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Ricardo Fox 2014

When an educator thinks of knowledge building the immediate thoughts that spring to mind is the sharing of an understanding, learning new content to improve individual knowledge, or inquiring into new knowledge. Knowledge building runs deeper than these surface thoughts and works to build knowledge in a democrotised community forum. Knowledge building has the potential to be effectively implemented into any classroom with the right support. As New Zealand schools move forward with 21st century curriculum, the methodology and pedagogy of knowledge building is one that sets the benchmark as a positive new style to build entrepreneurs of the future. 

Knowledge building is a concept that is new in the New Zealand education sector. Lai (2014) stated, “While the knowledge building model has been adopted and researched in a large number of classes in several countries, very little knowledge-building research has been conducted in New Zealand.” The bones of knowledge building pedagogy lie in the late 1970’s (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2010). The concept of knowledge building is one that grew over time. The chronology of knowledge building is; 1977 – 1983 Knowledge Telling vs. Knowledge Transforming, 1983 – 1988 International Learning and Cognition, 1988 – present Knowledge Building (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2010). 

Knowledge building is a community process that is focused on the creation and continuous improvement of ideas that are worthwhile and beneficial to that community (Bereiter and Scardamalia, 2003). The concept of knowledge building is not one that can just happen. It needs to be supported by the teacher and group to create and maintain a community of knowledge builders who are committed to creating ideas and improving them (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2010). There is a clear distinction between learning and knowledge building. While knowledge building and learning work simultaneously when formulating and building on ideas, when viewed simplistically they are distinctively different. Learning is an internal process that cannot be seen and is modified by individual’s beliefs, attitudes and skills. Knowledge building is the creation or modification of public knowledge that is available to all. (Bereiter and Scardamalia, 2003)
Lai (2014) uses Scardamalia & Bereiter’s (2010) model to make the distinction, 






The knowledge building shift for New Zealand is to move from a child centered learning environment, or as Scardamalia (2002) denotes, an activity centered approach. The activity centered approach and modern teaching methods lie in constructivism where students construct their own knowledge with the teacher planting the idea at the centre of that learning. Bereiter (2002) distinguishes that the concept of knowledge building is also a constructivist approach, but teachers must understand the significant changes in the term constructivism and how we distinguish between shallow constructivism and deep constructivism (Scardamarlia & Bereiter 2003). Scardamarlia and Bereiter (2006) explain the differences in constructivism, “the shallowest forms engage students in tasks and activities in which ideas have no overt presence but are entirely implicit. Students describe the activities they are engaged in (e.g., planting seeds, measuring shadows) and show little awareness of the underlying principles these tasks are to convey. In the deepest forms of constructivism, people are advancing the frontiers of knowledge in their community.”

Scardamalia (2002) identifies twelve principles of Knowledge building as follows:

  • Real ideas and authentic problems: In the classroom as a Knowledge building community, learners are concerned with understanding, based on their real problems in the real world. Children in schools build on what is happening in their world from the past, present and future.

  • Improvable ideas: Students' ideas are regarded as improvable objects. Students actively work to improve all knowledge they interact with, building of non-established, half established or well established work.

  • Idea diversity: In the classroom, the diversity of ideas raised by students is necessary. Students are able to understand that knowledge is diverse and so are opinions. Students are aware that they need to understand others points of view.

  • Rise above: Through a sustained improvement of ideas and understanding, students create higher-level concepts. Student’s prior knowledge and experience with new knowledge and ideas are connected to building knowledge in a collaborative environment requires them to have the skills to manage the diversity so that knowledge can advance.

  • Epistemic agency: Students themselves find their way in order to advance. Students manage their learning through knowledge building and facilitating the classes’ collaboration. They need to understand the tools they are using to formulate their thinking.

  • Community knowledge, collective responsibility: Students' contribution to improving their collective knowledge in the classroom is the primary purpose of the Knowledge building classroom. Students make sure that the knowledge they are building is worthwhile and meaningful for others.

  • Democratizing knowledge: All individuals are invited to contribute to the knowledge advancement in the classroom. Knowledge is equal and fair and everyone has a right to be a knowledge builder in the community.

  • Symmetric knowledge advancement: A goal for Knowledge building communities is to have individuals and organizations actively working to provide a reciprocal advance of their knowledge. Student’s knowledge as a whole is improved by the quality of different peoples knowledge building.

  • Pervasive Knowledge building: Students contribute to collective Knowledge building. All students building knowledge as a collaborator and creator. In order to create knowledge it has to be a common theme at all levels of the education system.

  • Constructive uses of authoritative sources: All members, including the teacher, sustain inquiry as a natural approach to support their understanding. Students need to be critically reflective and show an understanding of the knowledge they are building and building on, and understand the current "expert" ideas.

  • Knowledge building discourse: Students are engaged in discourse to share with each other, and to improve the knowledge advancement in the classroom. The advancement of knowledge is key for learners and that by sharing knowledge improvements of knowledge are ongoing.

  • Concurrent, embedded, and transformative assessment: Students take a global view of their understanding, and then decide how to approach their assessments. They create and engage in assessments in a variety of ways. Students are assessing their work all the time and facilitators or "experts" are continually assessing the building of knowledge to make sure their work is exceptional.

Creating new ideas is a natural human response. Building on them is more difficult and not built into our DNA (Scardamalia and Bereiter 2006). The twelve principals were developed to give people a picture of understanding about what knowledge building looks like and how one might build knowledge from an idea. Bereiter & Scardamalia (2010) also explain that the principals serve as “pedagogical guides, technology design specification, and bases for evaluating practice.”
Knowledge building encourages idea improvement, which enables further growth of an idea. As a human race we have moved forward with developments as new knowledge and situations has asked for further advancements. Knowledge building principals allow for a platform for knowledge to continue through advancement rather than knowledge having an end (Scardamalia & Bereiter 2006). 

Central to knowledge building are knowledge building communities or societies. The main goal of this group is knowledge creation with the focus of knowledge development. Knowledge building communities use computer supported learning environments (CILE). The first CSLE was called the Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environment and was used for a university course in 1983 and has since grown (Scardamalia & Bereiter 1994, 2004). A CSLE environment is decentralised and is an open platform for all within a knowledge community to contribute. The second generation, and most current, of the CSILE platforms is Knowledge Forum® (Scardamalia 2002) There are many positives that stem from using a CSLE, like knowledge forum. CSLE’s enable Asynchronous knowledge creation where participants share knowledge in the cloud outside the constraints of time and place of a network (Fox & Rehu, 2013), they alter the flow of information, and they provide a resource of many students knowledge (Scardamalia & Bereiter 2006). In a knowledge building community there needs to be a clear differentiation between what is information and what is knowledge. Information is facts learnt about something or someone. It is often codified into different areas, just as the Dewey decimal system codes its non-fiction books. Knowledge on the other hand is the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject that cannot be codified. A knowledge community relies on information but also the ability for those with theoretical or practical understanding to contribute their understandings. Knowledge presumes information. (Anderson, 2008)
We live in the “Knowledge Age” which relies on people to innovate. Innovation must be the norm. But, in order to innovate we must create, in order to create we must build knowledge, in order to build knowledge we must have knowledge communities (Scardamalia & Bereiter 2006). This is a challenge for New Zealand schools. In order for students to be successful knowledge builders they need to have the basic skills for being part of a knowledge building community. Students need to know how to construct knowledge, be adaptable, use ICT effectively, solve complex problems, communicate effectively, manage information, think critically, work as a team and evaluate their impact (Anderson 2008). Anderson (2008) builds on this by stating that living in a knowledge society in a knowledge age will require our young learners to be very adaptable as they will have many jobs, or even careers. The skills, that they will learn though knowledge building, will be essential to life long learner success.

