Democratizing Education with Access to Digital Content: Expanding the “Reach” of Knowledge

These are notes towards a yet-unwritten manifesto on open knowledge sharing and the need to reach more people with education while also not being elitist about it.

Short version of this blog post if you are too busy: Open education and OER’s counter elitist approaches to education that are only for a chosen few. Consider creating your own open access content to share with others.

Knowledge should be free and open. This movement, the Open Educational Resources movement (known by various names such as OER, Open Education, and more) has been around for a bit of time. It’s an important one and a cultural shift in thinking from hoarding knowledge and becoming “knowledge guardians” as in previous generations. With the advent of the internet, blogs, and access to mobile devices, sharing of info is not hard. Here I describe a few reasons I advocate for open knowledge sharing.

Why Open Access Matters, Ethically

These are my personal opinions and written candidly and without a lot of reference to theory, for the moment. I will flesh out these ideas later and use them in writing a manifesto at a later date.

I believe strongly that there are ethical reasons to share knowledge openly. First, education is about democratizing education, as described by the American philosopher of education, John Dewey. Second, I am anti-elitist in my approach to teaching and learning. This is why I adore YouTube. One can learn a lot of things on YouTube from how to put on eye makeup like Edie Sedgwick, how to install a car tail light, how to cook Indian food all the way to more cerebral, academic, and even esoteric topics! I so love YouTube on multiple levels both in terms of being a viewer and a creator/producer of  knowledge on my own videos.

Open access of content in digital formats can foster learning for students at all levels, who may not receive good instruction at their formal schools of learning or who lack access to good content for a variety of reasons. Access to technology, however, is an issue that may hurt access to digitally available content, although with the increase of mobile devices and efforts to increase access to broadband internet and other sources of internet, this is becoming somewhat less of a concern.

Open Access to Education Expands “Reach” of Knowledge

The concept of “reach” and knowledge availability outside of a “course”. I personally think it is better to teach more people than  a select few. When I visited Harvard’s  edX/Harvardx center, I learned of the specific use of the “reach”: a term they used to denote reaching many people through digital learning via MOOCs. However, maybe MOOCs aren’t the best approach in a busy world where even committing to a sustained course over some length of time can be prohibitive.

I like the idea of flexibly available digital content that can be accessed anytime/anywhere by the user. MOOCs can potentially require commitment of time over an extended period of time.

Another idea to increase access to knowledge is to simply create resources for people on various media such as the tutorial system on the Khan Academy. The beauty of these types of resources is that they can be used flexibly. In this way, the user can simply select which courses to take. Of course, there are critiques, as well, about the Khan videos perhaps being too much of “direct instruction”. However, the free videos do fill a need in providing technical knowledge for a wide variety of people in a global context. In this sense, they are useful and extend “reach”.

To those who critique the Khan Academy videos or way of learning, I would counter, “What digital content have you created that is helping millions of people of all ages to potentially learn a massive amount of technical and complex content? How are you reaching those in vast and global settings?” Nothing is perfect; the point is that there is content that is open and available.

People understand easily accessed, digital available multi-media that can be used for teaching purposes. When combined with text-based content, I think this is the best type of content for learning. I can read it, click hyperlinks, watch audio and video content, and can dialogue in community if comment threads are available.

What We Can Do as Influencers, Knowledge Creators, and Synthesizers

We are all influencers even if we are not academic superstars. What we do matters to those in our circles of influence and networks. Also, our networks are every changing and multi-dimensional. What we do with our beliefs, efforts, teaching, and learning is noticed by others, for better or for worse. Therefore, there are many ways to take action in learning  more about, advocating for, and implementing open education as a paradigm in our teaching and learning worlds.

Learn more about the Open Access movement and Open Educational Resources (OER) movements. Tell others about these ideas in whatever way you share information.

Consider sharing our own knowledge with Creative Commons licensing. Learn more about the different types of licensing and use attributions correctly.Tell others about these ideas in whatever way you share information.

Learn more about multi-modal content creation such as via YouTube. It’s great to track one’s own analytics and see the reach one can potentially have with content.

Spread the word about open learning opportunities that you come across. These can be shared via email, in person, at conferences or in writing, and/or social media.

-If you are a formal educator in K-12 or higher education or another teaching context, formalize your expertise and share it. Consider creating podcasts or video-based content, and/or blogging.

Comments are most welcome! -Peggy

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