Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education-TOJDE July 2007 ISSN 1302-6488, Volume: 8 Number: 3 Article: 5
BOUNDED AND UNBOUNDED KNOWLEDGE:
Teaching and Learning in a Web 2 world
Director DMO Program
Deakin Business School
Faculty of Business and Law,
Faculty of Education,
In the recent past, the proliferation of digitally available content heralded the
beginning of serious problems for the business models of publishers. The ease with
which content can be accessed, copied and distributed disrupts the control of those
whose role has been to manage and profit from the intellectual property rights of
content producers. In effect, the number of “publishers” increased many fold as the
Web and other Internet-based technologies became the dominant mode of content
distribution. In education, and in other fields, matters of intellectual property,
copyright and quality control came to the fore. More recently, with the advent of web-
based software that makes publishing online available to
with access to the
Internet the number of “publishers” and modes of publication have increased
massively. The shift from a Web which was, for many a read only environment to a
read/write Web poses not only ongoing problems for the traditional distributors of
content but also now, for the traditional producers of content and knowledge. In this
respect, the role of universities as designers and producers of learning materials for
credentialed learning is also under challenge. Just as publishers explore alternative
business models to adapt to the new digital environment, now universities have
begun to explore new ways of working with so-called Web2 software to support
teaching and learning online. In particular, some Web2 software affords new
opportunities for and different modes of collaboration, which in the view of some
points to student participation in knowledge production. While these developments
represent important and significant shifts for universities, this paper draws attention
to the lack of empirical data and situated contextual knowledge concerning
intellectual property rights for knowledge constructed in a collaborative context. In
addition, we explore issues in relation to the maintenance of academic integrity and
quality where knowledge building takes place in a collaborative, online environment.
Keywords: Web 2, teaching; learning; bounded knowledge; Australia.
In 1995 Nicholas Negroponte (1995, 11-12) wrote about a visit to an American
manufacturer of integrated circuits. He was asked if he had a laptop with him and
when he said that he did he was asked for the model, serial number and its value.
He indicated the value to be between somewhere between one and two million
dollars. The receptionist asked to see the laptop and when he showed her his old
Powerbook she wrote down $2000.
As he put it, “while the atoms were not worth much, the bits were priceless.” Since
then the world has become increasingly better at working with bits but, as we will
argue in this paper, not quite so advanced in the way we think about them. In what
follows, we make a distinction between two spaces to which Negroponte drew
attention: first, the familiar space of the physical world; and second, there is a space
which is physical in terms of how it is stored and transmitted but which is comprised
of bits, what William Gibson (2003), in 1982, labelled cyberspace1.
Making a distinction between bits and atoms is a useful way to examine the practices
that have grown up around various attempts to manage and control activities in bit
space. In this paper, the work of universities in the production, dissemination and
managing access to knowledge is our interest. Since the mid 90’s web-based
technologies have become a significant means for the publication of digital artefacts.
How such technologies are developed and deployed in various institutional settings,
we suggest, is very much framed by the habits of mind or mindsets that for some
have been developed and finely honed in an industrial era (Barlow, 1998). According
to Barlow (1994) the nub of most of these issues is that of digitised property:
Throughout the time I've been groping around cyberspace, an
immense, unsolved conundrum has remained at the root of nearly
every legal, ethical, governmental, and social vexation to be found in
the Virtual World. I refer to the problem of digitized property. The
enigma is this: If our property can be infinitely reproduced and
instantaneously distributed all over the planet without cost, without
our knowledge, without its even leaving our possession, how can we
protect it? How are we going to get paid for the work we do with our
minds? And, if we can't get paid, what will assure the continued
creation and distribution of such work?
Debate and analyses around these matters have continued and have been extended
by the work of many scholars and commentators. What generally characterises this
work is a basic assumption that bit space is different from atom space and hence not
simply amenable to the ways of working which pertain to the physical world (see, for
example, (Locke, Levine, Searles, & Weinberger, 1999). However, in many spheres of
human activity, it is not the case that the kind of thinking prompted by such an
approach has had much impact on the still dominant, industrial age informed view.
For instance, prior to the Web emerging as an alternative means for the distribution
of the products of knowledge work, publishers of books and journals played an
important role in managing the output of such work. Traditionally, publishers profited
from their control over knowledge production and dissemination by virtue of their
ability to decide what was worth publishing. As with other forms of physical property,
the rules in relation to ownership were important in securing profits from
publications. Publishers were effective and efficient gatekeepers in that they
controlled what was published, how something was published and where it was
Traditional business models on which publishers relied were premised on atom space
notions of property and ownership. We have grown up with material things and
understand that in order to acquire any object or service that we need to pay for it
directly or indirectly. For the publisher, working in the physical world, in atom space,
control of intellectual property was paramount. It was important to prevent unpaid
copying of published work. It was important to be able to control access to content
through laws which protected the intellectual property of those who produced
content. Authors were rewarded by publishers with royalties. Work submitted by
authors for publishing inevitably traversed the internal processes of publishing that
included editing, decisions about style and presentation and methods and timing of
distribution. The lead times required for these processes often meant that the time
between completion of a manuscript and its release was considerable. Quality was
enacted through reviewing and editing. Particular publishers established reputations
not only on the collection of journals and writers they published but also for the
intellectual and technical quality of the finished product. Knowledge work was
by these practices.
The advent of computing and communication technologies provided knowledge
workers and the consumers of their products with alternative means of production
and distribution, thereby directly challenging the role of publishers. Publishing on the
Internet significantly reduced the time it took for a consumer to obtain product. The
use of the Internet in this way highlighted the role of publishers as essentially ‘the
middleman’ in the knowledge production and dissemination of knowledge products.
Today, large publishing houses now represent one of a range of publishing
alternatives available to writers. Authors, including those previously considered
unworthy by publishers, could publish in the style and format they preferred with
control over dissemination and with the time from production to distribution greatly
reduced. “For a whole range of groups, new models of publishing can help different
voices to be heard. The creation and distribution of many kinds of knowledge,
academic, scientific and cultural” adds to knowledge sharing and building (Geiselhart,
In Higher Education too, a related shift in distribution and access occurred as
students acquired access to the Internet and university teachers made available their
knowledge products in digital form. As is always the case with any new way of doing
things, existing practices were migrated, more or less, into the new medium. Coupled
with these new practices were the ways they were understood.
Early understandings of most new technologies can be often misplaced to the point of
being humorous (Marvin, 1988). When the first automobiles appeared they were
spoken about as horseless carriages. When the first motion pictures were made,
actors were filmed on a stage. When the Internet first began to be noticed, it was
described as an information superhighway.
While it is the case that motion picture technologies and products have matured
significantly over time as has the automobile industry what has necessarily matured
with these developments has been the way we think about and understand such
We want to argue in what follows is that the atom space mindset of property and
property rights and associated thinking about quality represents a significant bias in
the maturation of knowledge work in the new digital environment.
While it is the case that various institutions have acted to bind the products of
knowledge workers, a more significant binding is that which operates to maintain the
view that the ways of thinking about and, in particular, making rules for bit space are
more or less the same as the familiar ways of thinking about property and rights in
UNIVERSITIES AND BOUNDED KNOWLEDGE
The enactment of what Barlow (1998) has described as industrial age thinking in
relation to digital artefacts is seen in many aspects of contemporary practices
associated with universities. Of course, a few universities are key sites for the
promotion of research and scholarship in relation to such matters2 but in the main,
patterns of policy and practices reflect mindsets about bit space which derive from
understandings of the physical world. Such patterns are apparent in the publishing
and dissemination of knowledge products.
As the means of production and distribution of knowledge products moved more and
more to bit space, universities have been able to publish more and more easily.
Universities with distance students effectively became publishing houses with in-
house assistants3 to support the use of their knowledge products. Today, with the
widespread use of software that is described as learning management software, the
development of online teaching continues to be informed by a mindset which sees
knowledge products as things to be managed, controlled and paid for by students.
This is a long established view based upon the property and rights of the physical
Like many conventional media systems such as television, radio and print, the
structures and protocols of systems that are employed to distribute knowledge and
information in universities are based on a one to many logic: one lecturer/teacher
and many students. Access to these systems is strictly controlled, with minor
exceptions. The social relations of universities are framed by this logic and the
physical infrastructure is similarly based upon the same patterns of access and
distribution. As Jay Weston (1994, 197)
The relative certainties that accompany attenuated access to the
means of symbolic production is welded into the fabric of all
institutional policies and practices.
