knowledge building

Knowledge building construct

What is unique and educationally significant, about the “knowledge-building” construct?

The educational significance of the knowledge-building construct for me holds the implication of a progressive paradigm shift; one that if successful on a large scale, could (is?) greatly change(ing?) the face of education. For me this is the idea that classrooms, schools and institutions can “be restructured as communities in which the construction of knowledge is supported as a collective goal” (Barab & Duffy, 2000). To be more specific, this signals a shift in focus to collaborative/social learning, supporting idea diversity, active steps towards knowledge pooling and knowledge advancement, as well as collective responsibility. This I think relies on the co-construction of knowledge through the creation of ‘communities of practice.’ These communities can potentially be established between many different groups/levels: in classrooms, between subjects, concentrations, age groupings, between educators/students and researchers, and even between institutions. It also holds some new implications for how members of these overlapping communities would/should be expected to collaborate, contribute, share and be given ‘voice’ and even authority to.


How is it different from “learning” or “constructing knowledge” ?


Scardamalia differentiates knowledge-building from learning or knowledge construction by stating that “learning is about cultural reproduction, whereas knowledge building is about actually increasing our cultural wealth” (Scardamalia, n.d.). In terms of unique design challenges, on the larger scale this implicates a restructuring of the systems in place that are based on old paradigms. The key word that stuck in my mind was ‘innovation’ which means fostering innovative changes rather than any incremental “patching” of the systems in place. On a global scale this seems somewhat abstract and insurmountable, but from an instructional design perspective this involves the development of environments to establish, support, and facilitate communities of practice, something that we’ve all likely seen some manifestation of on different levels.


What kind of environments have you participated in that supported knowledge-building discourse?


I would say that my undergrad provided an environment that certainly meets some of this criteria as it was structured to be ” the [kind] of environmen[t] that support[ed] the process of expertise” (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994). Design core studio practice at Emily Carr is a research-based curriculum centered around critical and cultural practice. Members of the community are immersed in the culture for which we were practicing using an unorthodox combination of social constructivist and experimental  (IBL/PBL, R&D etc.) practices. As many as 60 students share a collaborative studio space where students erect work stations that resemble tiny work/life spaces.


While students declare a study concentration, a high degree of cross-pollination is permitted between disciplines if you perform well. In practice, community members are frequently grouped or paired up with students of different years/disciplines as well as with the public, with outside industry professionals, teachers and administrators. Teachers are expected to be well successful practicing professionals in whatever concentration they teach, and students sometimes end up as practicing professionals before the completion of their degree demonstrating the “immediate and natural extension to the real world” (1994). I use ‘community members’ to refer to everyone, as the traditional boundaries between teachers, administrators, students and disciplines are not rigidly upheld there. All were considered to be potentially meaningful co-creators and contributors to learning and discourse. Students are selected to lecture to the community on areas that they establish a practice and expertise in, as well as participating in public forums representing the university (in third and fourth years). I’m just now still realizing how unique this experience was (and how lucky I was to have it, even if it was unorthodox and stressful at times).


This video of Etienne Wenger reminds me very much of my experience at ECU:



Etienne Wenger talks about ‘walking the landscape of practice’
Duration: (1:39)
User: openiphotojournalism – Added: 9/15/09
YouTube URL:



Barab, S., & Duffy, T. (2000). From practice fields to communities of practice. In D. Jonassen and S. Land
(Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments. Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Scardamalia, M., (n.d.). Retrieved here.

Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1994). Computer support for knowledge-building communities. The Journal of
the Learning Sciences, 3(3), 265-283.

Image source:  Jnzl’s Public Domain Photos by Rosid. (2014). Lumbung IImu (Granary of Knowledge). [Image file] Retrieved from Flickr under CC by 2.0.

1 reply
  1. E
    E says:


    It sounds like you were given quite a rich experience in terms of knowledge building and collaboration in your undergrad! I really enjoy how you described the difference between learning and knowledge building, as it completely sums up the shift that needs to take place in our education system. I have struggled with putting it into words, but you do so very well, so thank you for summarizing in a few sentences what I have been trying to explain to my own self for years. Patching seems exactly what we are doing at the moment, and there comes a time when we have to step back and decide that there has got to be a better answer. I can only predict that our future society is going to need all the innovative thinkers we can get. As I think about the students in my own class, I have to smile, as I have all the confidence in the world that many are completely able to be such innovators and instigators of change. It is then my responsibility to create an environement that will allow for such ingenious thought to flow and connect and share between these students. I would love to learn more about your experiences working as a collaborative community and how I may use this within my own classroom to instill such innovative thinking.
    – E.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply