Collaborative Knowledge Construction: Examples of Distributed Cognitive Processing

Collaborative Knowledge Construction: Examples of Distributed Cognitive Processing

Michael Tscholl (University College London, UK) and John Dowell (University College London, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-729-9.ch004


In discussions centered on jointly solving a problem or case, significant construction of new knowledge can occur. Several theoretical frameworks have been invoked to explain the productivity of dialogues, but questions about the relative or unique impact on learning of the multiple facets of dialogues remain. We present an analytical approach that studies small-group discussions from the perspective of joint cognitive processing of knowledge and information. We illustrate our approach through a microanalysis of two discussions that were held in a real-world educational setting. We show that knowledge construction can overlap significantly with critical argumentation, but may occur even in its absence. On the basis of these findings we propose a refined definition of co-construction, and a view of the inter-relations between interaction and co-construction. We discuss the implications of our findings for the analysis and evaluation of differences in knowledge co-construction in different environments.
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The theoretical and analytical approach we lay out and illustrate in this chapter is to be seen within the question of how new knowledge is constructed in and from social interaction and more generally, how the social and the cognitive interact. These questions have acquired greater relevance as the significance of social interaction in learning has been recognized in research on learning (e.g. Andriessen, Baker & Suthers, 2003). The consensus emerging in recent years assumes the pre-eminence of the social in conversation and collaboration while also accepting that knowledge is transformed through the social (cf. D’Andrade, 1981, Hutchins, 1995; Stahl, 2003). For example, we will show in this chapter that learners’ utterances contribute to interpretation construction while they engage in an argumentation.

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