At the heart of these practices is a firm view that the issues, problems and challenges
of cyberspace can be most readily dealt with by applying understandings and views
that derive from the physical world. Thus dealing with copyright, intellectual property
and approaches to quality in cyberspace are simply adaptions of physical world norms
and rules. Business models that work well in the physical world are similarly applied
in cyberspace. Enquiry that attempts to explore what, to some, are real differences
between cyberspace and the physical world (Barbrook, 1998) (Greener & Perriton,
2005) and what these implications might be for online learning tend not to influence
mainstream thinking in universities.
The dominance of physical world thinking about cyberspace seriously limits
opportunities to examine what are important shifts and, in many instances potentially
significant changes for the knowledge work that occurs in universities.
2 The Berkman Centre at Harvard’s Law School and Oxford University’s Internet Institute are two instances.
3 Also known as lecturers.
In many educational accounts of the Internet, much is made of the ready availability
of information and content. Schrage (2000) however, argues that biggest impact that
digital technologies are having and will continue to have are on the
between people and between people and organisations. This is not a new idea that
computing and communication technologies or indeed any technology can be seen in
terms of the relationships they affect or mediate, the new relationships they support
and the relationships they terminate.4 Such a shift in thinking however, does two
things. It poses two interesting questions for universities about the production and
consumption of knowledge products. That is, what are the new kinds of relationships
that universities might have in a world in which Web-based publishing technologies
are increasingly ubiquitous? And, given the valuing of skills and capacities in the
world beyond universities to produce and rework information and content, what role
might universities now play in this respect?
Thinking about cyberspace relationally resonates with much of the emerging internet
technologies that are based upon Ajax programming. Accompanying these
developments are labels which reflect a shift in the way the Internet is being used as
a medium for knowledge building and sharing. In particular creator-to-consumer and
peer-to-peer conceptualisations clearly remove the ‘middleman’. It may be useful to
ask whether higher education institutions represent the newest iteration of a
‘middleman’. Where previously publishers acted as control agents to protect vested
interests, universities now protect their intellectual property and knowledge
processes as a means of securing revenue from students. Typically knowledge was
protected by a university with circulation limited to the privileged and paid for by the
state. The introduction of private universities and movements towards various models
supporting a user-pays principle has empowered the consumer of education over the
same time frame that the Internet released publishing constraints. In many respects
the pressure to unbind knowledge creation, knowledge building and knowledge
dissemination has been progressed with recent Web-based technologies. So-called,
Web 2.0 or social software represents the most recent of these developments.
DeLong (1995) refers to internet advances as offering more interesting ways to
engage students in learning with information being democratised. There is a
fundamental shift of focus from production and delivery, to customer and content and
from the academy and lecture to student and their relationships with other students,
and with various knowledge products. As the Web exposes the artificiality of both
informational and institutional barriers the potential for sharing of students and
revenues becomes an enticing proposition. The role of a university could be
conceptualised as an institution that facilitates the acquisition of knowledge by
teaching discernment and by getting students to think DeLong (DeLong, 1995). A
facilitator would have little need to place boundaries around knowledge and could
play an active part in knowledge building by widening rather than restricting
participation and connecting learners with ways of working that better reflect
knowledge work underpinned by new Web-based technologies.
Challenges and opportunities of Web 2.0
The huge growth in Web 2.0 software applications represents the next new challenge
for teaching via electronic learning environments. These applications allow the easy
publication, remix and distribution of digital artefacts: text, image, video and sound.
This means that anyone with Web access can now publish. The growth in blogs, the
popularity of services such as Youtube and Flickr and the rise of shared knowledge
systems like Wikipedia attest to the opportunity to publish being taken up by very
large numbers. Web 2.0 applications are collaborative by design and are clearly so in
4 Relationships with large publishers have morphed to support many electronic initiatives as add-ons to support
a text, however the ease with which academics can now have their own material presented and structured
on the Internet, makes the old relationship increasingly fragile with power moving away from the producers
to the creators.
use. They allow learning environments in which learners can be creative, critical,
constructive and become producers (publishers) of their own perspectives informed
by audience and identity. The differences embodied in the functionality and
unbounded nature of use, are the aspects which clearly support learning and clearly
will pose challenges to formal systems of education around those parts of the world
with access to the Internet.
A key element in the emergence of Web 2.0 software is the open source movement
and in particular open source software which provides the core technologies on which
Web 2.0 applications are based. Other than technical dependence, the broader
philosophy of the open source e movement points to a number of a key issue which
has begun to emerge around the growing use of Web 2.0 software, that is the tension
between public and private knowledge.
