Open Access to Educational Research

In this paper I will be reviewing the article “Democracy and education: The missing link may be ours,” written by J. Willinsky (2002). Willinsky’s (2002) thesis is that turning education research into a more accessible public resource can further the connection between democracy and education (Willinsky, 2002, p.369). I will argue that many of the arguments that Willinsky (2002) makes since publishing his article have already taken place and that the greatest impact that increased accessibility to educational research has been for developing countries and increased rigor in the peer-review process.

While Willinsky’s argument that increasing accessibility to educational research will help democratize the world, certainly his suggestions for change are instead modest and achievable. Principally, Willinsky (2002) is arguing to give greater accessibility to educational research in the following four specific ways (Willinsky, 2002, p.370):

  1. online systems providing open access
  2. access to indexing
  3. research support tools, data-mining
  4. open forums to discuss issues

The changes that Willinsky (2002) proposes above are most probably already completed given the fact that the article was published in the fall of 2002. The evolution of online research databases since 2002 such as EBSCOHost and Google Scholar have essentially provided free and open access to almost any research topic one could ever imagine. These tools have gone a long way to providing access to indexing, full-text search, and online accessibility from any computer with Internet access.

Most online databases offer practical usability and offer numerous search facilities. Many online databases such as PubMed and Google Scholar are accessed for free. The keyword search with Google Scholar offers optimal update frequency and includes online articles recently published; other databases can proving ratings of articles by number of citations as an index of importance for sorting. Many online database such as Google Scholar also offer a citation analysis mechanism whereby users can chain through the cited articles.

Perhaps Willinsky’s (2002) most convincing argument for open access to research is in allowing access to countries that have traditionally not been included in the higher educational domain. Willinsky’s (2002) states, “the gap between haves and have-nots is just as much a matter of access to well-organized sources of knowledge” (Willinksky, 2002, pp380). Certainly by providing open and free access to all educational research across the globe, this will allow for greater participation and greater awareness from those countries which have traditionally been denied such access, countries that are attempting to improve their standard of living through higher education.

With increased access to broadband Internet, access to online databases such as EBSCOHost and Google Scholar have become commonplace in developing countries and therefore access to the most recent and relevant research is available whenever it is needed. A specific example of this is when the academic publishing company John Wiley & Sons made over 12,000 books available online via the Research4Life initiatives (Nakweya, 2013). The initiative was setup to enable accessibility to electronic books at no cost to developing countries and to aid researchers in several African countries with information on agriculture and the environment.

The second most convincing of Willinsky’s arguments for open access to research is the improvements it would have to the peer-review process. Willinsky argues that open access to educational research “adds to the rigor and reliability of peer review processes” (Willinksky, 2002, pp385). Not only would it help in the peer review process, in fact it will simplify it to a great degree because by having greater access across the globe, experts can collaborate on research much more easily, thus making the peer-review process more efficient and more rigorous.

The traditional peer review process involved anonymous reviews, but by moving towards a more open peer review model, where the names of the peer-reviewers are published, a more transparent system can be established whereby accountability is emphasized. With the speed at which online communication takes place now, there are some online journals that are bypassing the peer review process altogether and opting instead to publish articles and offer readers the opportunity to comment on the article. This gives the researcher and author a chance to re-edit the article and re-publish with documented edits made. Such a review process would mean that articles would remain in various stages of publishing phases but ultimately result in drastically improved reliability of journal articles and increased turnaround time for publishing.

Since the rise of social media, it would be interesting to know what Willinsky’s thoughts would be on the new world of social media. How the use of open networks for researchers to publish and peer review their research works on a global scale. Social networks like Ning and Facebook have become ubiquitous with educational networks and the use of Twitter has furthered the use of collaboration amongst researchers. It would seem that 11 years after the publishing of Willinsky’s article, the world has moved towards a more open, and democratic model of educational research awaiting newer challenges ahead.


Nakweya, G. (2013). Developing countries to get access to 12,000 online research books. SciDevWeb Website. Retrieved from

Willinsky, J. (2002). Democracy and education: The missing link may be ours. Harvard Educational Review, 72(3), 367-392.

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