Knowledge Dissemination: Is the Old New Again?

Anyone filling out a grant application these days will probably have to tackle the Big Question™: how will you disseminate all this wonderful new knowledge you have produced, so that it benefits the world at large (and especially the taxpayers who funded it)? Sure, we have our journals and monographs, our conferences and symposia, and all the other ways these things have traditionally been done, but do they really fit the bill?

After all, none of these modes are particularly accessible to the broader community. Monographs have infinitesimal print runs, are absurdly expensive, and are mostly locked up in university libraries. Journals are often behind paywalls, and even when they aren’t they are not usually very appealing reads to anyone outside academia. Conferences and symposia are not usually open to the public, and although there is generally not any particular barrier to streaming them online for those unable to attend in person, this is rare. Your average interested amateur (or even undergraduate) is not especially likely to go looking for these kinds of things, and, even when they come across them, they are likely to be intimidated by all the jargon and the scholarly apparatus that comes along with our traditional approaches to publication.

But we’re living in the future, dammit, and even if we don’t have flying cars quite yet, we can do all kinds of amazing things with our Federation-issue communicators computers and mobile devices that are just begging to be marshaled toward the Advancement of Knowledge. I mean, if I can watch a cat playing the keyboard (or read about a keyboard made of cats) while sitting on the bus, why shouldn’t I also be able to learn something (marginally more) useful, like how to improvise Renaissance counterpoint?


Well look at that! I guess I can. Thanks, Kane Software!

But we already knew this, right? There are plenty MOOCs around these days, not to mention Khan Academy and other sites specializing in streaming lectures on the topic of your choice. But lectures are lectures, and even with visual aids they are not a particularly engaging form of learning. Perhaps to get the most out of streaming video it would be best to look to the past for inspiration and return to the tradition of pedagogical dialogues. I mean, that Plato guy knew a few things even before he wandered into the Googleplex.

Dialogues are particularly well-suited to video because they are, essentially, theatre. And unlike a classroom situation, where it would be massively inefficient (and kind of odd) to employ several people to put on a play three times a week, the cost of adding more experts/actors to a video is negligible. Dialogues also provide an excellent way to address different points of view on the same topic, as the audience is able to clearly associate these opinions with the different characters expressing them. Master-student dialogues, furthermore, give the student a surrogate with whom to identify, and ensure that common questions or misconceptions are addressed in a way that, again, differentiates them from the desired information through the division of characters. Who knows, this might even help avoid the dreaded Backfire Effect.

So what might this look like on a level more closely approaching a scholarly article? Well, if you like listening to harpsichords, I’ve got your answer right here.

Pretty fun, right?

The future is now!

Well, then. Sometime. A while ago. Bye.

[Full disclosure: I work with these people, but that only makes them more awesome.]

Featured image: Portrait of Jean Miélot, secretary, copyist and translator to Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy. He’d be so down.

Previous post

Pop Quiz: Sooo...hungry!!!

Next post

Pop Quiz: Businesslike?



Dan holds a PhD in Music History from a major Canadian university and is now pursuing a M.Ed in Higher Education at another one, because he likes to collect very expensive paper. He performs stand-up comedy at venues all over Toronto when he's not busy playing JRPGs with his cat, Roy. You can follow him at @incontrariomotu, but he isn't going anywhere. You can also send him a tip on PayPal ( if you like his work!

1 Comment

  1. July 28, 2014 at 11:51 pm —

    All I can think of right now are the Disputatio rules from the Ars Magica ruleset, a RPG set in mostly authentic Middle Ages.
    Sounds like an interesting experiment.

Leave a reply