Weber (Weber, 2004) notes the success of open source software is not the software
itself but the process by which it is created. Similarly, the use of Web 2.0 software
draws attention to the processes by which public knowledge is produced rather than
the software that supports such collaboration. Mason & Cope (2001) suggest that
“(t)he impact of open source freeware may be summarised in two ways. First, these
products fuel a much more rapid growth of new businesses (because entry costs are
lower) and secondly, they encourage businesses to find new ways of leveraging
intellectual capital” (Mason & Cope, 2001, p. 102).
For example, the peer to peer (P2P) network operates on a premise of unbounded
knowledge with open sources and open access. Distributed networks such as those
supported by the P2P Foundation encourage production and knowledge exchange in
ways which they describe as being different from the pre-modern society norm which
is guarded and constituted by power differentials and obtained through closed circles.
In particular the P2P Foundation makes the important point that the process of
regulating the flow of knowledge through a series of formal rules which aim to
distinguish valid knowledge from invalid knowledge was a symptom of past
(publishing) models. The foundation also points out that:
(a)n intellectual property rights regime also regulates the legitimate
use one can make of such knowledge, and which is responsible for the
privatization of knowledge. If original copyright served to stimulate
creation by balancing the rights of authors and the public, the recent
strengthening of intellectual property rights can be more properly
understood as an attempt at ‘enclosure’ of the information commons,
which has served to create monopolies based on rent obtained through
licenses (The Foundation for P2P Alternatives, 1999).
The P2P networks represent a paradigm shift with a presumption of equi-potency of
members, de-institutionalisation and de-commodification of knowledge. The value
attached to any information produced and published in the shared space reflects a
value in exchange rather than a value for sale.
The embrace by IBM of open source software for some of its software products is an
illustration of the acceptance of open source software as a valuable mechanism for
knowledge building. However, IBM blends this aspect of its strategy with proprietary
software in selective ways to harness the best of the traditional business and new
distributed collaborative development environments
Translated in higher education, the usage of Web 2.0 technologies has the capacity to
accelerate the pace of advancement in knowledge building and sharing but with
unforeseeable consequences and outcomes.In such an environment the academic is
not in control, universities are not as able to restrict the learning to those enrolled,
and rights to collaboratively determined knowledge are uncertain. Web 2.0 heralds a
new age of uncertainty in which the unbounded nature of knowledge production and
distribution in which any mediating influences are agreed by consensus but do not
have power as it is understood in conventional forms of publication.
WEB 2.0 & HIGHER EDUCATION
Public expectations of the Internet are now such that they expect instantaneous
access for free to information at any time of the day. The ability to chat and discuss
personal opinions, experiences and the willingness to actively criticize and complain
on line has already trained the many sections of the community to utilize the Internet
in ways that infuse the social and cognitive presence characterized by Garrison,
Anderson and NetLibrary Inc (Garrison, Anderson, & NetLibrary Inc, 2003) as on-line
The obvious attraction to some Web 2.0 applications by the young warrants careful
examination of the role of Web 2.0 software in teaching. The tensions we pointed to
earlier will also characterise these investigations. Investigations that are framed by
thinking about these developments in terms of well understood physical phenomena
will inevitably miss the complexity of and potential for new educational forms and the
implications these will have for existing institutional processes. Given the history of
adoption of computing and related technologies in education (Bigum & Rowan, 2004),
it is to be expected that a good deal of institutional effort will be directed at
“applying” Web 2.0 to education. While such approaches in the past have led to
relatively ambiguous and often costly outcomes, if universities misread these
developments as more of the same, the consequences are likely to be significant. The
prospect of a world in which “anyone can publish” is of a different order to previous
While there is no shortage of euphoric and romantic accounts of the educational
implications of Web 2.05 we argue for caution and an awareness of the limitations of
the problems derived from relying upon understandings of educational practices in
the physical world. To us, the emergence of Web 2.0 applications poses many
questions for universities in relation to knowledge production, the authority of
knowledge, its dissemination, credentialing, curriculum and assessment. What is
required is careful scholarship and research which is aimed at understanding these
new phenomena in anthropological terms, without the pre-determined categories and
related mindsets that are found in contemporary educational theory and practice. To
illustrate the problems to which we allude we briefly consider implications for quality
control in this new environment and intellectual property.
Unlike current Web 1.0 educational applications like learning management systems,
Web 2.0 software supports online environments which are much less controllable and
predictable in terms of student learning and behaviours.
