Knowledge Building Online: The Promise and the Process

Knowledge Building Online: The Promise and the Process

David S. Stein (The Ohio State University, USA), Constance E. Wanstreet (The Ohio State University, USA), and Hilda R. Glazer (Capella University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-906-0.ch060
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This chapter explores the promise and process of knowledge building in online environments. The promise lies in the dual capability of knowledge building to support the collective learning of future adult learners by building on the information artifacts produced by present learners, thus improving upon what is known about a subject. Electronic tools for sharing emerging thoughts facilitate knowledge building and expand its reach outside the immediate classroom to involve learners from any part of the world in inquiry-based discussions. The knowledge-building process involves participation, collaboration, and achieving shared understanding. A case study of adult learners attempting higher levels of learning shows knowledge building in process. The chapter proposes a staged approach to preparing adult learners to engage in knowledge building.
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Networked learning helps adult learners actively pursue knowledge building and rely less on the instructor as the primary source of knowledge construction and dissemination. The outcome from a network-type of collaborative approach is a deeper and original understanding of an area of inquiry that comes from learners working together to contribute to a goal that is greater than simply achieving a classroom project. Indeed, Hewitt (2004) questioned papers, projects, and exams typical in classroom learning communities as artificial contrivances that do not provide meaning outside of the classroom. Knowledge building, on the other hand, has been described as a higher level of engagement and intellectual development achievable through online learning environments (McConnell, 2006). Knowledge building is based on the idea that social groupings can facilitate individual and collective learning. Knowledge building adds to the communal way of seeing the world, while learning adds only to an individual’s repertoire of perspectives (Lipponen, 2000). Knowledge building revolves around inquiry rather than around knowledge acquisition and retention.

The terms knowledge and information are interrelated constructions that have multiple meanings. Following arguments advanced by Stenmark (2002), this chapter positions knowledge as the internal cognitive structures adults have for organizing, integrating, and applying concepts to the external world. Information is the external representation of one’s thoughts expressed in words, images, nonverbal signs, or other artifacts. Information is the physical form that represents knowledge. When individuals in collaboration with others restructure, evaluate, assign meaning, and modify their internal cognitive perspectives, knowledge is produced. Prior knowledge is used to interpret experience and information, and information is necessary to build new knowledge.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Commitments to Progress in Discourse: (1) to work toward mutual understanding that is satisfactory to all members of the group; (2) to frame questions, arguments, and propositions in ways that can be supported by evidence; (3) to expand the number and scope of propositions that the group considers valid, whether they agree with them or not; and (4) to be open to critically examining any belief or stance if it will advance the discourse (Bereiter, 1994).

Participation: Becoming engaged with others and generating the situations to be discussed.

Knowledge: Internal cognitive structures for organizing, integrating, and applying concepts to the external works. Knowledge is represented in a physical form as an information product (Stenmark, 2002).

Progressive Discourse: Knowledge building that goes beyond existing knowledge to produce thoughts that are new to the learners and superior to their previous understandings.

Shared Understanding: A new knowledge creation influenced by participation and collaboration and achieved by exchanging individual knowing for group knowing, thus changing from individual perspectives to a joint perspective that emerges from collective contributions. Shared understanding is individual and collective ownership of a new perspective accepted by the group.

Connecting to Collaborate: Dialogue that supports a knowledge-building experience.

Readiness to Participate in a Discussion: Creating a welcoming climate, establishing relationships by showing genuine interest, relating to others, demonstrating acceptance and empathy, feeling emotionally and cognitively comfortable about participating in a discussion, and formulating initial thoughts on the discussion topic.

Knowledge-Building Community: Learning environments in which the construction of knowledge is a collective goal.

Collaborative Knowledge Building: Dialogue that involves brainstorming, exploring all points of view, challenging perceptions, ensuring equality of voices, drawing in participants, demonstrating the ability to withhold judgment, stretching individual perspectives to embrace others’ perspectives, and sharing experiences over time.

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