Educators and technology: The possibility of a "free" knowledge market?

To begin my blog today, I have to share a couple of links that have got me thinking about how education and technology intertwine with one another to create a more revolutionary learning space.

The first is a talk given by Richard Baraniuk on the possibility of open-source learning. [http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_baraniuk_on_open_source_learning.html] In it, he discusses the idea of knowledge being shared across online space and modified to where we can create or “rip” custom-made learning tools, much like we create our own custom-made music mixes.

Perhaps a realization of these ideas is a digital textbook by Macmillan that will allow teachers to create their own custom textbooks by reordering content, adding supplemental materials, write in the margins, etc. [ see http://www.fastcompany.com/1559117/macmillans-new-digital-textbooks-let-profs-reorder-rewrite-and-stick-it-to-rival-academics?partner=homepage_newsletter].

The most intriguing thing about these ideas and concepts is that they make education more affordable and therefore accessible to the masses. In some ways, I think that this creation of more readily accessible knowledge is much like the invention of the printing press was in its day (thanks for bringing this point home, Gardner). Much like there was hesitation about knowledge getting into the hands of so many people and the implications for that, I think there is certain hesistancy about this open source knowledge that is beginning to be created through an online space. The hesitation has less to do with people having access to the knowledge but more about the creative rights of the knowledge and who has access to EDIT the knowledge. I think these are valid concerns that should be addressed by educators and consumers alike.

However, I see the positive in this possibility. As an educator myself, I have seen how the mere limitation of resources has prevented many of my students from gaining access to valuable knowledge. In my time teaching at a community college (versus a private University), I have had students drop my class because their funds to buy the textbook for the course did not come through. I have seen other students go through several loopholes just to get their hands on a book or resource they were dying to read. This makes me sad. Books and knowledge are the very essence of my existence, and I am heartbroken at the thought of anyone who would not have access to it. To me, books are a place to escape and find freedom. Knowledge and new ideas are the very fuel that drive me to do what I do. It’s so exciting to think a new thought or engage yourself in a stimulating discussion. I live off of this stuff and for it. So, yes, I am excited by the idea of a world where free knowledge (or at least cheaper knowledge) is shared.

But I do see the pitfalls. Who is getting paid to share this knowledge? Who is allowed to write up these ideas and share with the world? But I must say, to me, it appears that publishers are perhaps the only individuals who may be benefitting from the creation and circulation of texts (and we are hard pressed to say that, I think). I know that I write just to get my ideas out there. I’m never paid for a single journal article or book chapter I write. In fact, I’m dying just to share my thoughts with the world (and praying to the journal gods that I get published)! I think this online space could be a great way to start sharing that knowledge in another format. The peer-reviewed process, however, should never be abolished as it results in such sophisticated, rigorously tested writing. But, I think there is a space for the sharing of knowledge in an online format.

This is a post in which I anxiously await the reply of my readers. I’m curious what others thing. So, tell me!

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About Megan Johnson Shen

I am a social psychologist graduating with my Ph.D. from Baylor University this May and moving to NYC this summer to start a new job as a postdoctoral researcher at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in the Cancer Prevention and Control Department. I love the brain, human behavior, and anything to do with understanding them better. I love research and a good dinner party. Fine wine and cheese - I'm there. Interesting experimental data? I'll probably show for that too. View all posts by Megan Johnson Shen

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