Many of the skills that students need to acquire for knowledge building can be built through sharing of understanding through trial and error. Rehu (personal communication, February 20, 2014) remarked, “our students are teaching the teachers and leading their own knowledge building of applications to facilitate their learning on the iPad’s.” This supports Prenzky’s (2001) ideas that the current generation are engaged fully with technology, even more so than the digital natives - a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technologies. Rehu (personal communication, February 20, 2014) also remarked, “This new generation are Digital iNatives. They are more technology savvy than had been previously thought.” The introduction of knowledge building into schools with this culture of exciting learning is a positive move. Many schools use a variety of learning platforms. Knowledge forum is different to other World Wide Web platforms. Otago University uses blackboard where threads are posted - one to many, like an email. Frasertown School uses Google Documents where a piece of work is edited or added to in written form simultaneously. What the knowledge forum database allows is “epistemic agency” (Scardamalia, 2000). “Epistemic agency refers to the amount of individual or collective control people have over the whole range of components of knowledge building” (Scardamalia and Bereiter 2006). Students can create their own views on knowledge forum and authorize visitors to monitor and collaborate. Knowledge Forum allows knowledge to move downwards producing new views and comments. What makes knowledge forum superior to other “databases” is that views can be linked and notes can be in the form of graphics, animations, movies, and links to other applications such as one to many, like Blackboard, and Google documents (Scardamalia & Bereiter 2006). By using knowledge forum to build knowledge all learners, regardless of learning styles have an opportunity to contribute.

In order to validate the use of knowledge building in schools we need to focus on the current impact of technology in New Zealand schools. There has been a significant increase in information and communication technologies (ICT) in New Zealand Schools. There has been a significant rise in the introduction of hand held devices, such as tablets and mobile phones into New Zealand homes and schools (Statistics New Zealand 2012). Many schools have purchased hand held devices to add to their current inventory of technology or have implemented Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) policies. This is impacting on our schools. “The current rapid digital evolution is changing the ways young people perform tasks in ways that create large gaps between how and what they are taught in schools” (Lai, Khaddage & Knezek).
Technology has forced education in New Zealand to make significant shift in what knowledge is and therefore it has impacted on learning and teaching. Jane Gilbert (2009) identifies that knowledge has changed because of the way students use technology in their learning, their access to the global world, the social and economic changes in the world and the ability to travel. Because knowledge has changed we know this has impacted on students learning. Learning has changed because students have the ability to create and learn new knowledge in real time, they are not prescribed a one size fits all lesson or unit. They have the power to generate knowledge and they have the choice to complete work as an individual who contributes to a wider group. Because Learning has changed we know this has impacted teachers teaching. Teaching has changed because the teacher now facilitates and manages the students learning and behavior. Students know the next steps in their learning to meet their class goals and the National Standards. Teachers use a range of tools to prepare for their day, feel comfortable to let the students lead learning with new technologies. They work as a team to discuss and solve educational issues and are creating new and innovative programmes. What the shift in knowledge has created is the perfect platform to launch knowledge building into the classroom as part of a daily routine. There are some areas that need to be addressed before a knowledge society can be launched in its entirety into the New Zealand Education system.
Scardamalia & Bereiter (1994) are correct when they outline that schools inhibit knowledge building by not capturing the importance of communal knowledge building, only dealing with formal knowledge, relying on the expertise of the teacher to pass on knowledge and pursuing knowledge objectives. There are some significant barriers we will need to overcome in order to implement knowledge building successfully. Often teachers are the barrier to successful implementation of technology or new programmes (Fox & Rehu 2013). At first glance knowledge building looks very similar to inquiry learning. Teachers who think that knowledge building is inquiry learning are incorrect. Both models require collaboration. While knowledge building can look like inquiry learning each have different approaches. Inquiry learning is to improve the knowledge of the individual for their own understanding where knowledge building is building knowledge together for everyone’s understanding. Where inquiry can often be a dead end learning process, knowledge building is continual. Teachers and principals can be influential when taking a positive mindset of knowledge building. By implementing Lai’s (2014) Progress Model for implementing knowledge building into classes there is nothing but success for the teacher. Often all teachers require is a guide for best practice and Lai provides this with his model. PROGRESS is his analogy for the elements of successful implementation: Principals, Responsibilities, Open, Generate, Run, Evaluate, Structure, Show. In summarising the elements:

  • Principles – understand the research and how to communicate the principles of knowledge building with students. Teachers need to take time to understand knowledge building. It is not inquiry.

