The 21st Century Student: Open Knowledge and Education Innovation (2016-2017)

According to 20th-century progressive educator Paulo Freire, education has the potential to be a great liberator or a systematic oppressor. Freire developed a critical pedagogy of liberation, but his efforts to provide widespread access to knowledge and transform the power imbalance between educator and student proved difficult to scale.

Today, technology has significantly improved access to knowledge and changed the very nature of what constitutes knowledge and how we come to learn it. Indeed, 21st-century technology has made it easier than ever to find and produce “open” knowledge: Wikipedia promises free access to the sum of all the world’s knowledge with the tap of a finger, a Google search yields troves of information, instructional channels abound on YouTube and organizations like Khan Academy offer course materials free to anyone living anywhere.

Why, then, is so much of the knowledge we learn in traditional academic settings “closed”? Who stands to win if we keep knowledge locked behind journal subscription paywalls, restricted by narrow copyright and regulated by a small group of experts in a field? Who stands to lose under this model of education?

Examining open knowledge within political, legal and ethical contexts, this Bass Connections project team considered how education innovation and emergent models of self-organized learning can empower students to become entrepreneurs and agents of their own education and life pathways.

For example, one group’s project, “I Wish I Had Known: Collaborative Tools for Integrated Student Pathways, gauged Duke undergraduates’ perceptions about their day-to-day experience. How do they feel about Duke’s new technologies and curricular programs and innovations? Has Duke successfully implemented basic elements of university life such as advising, course selection and major selection? The team members surveyed 163 students, focusing on knowledge of and comfort with various technologies; technology as a tool for self-reflection and identity development; academic pathways; and student relationships (student-faculty, peer, student-parent). They found that students need more interactions with faculty who can mentor them along their whole experience, and concluded that Duke should increase infrastructure for peer advising.

Another group worked on “The Project-based Addition: Applying Knowledge beyond the Computer Science Classroom.” Beginning with the assertion that to produce exceptional computer science graduates, universities should support outside learning and foster key skills like teamwork, problem-solving and communication, the team members explored ways this might be put into practice.


Fall 2016 – Spring 2017

Team Outcomes

The 21st Century Student: Open Knowledge + Education Innovation (Brent Comstock, Elle Deich, Anna Engelke, Ryan Hoecker, Zuzu Tang, Robert Vann, Carter Zenke, Aria Chernik)

The 21st Century Student: Open Knowledge and Education Innovation (presentation by Anna Engelke and Carter Zenke, EHDx Talks, April 19, 2017)

Project website


The 21st Century Student: Open Knowledge and Education Innovation

This Team in the News

Faculty Perspectives: Aria Chernik

Duke Senior Gabriella Deich Named Rhodes Scholar

Encouraging Students to Drive Their Research

[Team members] are all working on these engaged projects that get to the heart of what education could look like in the 21st century. They’ve all seized on their passions and interest and experience, and they’ve developed projects that explore these ideas within an academic setting. —Aria Chernik

This project team was originally part of the Education & Human Development theme of Bass Connections, which ended in 2022.  

Team Leaders

  • Aria Chernik, Social Science Research Institute|Innovation & Entrepreneurship

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Junaid Arefeen, Economics (BS), Computer Science (AB2)
  • Brent Comstock
  • Gabriella Deich, Program II (BS)
  • Ryan Hoecker, Economics (BS)
  • Rina Okachi, Economics (BS)
  • Dylan Stewart, Political Science (AB)
  • Zuzu Tang, Computer Science (BS)
  • Patricia Torvalds, Computer Science (AB)
  • Robert Vann, Computer Science (BS)
  • Carter Zenke, Program II (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Kimberly Duckett, Duke Libraries
  • Brian Norberg, Arts & Sciences
  • Hannah Rozear, Duke Libraries

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Anna Engelke, UNC - Educational Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship
  • Jing Li, UNC - Educational Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship
  • Jorge Pradilla, UNC - Educational Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship