KBTN | Professional Development Network for Knowledge Building in Schools

Theories of Knowledge Building

What is Knowledge Building?

Knowledge building activities pervade in progressive organizations such as scientific communities and corporate businesses in knowledge-based societies. In essence, members of these organizations work together collaboratively to advance the knowledge of the community or the organization as a whole.

Educationally, it is an approach to learning that takes seriously the goal to prepare learners for the knowledge society. Students as members in a knowledge building group or community actively engage in brainstorming ideas, identifying problems, researching for solutions and evidence, debating and discussing with peers. These activities have a clear goal of co-creating new perspectives and advancing knowledge beyond the limit of an individual.

While discussions constitute an important part of collaborative learning and inquiry, not all such discussions are conducive to or characteristic of knowledge building. Scardamalia delineated 12 characteristics as hallmarks of a knowledge building discourse, and these would be referred as knowledge building principles in common understanding. These 12 interrelated but distinguishable principles are:

  1. real ideas, authentic problems
  2. improvable ideas
  3. idea diversity
  4. rise above
  5. epistemic agency
  6. community knowledge, collective responsibility
  7. democratizing knowledge
  8. symmetric knowledge advancement
  9. pervasive knowledge building
  10. constructive use of authoritative sources
  11. knowledge building discourse
  12. embedded and transformative assessment

Numerous research findings show that KB induces motivation to learning, improves learners’ higher order thinking e.g. critical thinking, problem-solving, and fosters personal development e.g. communication skills, interpersonal skills and lifelong learning attitudes. Even young children are found to be capable of engaging in KB work given that they are provided with appropriate opportunities and support. Some emerging research evidence also indicates that KB improves the aspects of academic performance formally measured by school and public exams. On the other hand, it is to be noted that progress in knowledge building does not happen naturally without facilitations. (from Knowledge Building On-line Teacher’s Course, CITE)

Dynamics of Knowledge Building

Knowledge building is work on the creation and improvement of ideas. The dynamic is social, resulting in the creation of public knowledge. In contrast to knowledge situated within the individual mind (the traditional concern of education) and knowledge situated in the practice of groups (the concern of situated cognition and communities of practice), public knowledge has an out-in-the-world character. Public knowledge can itself become an object of inquiry and the basis for further knowledge building. Thus there is the possibility of a knowledge building dynamic that drives the continual creation and advancement of new knowledge. What makes knowledge building a realistic approach to education is the discovery that children as early as grade one can engage in it. Thus there is a clear developmental link running from childhood education on into advanced education and adult knowledge work, in which the same process is carried out at increasingly high levels. (from Institute for Knowledge Innovation and Technology)



Aims and Objectives of the Project

Centre for Information Technology in Education, The Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong

funded by

Education Bureau

The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region