Knowledge-Building through Collaborative Web-Based Learning Community or Ecology in Education

Knowledge-Building through Collaborative Web-Based Learning Community or Ecology in Education

Percy Kwok (Logos Academy, China)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-014-1.ch112
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Because of the ever changing nature of work and society under knowledge-based economy in the 21st century, students and teachers need to develop ways of dealing with complex issues and thorny problems that require new kinds of knowledge that they have not ever learned or taught (Drucker, 1999). Therefore, they need to work and collaborate with others. They also need to be able to learn new things from a variety of resources and people, and to investigate questions and bring their learning back to their dynamic life communities. There have arisen recent learning community approaches (Bereiter, 2002; Bielaczyc & Collins, 1999) and learning ecology (Siemens, 2003) or information ecology approaches (Capurro, 2003) to education. These approaches fit well with the growing emphasis on lifelong, lifewide learning and knowledge-building works. Following this trend, the Internet technologies have been translated into a number of strategies for teaching and learning (Jonassen, Howland, Moore, & Marra, 2003) with supportive development of one-to-one (e.g., e-mail posts), one-to-many (such as e-publications), and many-to-many communications (like video-conferencing). The technologies of computer-mediated communications (CMC) make online instructions possible and have the potential to bring enormous changes to student learning experience of the real world (Rose & Winterfeldt, 1998). It is because individual members of learning communities or ecologies help synthesize learning products via deep information processing processes, mutual negotiation of working strategies, and deep engagement in critical thinking, accompanied by an ownership of team works in those communities or ecologies (Dillenbourg, 1999). In short, technology in communities is essentially a means of creating fluidity between knowledge segments and connecting people in learning communities. However, this Webbased collaborative learning culture is neither currently emphasized in local schools nor explicitly stated out in intended school curriculum guidelines of formal educational systems in most societies. More than this, community ownership or knowledge-construction in learning communities or ecologies may still be infeasible, unless values in learning cultures are necessarily transformed after technical establishment of Web-based learning communities or ecologies.
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Emergence of a New Learning Paradigm Through CMC

Through a big advance in computer-mediated technology (CMT), there have been several paradigm shifts in Web-based learning tools (Adelsberger, Collis, & Pawlowski, 2002). The first shift moves from content-oriented model (information containers) to communication-based model (communication facilitators) and the second shift then elevates from communication-based model to knowledge-construction model (creation support). In knowledge-construction model, students in Web-based discussion forum mutually criticize each other, hypothesize pretheoretical constructs through empirical data confirmation or falsification, and with scaffolding supports, co-construct new knowledge beyond their existing epistemological boundaries under the social constructivism paradigm (Hung, 2001). Noteworthy, only can the knowledge-construction model nourish learning community or ecology, advocated by some cognitive scientists in education like Collins and Bielaczyc (1997) and Scardamalia and Bereiter (2002). Similarly, a Web-based learning ecology contains intrinsic features of a collection of overlapping communities of mutual interests, cross-pollinating with each other, constantly evolving and largely self-organizing members (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989) in the knowledge-construction model.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Situated Learning: Situated learning is involved when learning instructions are offered in genuine living contexts with actual learning performance and effective learning outcomes.

ZPD: Zone of Proximal development is the difference between the child’s capacity to solve problems on his own and his capacity to solve them with assistance of someone else.

Social Community: A common definition of social community has usually included three ingredients: (a) interpersonal networks that provide sociability, social support, and social capital to their members; (b) residence in a common locality, such as a village or neighborhood; and (c) solidarity sentiments and activities.

Knowledge Building: In a knowledge-building environment, knowledge is brought into the environment and something is done collectively to it that enhances its value. The goal is to maximize the value added to knowledge, either the public knowledge represented in the community database or the private knowledge and skill of its individual learners. In short, knowledge-building refers to the ceaseless production and continual improvement of ideas or values to the involved community. Processes of upholding collective cognitive responsibility and collaborative learning are emphasized in knowledge-building discourse. Knowledge-building has three salient characteristics: (a) knowledge-building is not just a process, but it is aimed at creating a product; (b) its product is some kind of conceptual artifact, for instance, an explanation, a design, a historical account, or an interpretation of a literacy work; (c) a conceptual artifact is not something in the individual minds of the students, not something materialistic or visible but is nevertheless real, existing in the holistic works of student collaborative learning communities.

Project Learning or Project Works: Project learning is an iterative process of building knowledge, identifying important issues, solving problems, sharing results, discussing ideas, and making refinements. Through articulation, construction, collaboration, and reflection, students gain subject-specific knowledge and also enhance their metacognitive caliber.

Learning Community: A collaborative learning community refers to a learning culture in which students are involved in a collective effort of understanding with an emphasis on diversity of expertise, shared objectives, learning how and why to learn, and sharing what is learned, and thereby advancing their individual knowledge and sharing the community’s knowledge.

CMC: Computer-mediated communication is defined as various uses of computer systems and networks for the transfer, storage, and retrieval of information among humans, allowing learning instructions to become more authentic and students to engage in collaborative projects in schools. In more extensive contexts of collaborative learning, it may be regarded as computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL), which is a research topic on supporting collaborative learning with the help of computers in cross-disciplinary fields of psychology, computer science, and education.

Anchored Learning Instructions: High learning efficiencies with easier transferability of mental models and facilitation of strategic problem-solving skills in ill-structured domains are emerged, if instructions are anchored on a particular problem or set of problems.

Learning or Information Ecology: For preserving the chances of offering the complexity and potential plurality within the technological shaping of knowledge representation and diffusion, the learning or information ecology approach is indispensable for cultivating practical judgment concerning possible alternatives of action in a democratic society, providing the critical linguistic essences and creating different historical kinds of cultural and technical information mixtures. Noteworthy, learning or knowledge involves a dynamic, living, and evolving state.

Metacognition: If students can develop metacognition, they can self-execute or self-govern their thinking processes, resulting in effective and efficient learning outcomes.

CMT: Computer-mediated technology points to the combination of technologies (e.g., hypermedia, handheld technologies, information network, the Internet, and other multimedia devices) that are utilized for computer-mediated communications (CMC).

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