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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge v2?

By Matt Jenner, on 24 September 2013

One of UCL’s founders, Henry Brougham (yes we had more than one) founded the Society for the Diffusions of Useful Knowledge (SDUK) in 1826 (wound up in 1848). SDUK had the mission of publishing inexpensive texts intended to adapt scientific and similarly high-minded material for the rapidly expanding reading public. It was established mainly at the instigation of Lord Brougham with the objects of publishing information to people who were unable to obtain formal teaching, or who preferred self-education (Wikipedia).

In one example, they produced maps. As the aim of the Society was to reach as many people as possible they achieved this by keeping cost of production down. This then enabled a low selling price. These maps, however are could today be considered a work of art (see image) as they are accurate in their detail, finely engraved and printed on a good quality paper (Antique Maps).

Russia in Europe Part IX and Georgia. Caucasus, Circassia, Astrakhan, Georgia. Published under the superintendence of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Engraved by J. & C. Walker. London, published by Baldwin and Cradock, 47 Paternoster Row Augt. 1st. 1835 . (London: Chapman & Hall, 1844) – Wikimedia

Surely the printing press enabled these ideas, and the advent of educational technology can, and for MOOCS/OER, is, enabling a wider audience to enjoy the riches of shared and accessible knowledge. It leads me to the question of whether such a task is still achievable in our modern day? Given UCL’s foundations, and the culture of openness in higher education, is it time for SDUKv2?

It makes me wonder if someone with enough gusto to try this would be shot down, well received or reassigned…

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