The easy availability of various Web 2.0 platforms outside universities further
complicates protocols which previously might have been deployed to provide quality
5 A Google blog search for Web 2.0 and education will sample current enthusiasm for what is seen by many to
be some kind of new age in education.
Quick perusal of freely available Wiki software, for example, will reveal usage by
academics and teachers to support their teaching.
Like most information available on the Web generally and produced via Web 2.0
software, knowledge products deployed for teaching purposes are not subject to
either the traditional quality control mechanisms of publishers, or of a university.
While most of these sites qualify as
of Web 2.0 software to support well
established educational practices they are, nevertheless, beyond the gaze of existing,
university managed protocols.
The question of what quality control means in a Web 2.0 environment needs to move
beyond the kinds of disputes about authority that the emergence of Wikipedia has
brought to the fore (Chesney, 2006) (Ciffolilli, 2003).
The well established practices of universities in which acquisition of particular
knowledge and skills is credentialed and acknowledged in terms of formal
qualifications maps poorly into a space in which collaboration, remixing of knowledge
products and attention gathering are to the fore.
Perhaps the site where the most contentious, current debates are those in relation to
Intellectual Property (IP). While issues concerning the uploading of material and the
printing or copying of material from electronic sources have been addressed from the
viewpoint of copyright (Nemire, 2007) (DiRamio & Kops, 2004), the World
Intellectual Property Foundation and the Australian Copyright Council, and rights to
free speech is supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation-Defending Freedom in
the Digital World, issues concerning rights to collaborative knowledge constructed in
an educational open space are not well understood.
While the time honoured practices associated with acknowledging the ideas of others
in formal academic papers underpin good scholarly practice, many Web 2.0 spaces
are less careful in referencing ideas and their origins.
Web2 spaces involve users collaborating with each other without mediation of politics
or money and the need to be an enrolled student. Collaborators are unconcerned
about intellectual property or copyright and receive and give information without any
thought of compensation. In the absence of controls by higher education providers or
markets acting as mediators, they operate as networked communities formed
through mutual obligation and allow users to adapt knowledge to suit their own
Typically IP concerns are about the imposition of scarcity. Applied to the internet, a
technical system which is designed to maximise knowledge dissemination, current IP
concepts are irrelevant (Barbrook 1998).
Web2 technologies present academe with opportunities and challenges. The ability to
harness opportunities will be impacted by the ability to adapt mindsets from bounded
traditional (or physical) space mentalities to an unbounded cyberspace mentality.
However, any change of mindset must be accompanied by a new perception of
concepts of control that will accommodate the nature of collaborative knowledge
building. Again, we argue that there are no simple answers here.
The need for careful empirical work that better maps the new practices and ways of
working is paramount. Shifting mindsets will be a much longer process as John Perry
Barlow observed in an interview following a conference on copyright in Australia at
which he was a keynote speaker (Tunbridge, 1995):
"Yesterday when I was listening to those people arguing about copyright law I
felt like I'd come across a gang of shuffleboard players on the deck of the
Titanic arguing about the angle of the deck, and I couldn't direct them toward
BIODATA and CONTACT ADDRESSE of AUTHORS
Judy NAGY has had ten years of industry experience in both
chartered accounting with Price Waterhouse and a major listed
public company. This experience has been in auditing,
management accounting and financial accounting. Primary
research area of interest is cross-sectoral comparatives of
accounting and audit practice between the government and
commercial sectors with focus on accountability relationships.
In particular, the use of institutional theory perspectives to
study the ways in which the accounting profession and
proponents of public choice theories have widened their areas of
Dr Judy NAGY
Director DMO Program
Deakin Business School
Faculty of Business and Law
Deakin University, Toorak Campus, 336 Glenferrie Road, Malvern Vic 3144
Phone: 03 9244 5530 International: +61
Fax: 03 9244 5533 International: +61
Chris Bigum is a Professor in the Faculty of Education at Deakin
University. His research and teaching interests are in the
implications of computing and communications technologies for
educational practice and policy.
Specifically, these interests include: read/write Web (or Web 2.0)
environments, new literacy studies, actor-network approaches to
the study of educational innovation and change, digital
epistemologies, schools as knowledge producers, and scenario
planning in education.
Professor Chris BIGUM
Associate Dean (Academic)
Faculty of Education
Tel: 61 3 92446068/71460
Fax: 61 3 92446112
Deakin University Melbourne Campus: Burwood Highway, Burwood Victoria 3125
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