Making knowledge-sharing accessible to all = quality education for all

Simplifying the jargon

23rd May 2022

Author: Toni McLaughlan, Higher Colleges of Technology, Abu Dhabi, UAE

The context

In addition to my role as an instructor for first-year university students at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in Abu Dhabi, UAE, I also intern with the United Nations. This initiative – to nudge publishing in the direction of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – is near and dear to my heart, and ensuring Quality Education for All is the SDG I feel best positioned to directly impact.

The issue

Diversifying the curriculum is a step in the direction of achieving quality education for all in that the curriculum becomes more representative of larger populations and thus more relatable and accessible. As someone who teaches introductory research methods to international students (Higher Colleges of Technology, UAE), it is this element of 'accessibility' that most stands out. Understandably, the vast majority of research is published in English. However, the jargon involved in most reputable peer-reviewed articles can be intimidating or incomprehensible even for native English speakers – even within their own field at times! Given the globalised nature of today’s education sector, it seems incredibly exclusive and detrimental to the expansion of knowledge to not be making some sort of adjustments to our publication trends in an effort to make credible information more accessible to more people. And it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Proposed solutions

This discussion of how to modernise the way we approach research is essential. What Emerald is doing in the direction of achieving the SDGs with these conversational blogs, video clips, Q&A sessions, etc is an excellent example of how to enhance accessibility, allowing more institutions to more fully 'diversify' their curriculum. Some journals, I know, require authors to now submit a bulleted set of 'highlights' along with their manuscripts, encouraging them to explicitly remove jargon in what seems to be an effort to heighten accessibility and/or readership and citations. I hope this becomes a greater trend: just as the abstract and discussion are expected components of our papers, why not add some sort of non-expert, reader-friendly section as well? As more journals move toward a uniquely online presence, this section could consist of bullet points, as stated above, but could otherwise take the shape of an audio clip, brief video, or links to the core findings and previous literature that are necessary to fully comprehend a paper.

Who it helps

As an instructor for non-native English-speaking first-year students, I often witness my students struggling to meet the 'Synthesise the main points of at least two articles from peer-reviewed journals' requirements. Though they are capable students, it is very challenging to find language-level appropriate research at this level. It can be discouraging, and inhibits not only their access to vital information and progressive academic movements but also to their attitudes toward research in general, making a fun and exciting opportunity seem daunting and unreachable. If we want our emerging researchers to learn about the publication process, we need to do more to help them thrive!

In addition, I think we take for granted how elitist research can be. Beyond journals' various fees, most of the world’s population accesses the internet (and thus our publications) on mobile devices and mobile/cellular data. What feels initially like just a few KB or MB per paper to relatively well-off societies can be a burdensome undertaking for researchers in certain parts of the world. Device capabilities and storage, data needs, and even access to consistent, reliable electricity are real issues that significant proportions of the world’s population face daily. The ability to easily identify a source as relevant or not can have a real influence on one’s chances of completing a paper, let alone a course or degree, as our work snowballs to include 20, 30, or 40 sources in its reference list.

Conclusion

Even in the most privileged, educated, English-savvy communities, as educators and researchers, we should be aiming at all points to bridge the gap between the literature and application; making information more accessible to everyone, then, is a necessary step. Furthermore, in the fight against the rapid spread of disinformation, making the main points of our research clearer and more accessible may prove powerful in preventing the misuse of our intended messages.

Thus, I argue that enhancing the accessibility of research itself is inherently 'diversifying curricula' well beyond a given syllabus or class: I believe it has real implications for all fields of research, education, and the application of knowledge as well as for the inclusion of underrepresented and emerging researchers. I think it deserves our utmost attention, and, more than anything, action. #ActNow #SDGs

our goals

Quality education for all

We believe in quality education for everyone, everywhere and by highlighting the issue and working with experts in the field, we can start to find ways we can all be part of the solution.