human population was doubling, and more, with each succeeding generation. He referred to the way common grazing grounds have been overgrazed when individual farmers, unrestrained by regulation or property rights, added more and more animals to their flocks until the common meadows became overgrazed and unusable. Isn’t global climate change a commons problem? Ostrom and other modern theorists react to Hardin. This short paper should be read by anyone who wants to understand issues of human collective action — but no reader should stop with Hardin, whose gloomy assumptions have been shown by others to be something other than inevitable. See also this .jpg of a mindmap about issues arising from this article.

Elinor Ostrom, Governing The Commons: Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action  (summary) and One minute video.

Ostrom asked of Garrett Hardin’s gloomy prophecies regarding the “tragedy of the commons” the question any scientist should ask: is it really true that humans will inevitably despoil any common resource? Looking and thousands of records, ancient and modern, of human use of shared watersheds, fishing and hunting grounds, forests and grazing lands, Ostrom found that a significant portion of communities found ways to override basic social dilemmas, by constructing systems of norms and self-policing social contracts. Ostrom is getting at something deep — can humans learn to be more cooperative through our culturally constructed institutions than our biological heritage as competitive creatures naturally affords? Ostrom’s scope is wide. She wants to know how groups of people overcome barriers to collective action and why they fail to overcome them.

Silke Helfrich via David Bollier, Eight Points of References for Commoning (Elinor Ostrom’s design principles in language of commons) (blog post)

Ostrom is essential. Her writing can also be very technical. Here is a remix of her design principles for institutions of collective action in the language of the commons

Ostrom’s Nobel Prize Speech (one hour video) (Text is available as a PDF) (PPT slides available, too)

Elinor Ostrom, Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems (video 1 1/2 hrs)

Cat Johnson, Dog Parks, Humans and the Commons (short blog post)

Dog parks, dog owners, and dog poop are the main ingredients in commons-management experiments that take place in communities all over the globe. This report describes empirical research that tests Ostrom’s design principles in a real-life situation.


 Week Four: Institutions for Collective Action Recommended Texts

Collective Action Research, Practice and Theory,” issue of Grassroots Economic Organizing devoted to Elinor Ostrom

Shame and Honor Drive Cooperation,” blog post summarizing recent research — source linked from blog

The Penguin and the Leviathan,” long blog summary of Benkler’s book

Distributed Innovation and Creativity, Peer Production, and Commons in Networked Economy,” 2013 short chapter by Benkler

A different way of doing things,” Economist article about co-ops

Simulation modeling of Balinese irrigation,” a short summary of the work Stephen Lansing reported in his book, Perfect Order.

Collective Action Toolkit,” Instructive PDF by frogdesign on how to organize collective action

Give and Take: How the rule of reciprocation binds us,” NPR Interview with psychologist Robert Cialdini

Bill Clinton on Creative Networks of Collaboration,” Blog post by Steven Johnson, referring to his book, Future Perfect, about cooperative networks in politics.

Arthur Himmelman, Collaboration for Change, PDF that clearly delineates the differences and boundaries of networking, coordination, cooperation, and collaboration.

Coopoly – The Game of Cooperatives, I haven’t tested this yet. Maybe in this course?

Justice is in our nature,” Scientific American blog post by Jag Bhalla about the role of punishment in emergence and enforcement of sharing and egalitarianism.

Punishment Promotes Human Cooperation When People Trust Each Other” (research report)

The Impact of Elinor Ostrom’s Work on Commons Governance in Mexico,” chapter in edited volume about Ostrom’s theories in action

Week Five: Technologies of Cooperation Required Texts

Technologies of Cooperation Report (PDF)

This report was prepared by Institute for the Future by Kathi Vian, Andrea Saveri, and Howard Rheingold

Technologies of Cooperation map (PDF)

This chart was created by the Institute for the Future in collaboration with Howard Rheingold, attempting to systematize the relations between the technological affordances and social practices of online collaboration.

Peter Kollock, Design Principles for Online Communities

Peter Kollock, The Economics of Online Cooperation: Gifts and Public Goods in Cyberspace

Heather Marsh, Stigmergy

Week Five: Technologies of Cooperation Recommended Texts

David Bollier, Commons as a Different Engine of Innovation (text of a speech)

David Bollier, a champion of the commons, talks about innovation and the commons.

David Bollier, Applying Ostrom’s Guidelines to the Design of Software Platforms (blog post)

Bollier connects software design to Ostrom — beginnings of a theory of technologies of cooperation

Mark Elliott, Stigmergic Collaboration: The Evolution of Group Work

The design, evolution, use of environments that help individuals coordinate behavior — stigmergic collaboration — is a promising and largely unexplored frontier for designers of cooperation technologies.

The New Politics of the Internet (Economist article)

Net neutrality is a commons issue. It’s not just about protecting it from enclosure. It’s about deriving the broadest possible benefit from the cornucopia of the commons that can manifest when digital media, with their power to duplicate, distribute, and coordinate flows of information, meet human judgement in an “architecture of participation” can multiply individual acts of self-interest into public goods useful to all.

Tim O’Reilly, The Architecture of Participation (blog post)

Tim O’Reilly, The Future of Cooperation (hour long video)

O’Reilly situates architectures of participation within the “small pieces, loosely joined” design of the Internet.

Jeremiah Owyang, “The Collaborative Economy Honeycomb” (blog post and infographic)

A detailed infographic illustrating the ways digital media are enabling forms of economic cooperation (“sharing”) on scales never before possible

Week Six: Self-organizing the Big Picture

No texts this week. Co-learners self-organize live sessions, we use forums, blogs, and mindmaps to reflect on the entire course.


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