More than a century ago, John Dewey claimed that the education system was limiting the individual and put forth his mandate for democracy in education. He foresaw a society where people shared learning experiences and where freedom of intelligence was fostered (Dewey, 1903). In his article, “Democracy and education: The missing link may be ours,” John Willinsky echoes Dewey’s democratic theory of education in his push for public access to scholarly publishing within the realm of education. Lagging behind the health and political sectors, Willinsky clearly articulates why education needs to be making its research and bodies of knowledge accessible online to the general public.
Willinsky (2002) claims that greater access to educational research will foster education and the pursuit of knowledge, further democratic participation, impact educational practice, and provide an alternative to the media’s coverage on educational issues. While his goal in writing is to present an educational philosophy for public access to scholarly publishing, he does take time to frame his argument within a wider picture. Willinsky recognizes how this shift will necessitate a change in the way knowledge is constructed and how research is documented. He identifies ways that some institutions and libraries are covering expenses to make material available online. Research groups and organizations are also recognized showing that the process of releasing educational research to the general public is underway. Although brief, Willinsky demonstrates a thorough understanding of how making educational research readily available will impact the society and he supports his claims with valid research. Additionally, he suggests some limitations to consider. Willinsky is uncertain of the sustainability of this venture and how it will continue to be funded over time. He also warns that there will be disorder initially as scholars and researchers adjust to a new way of documenting research. The debate over intellectual property will also need reviewing. Willinsky, in his final remarks, states that it will be important to assess the impact of having open access to scholarly publishing on society. What will be the long-term effect on educational practice and policy through this greater dispersal of educational research?
Throughout his article, Willinsky refers to Dewey’s approach to democracy in education. Three areas of focus in Willinsky’s philosophy that should be further examined include the deliberation of content, how it informs society, and the role of media or new technologies to diffuse information. First of all, Dewey (1916) believed that the deliberation of information and knowledge would bring people together to share common goals. Willinsky (2002) supports Dewey’s ideal of it lessening the gap between the “experts” and the public people. However, different from his democratic predecessor, he suggests this greater access does not necessarily lead to one accord in thinking, but rather allows people to recognize, discuss, and debate the pluralities of society. Willinsky suggests this deliberation of knowledge will enable “people to explore the limits of their own and others’ claims while being able to identify the different perspectives and values at play” (Willinsky, 2002, p.8). This communicating of ideas and information could also be paired with the social constructivist-learning model where learners work together to establish a body of knowledge. Dewey (1903) and Glaserfeld (2008) were supportive of the concept that learners build knowledge based on their experiences and through engaging in information with others.
While this availability of information and body of knowledge may improve education, Willinsky (2002) also suggests that it further develops the informed citizen. Through this broadening awareness, society will be exposed to greater perspectives, as well as to explanations for how research and policy-making is conducted. Willinsky contends that this open access of information will educate not only the researcher, but will also be enriching to the public. Consequently, people may become more actively engaged in societal affairs due to their sense of understanding and confidence with the subject matter. This is evidenced by the cases presented concerning the health and political sectors. Becoming informed not only pertains to the reader, but also to the scholar or researcher. Willinsky proposes that by making research accessible to the public, faculty and students will spend greater effort to ensure that their work is credible, documented and explained in such a way to have the most impact. With the goal of creating informed consumers, open access to scholarly work will positively affect both the educational and public spheres.
A final point to consider is how access to scholarly publishing is being made available. Through the use of technology, the academic research can be moved through the public domain and on a global level with ease and speed. This has the potential to empower the people and promote democracy in the exchange of ideas. The caution here, as Willinsky warns (2002), is to ensure that the perspectives are varied and equally represented. Another challenge is the concern of discerning veritable sources of information. Initiatives like the Open Journal System, part of the Public Knowledge Project, are being created to ensure the circulation of publicly-funded research which is verified by their respective institutions. Furthermore, these online journal systems are being developed in a way that enables the integrating of knowledge within a variety of contexts, while at the same time encouraging social interaction (Kopak, 2008).
Overall, Willinsky presents strong reasoning for the public exposure of educational research. While he has some reservations, he is seeking to make scholarly publishing available through his ongoing involvement with the Public Knowledge Project. Only time and ongoing assessment of open source programming will reveal its impact on education and our ever-changing society.
Dewey, John. (1903). Democracy in education. The Elementary School Teacher, 4(4), 193-204. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/992653
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan.
Kopak, R. (2008). Open access and the open journal systems: Making sense all over. School Libraries Worldwide, 14(2), 45-54. Retrieved from www.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/
Public Knowledge Project. (2013). Public knowledge project.
Retrieved from http://pkp.sfu.ca/
Von Glasersfeld, E. (2008). Learning as a constructive activity. AntiMatters, 2(3), 33-49.
Retrieved from http://anti-matters.org
Willinsky, J. (2002). Democracy and education: The missing link may be ours. Harvard Educational Review, 72(3), 1-28. Retrieved from www.global.factiva.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca