Saturday, November 13, 2010

Learning through knowledge building - Scardamalia & Bereiter

Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (2003). Knowledge building. Encyclopedia of Education (pp. 1371-3) Farmington Hills, MI: Gale

Three approaches to learning:

1: Acquisition Metaphor

One approach emphasizes foundational knowledge: First master what is already known. In practice this means that knowledge creation does not enter the picture until graduate school or adult work, by which time the vast majority of people are unprepared for the challenge.

A second approach focuses on subskills. Master component skills such as critical thinking, scientific method, and collaboration; later, assemble these into competent original research, design, and so forth.

2. Participation Metaphor

A third approach is associated with such labels as "learning communities," "project-based learning," and "guided discovery." Knowledge is socially constructed, and best supported through collaborations designed so that participants share knowledge and tackle projects that incorporate features of adult teamwork, real-world content, and use of varied information sources. This is the most widely supported approach at present, especially with regard to the use of information technology. The main drawback is that it too easily declines toward what is discussed below as shallow constructivism.

Knowledge building as defined by Scardamalia & Bereiter Knowledge building results in the creation or modification of public knowledge knowledge that lives "in the world" and is available to be worked on and used by other people. That goal is to advance the frontiers of knowledge as they perceive them. The key distinction is between learning - the process through which the rapidly growing cultural capital of a society is distributed - and knowledge building - the deliberate effort to increase the cultural capital of society.

Shallow versus Deep Constructivism

"Constructivism" is a term whose vagueness obscures important distinctions. Knowledge building is clearly a constructive process, but most of what goes on in the name of constructivism is not knowledge building. To clarify, it is helpful to distinguish between shallow and deep forms of 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.

Most learner-centered, inquiry-based, learning community, and other approaches labeled "constructivist" are distributed somewhere between these extremes of shallow and deep constructivism.

In knowledge building, ideas are treated as real things, as objects of inquiry and improvement in their own right. Knowledge building environments enable ideas to get out into the world and onto a path of continual improvement.

Educational approaches of all kinds are subject to what is called the "Matthew effect": The rich get richer. The more you know the more you can learn. This is as close to a law of nature as learning research has come. It can be used to justify loading the elementary curriculum with large quantities of content.

However, another potent principle is that knowledge needs to be of value to people in their current lives, not merely banked against future needs. This is part of the justification for activity and project-based methods where work is driven by students' own interests.

In knowledge building this Deweyean principle is carried a step farther: Advances in understanding produce conceptual tools to achieve further advances in understanding. Thus there is a dynamism to knowledge building that can be a powerful motivator.

The knowledge building trajectory offers value all along its course, not just at its upper reaches. At all stages people are building authentic knowledge that is immediately useful to themselves and their community in making sense of their world.

Joe's Questions:
1. What are some examples of knowledge building activities for math, science, and history?
2. What would teachers need to know to teach this way?
3. What kinds of curriculum materials support this form of learning?

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