  • Responsibilities – students need to create, contribute and improve ideas. Trust needs to be built in the community. There is an equal relationship base between the teachers and the students. Everyone must understand how knowledge is generated.

  • Open – open ended inquiry. Skills need to be developed over time with the teacher leading the initial view on knowledge forum. To get the ball rolling a good starter question is essential.

  • Generate – use open-ended questions to prompt worthwhile responses. Focus students on promising ideas and improve by asking open-ended questions.

  • Run – Use knowledge forum to run views. Make sure the infrastructure is in place.

  • Evaluate – Have ongoing evaluation of the views. Teachers guide students on promising ideas.

  • Structure – Keep the knowledge building tight and focused to begin with.

  • Show evidence and outcomes of knowledge building.

Below is Lai’s (2014) Model,

The PROGRESS practice model

Understand knowledge building Principles 
Teacher discusses key principles of knowledge building with students.

Emphasise collective Responsibilities
Teacher takes on the role as thinking coach, facilitator, and knowledge creator. Students as epistemic agents. Develop trust, collective responsibility, and a collaborative culture in class.

Encourage Open-ended inquiry
Teacher identifies or develops topics within the curriculum, which allow open-ended inquiry. Teacher or student provides the starter question to initiate face-to-face or online dialogues. Teacher may at times provide content and direct teaching.

Generate explanation-driven questions
Encourage students to ask why and how questions, rather than what questions. Develop ideas, explanations, and theories from these questions.

Run Knowledge Forum
Teacher and students know how to use Knowledge Forum to support online knowledge building. Teacher provides infrastructural and technical support.

Evaluate progress
Teacher monitors and encourages student participation, supports students to investigate promising ideas, holds debriefing and milestones discussions to evaluate progress of idea creation.

Provide an activity Structure
When to do what? Students participate in small and whole class online and offline dialogues, consult authoritative sources, read literature, and conduct experiments and/or field trips. Use scaffolding tools in Knowledge Forum.

Show evidence of knowledge building
Formative and summative assessments. Students to produce epistemic products (e.g., a portfolio) throughout the course to show what new ideas have been developed by and for the community.

By following the above model it is clear that successful implementation of knowledge building can happen in any New Zealand school. Lai provides teachers and principals with the necessary tools to make knowledge building a worthwhile and meaningful form of learning in the classroom. As Lai (2014) concludes the next step is the ongoing support of the “students to be creative, innovative and capable of creating knowledge” as outlined in Bereiter (2002).
In conclusion I believe that the following statement by Scardamalia and Bereiter (2003) best summarises the basic understanding of knowledge building and how it can be implanted into schools, “The basic premise of the knowledge building approach is that, although achievements may differ, the process of knowledge building is essentially the same across the trajectory running from early childhood to the most advanced levels of theorizing, invention and design, and across the spectrum of knowledge crating organisations, within and beyond school. If learners are engaged in processes only suitable for school, then they are not engaged in knowledge building.” Knowledge building has the potential to have a significant impact on schools. Early adaption of this concept by New Zealand educators has the potential for the country to become world leaders in 21st Century Learning. While there are implications for Knowledge Societies to build knowledge the basic pedagogical principles can still be imbedded into teacher practice and learners learning.


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Scardamalia, M., Bereiter, C. (2006). Knowledge Building: Theory, pedagogy, and technology. In K. Sawyer (ED.), Cambridge Handbook of Learning Sciences (pp. 97-188). New York: Cambridge University Press.

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