The Democratization of Knowledge?

A teacher friend and I were discussing our summer reading plans over the phone the other night. “I’m reading Ulysses,” she said. “About ten pages a day. I’m glad I have my computer, so I can look up all the references and terms. I don’t know how people did it before the internet.”

It is exciting how technology and the internet has made it possible for people to get their work seen and heard. Case in point: artist Austin Kleon. Kleon has all kinds of stuff on his site that connects to inquiry. His book Steal Like an Artist would be a great discussion starter when talking about 21st notions of copyright and intellectual property. His tutorial and comments about visual notetaking as a way of documenting learning are entertaining and thought provoking. I found a quote on his site yesterday that made me think about listening, as an important part of the documentation process.

“When people realize they’re being listened to, they tell you things.”— Richard Ford, whose dyslexia forces him to listen more closely when people are talking.

Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist was recently published in book form and became a New York Times best seller. It got me wondering how technology and social media are changing access to information and knowledge. Without Kleon’s website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account, how many people would have seen his work? Would it now be published in book form?

In a recent class, we discussed Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, an expert in the area of expertise, (yes, really!) whose work was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers. Most people are not familiar with Ericsson, but Gladwell’s books are bestsellers. Then there is Carol Dweck, whose work on achievement and success led to her very popular book Mindset. Her work was also featured in Gladwell’s writing. It seems like Gladwell is the Oprah of psychology theorists. He takes ideas that otherwise might remain in academia, and brings them to the masses.

So where am I going with this? What I think is great about technology is that it creates a community of learners where their might not otherwise have been one. It encourages people to learn and try things they might otherwise have not.

So if technology for the most part encourages inclusion, what excludes? Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve done a lot of reading of academic material, and I have to say, some of it is torturous.  I am not advocating that we dumb down academic writing. Give me the ideas please, but do it in a way that is clear, concise, and yes, accessible. I am not alone in this. The Plain Language Network International is an organization that promotes writing of this kind.  Its members include editors, lawyers, and educators.

Clarity and conciseness are important, but so is tone. This has become even more critical with social media figuring prominently in our lives. The tone we use in an academic paper will probably be different than the tone we use in a tweet. Dr. Sarah Eaton’s blog post Language Register and Why It Matters (Or: Why You Can’t Write an Academic Paper in Gangsta Slang) addresses the importance of formal tone in academic work. We discussed in our class on inquiry and ICT the differences in the tone of our blog posts, as compared to academic papers. They are certainly very different.

My question now becomes does academic work exclude, and if it does, so what? If someone really wants to read Ulysses, they will. And given the technological tools we have at our disposal, they should be able to do it. Maybe that’s where the democracy in technology happens.





About sandralbecker

An educator who is passionate about the creation of a school Learning Commons, which supports inquiry, critical thinking, and collaboration.
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4 Responses to The Democratization of Knowledge?

  1. hlcharles says:

    Sandra, in reading this post, I immediately thought of another great read that has its basis from a blog, The Book of Awesome ( and got me wondering the exact same thing – would a book like this have been published without the extensive blog fan-base? Then I started to wonder about how this applies to my classroom and the importance of allowing diversity and choice in how students express their learning. If I limit myself and my students to a set of prescribed results to showcase learning – a poster, story, presentation, etc… to what extent am I stifling or excluding creativity? It connected me to the Ritchhart and Perkins’ (2008) article, Making Thinking Visible, where they mention the positive changes they have witnessed through utilizing the Making Thinking Visible model. In their article, they state, “students who previously believed they lacked a voice or that their ideas weren’t valued, including students with learning disabilities, participate more actively and confidently (Ritchhart, Palmer, Church, & Tishman, 2006); and students’ awareness of thinking strategies dramatically increases at all grade levels (Ritchhart, Hadar, & Turner, 2008)” (Ritchhart and Perkins, 2008, p. 60). I think the ability technology has to personalize learning and the importance of making thinking visible has caused a major shift in how I will approach my classroom in September. I am excited to try using visual notetaking with my students!

    Ritchhart, R., & Perkins, D. (2008). Making thinking visible. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 57-61.

  2. Thanks for the mention, Sandra. I hope you are having a great semester. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  3. Darren D says:

    I am encouraged by the fact that you are using open blog technology in your academic pursuits as there are times when technology use in academia does not democratize knowledge. Take, for example, the use of a learning management system like Blackboard. This technology tool creates a closed system for discourse that is both linear in content presentation and time. The course starts (at the top), students get access to the course, dialogue, critique, discuss and co-create knowledge then the course ends and at some predetermined point, students are unenrolled in the course and the artifacts contained therein are lost. Contrast this to a public blog, wiki or social media where academic work is put in the public domain … accessible… democratized. Good on you for taking action to democratize. Encourage your profs to not use the forum in BBoard, but bring the learning to the public arena. Then, and only then, will academic work not exclude. Keep up the good fight : )

    • You make a very good point. I am forwarding your comment to my current instructor, who has to work within the confines of the university structure, but I feel quite sure would agree with you.

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