The Internet and Open Knowledge.

Not only is web fluency is a requirement for success in most modern work and social environments, but language of networks and social structures are increasingly used in how we talk about the offline learning experience as well.

The paradigm shift in higher education in the direction of active learner-centered engagement and empowerment parallels other societal changes of the new millennium. As David Weinberger puts it in his article on A Unified Theory of the Web, the internet is “is changing our understanding of what puts things together in the first place.” Making an analogy to education, perhaps the classroom can be thought of as “many small pieces loosely joined” rather than in the traditional structure of givers and receivers of knowledge. Increasing openness, diversity and inclusion can do nothing but increase the quality of the experience for all involved.

Within individual disciplines, the internet analogy can be taken further. According to Roy Fielding, the internet is a system to “interconnect information networks across organizational boundaries.” The revolution in interdisciplinary education similarly aims to transcend barriers in order to both enrich academic scholarship and lead to new advances that bridge traditional disciplinary silos. One step further, and we discover ways to better communicate esoteric ideas with an informed and curious public.

Wikipedia itself can serve as an interesting example of public communication of various topics. Jon Undell shows how “a loose worldwide federation of volunteers” exerts progressive evolutionary improvement of open-source articles. Like natural selection, he comments on a particular edit at 2:47, “that wasn’t very successful, and it doesn’t survive long”. Gone are the days of individual dominance of knowledge. We just have to figure out how to work with this information in strategic, constructive ways, and teach students to do the same.

2 thoughts on “The Internet and Open Knowledge.

  1. It’s so interesting that we draw on metaphors from the natural world to make sense of the internet and its transformative effects on human society and cognition. Reading John Naughton’s “Everything you Need to Know about the Internet” ( I was struck by his juxtaposition of ecology and economics: “Because while economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources, the online world is distinguished by abundance. Similarly, ecology (the study of natural systems) specialises in abundance, and it can be useful to look at what’s happening in the media through the eyes of an ecologist.” Shifting the framework like this allows Naughton to present the online world as a rich and expanding ecosystem: “In the natural world, increased biodiversity is closely correlated with higher whole-system productivity – ie the rate at which energy and material inputs are translated into growth. Could it be that this is also happening in the information sphere? And if it is, who will benefit in the long term?” It’s interesting that our penchant for symbolic reasoning encourages us to move the structural metaphors of one domain so easily into another. Thank you for this insight!

    • Thank you for the fantastic and insightful comment: please accept my apologies that your post somehow got stuck in my “review” box for so long. One of my favorite aspects of working in interdisciplinary spheres are the moments in which we step out of our “silos” and learn new ways to look at systems. This provides a huge opportunity for intellectual.personal growth, and sometimes we can all use a change in perspective! Thanks again for the comment.

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