Book Rec: “Too Big to Know” by David Weinberger

Although this book is not written specifically about higher education, its premise is completely applicable to data management in colleges and universities, as well as to the way post-secondary students will learn in the future.

The main thesis of the book is that the internet and the increasing interconnectivity of knowledge has dramatically transformed the definition of knowledge, the shape of knowledge, the way we interact with knowledge and the way we utilize knowledge. And I argue that this can have profound implications for the future of higher education.

First of all, the internet has forever opened up the world of knowledge to the common man.  Knowledge is no longer held within the brick and mortar institutions of the past. Instead, it is free to roam and be accessesd by anyone with an internet connection. Open CourseWare is a prime example of this movement. What will this mean for higher education, which has historically been the gatekeeper of knowledge? When the sheepskin is pulled, what will be revealed? There are many predictions. Some argue that it will increasingly stratify the higher education landscape. This camp says that in the future only the rich and well-to-do will actually “go” to college, sit in class rooms, interact with faculty, live in dorms and make the kinds of social connections that aid one’s economic mobility throughout life. The rest of the population will increasingly learn on-line, while working fulltime. On the other hand, there is the distinct possibility that the opposite will happen- that it will level the playing field by driving down costs and barriers to access. It’s still way too early to tell, of course.

Secondly, the sheer volume of data being produced, archived and  connected will have major ramifications for the uses of data. Higher education is just now beginning to tap into the vast resources now available in “big data,” resources that  have been put to great effect by marketing agencies and social media conglomerates. The White House is on board and on March 29, 2012, announced President Obama’s “Big Data Research and Development Initiative.”  This initiative, which will pour millions into big data research, seeks to “help accelerate the pace of discovery in science and engineering, strengthen our national security, and transform teaching and learning.” I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the word “transform” was chosen as the verb to describe what big data will do to education. What will this transformation look like? I think it will result in a pervasive interest and use of predictive analytics; what factors (both individual and institutional) predict student success, for example.

All in all, Weinberger does a great job of completely changing the way you think about knowledge and its transfusion in the modern world. And those of us who work in higher education, the historical purveyer of knowledge, should be paying attention.

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One Response to Book Rec: “Too Big to Know” by David Weinberger

  1. Pingback: Book Rec: “Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Colleges and Universities” -Mark C. Taylorr | higheredmaven

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