Scardamalia & Bereiter (1993). Computer support for knowledge-building communities


Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (1993). Computer support for knowledge-building communities. Journal of the learning sciences. 3(3). pp 265-283.

…the classroom needs to foster transformational thought, on the part of both students and teachers, and that the best way to do this is to replace classroom-bred discourse patterns with those having more immediate and natural extensions to the real world, patterns whereby ideas are conceived, responded to, reframed, and set in historical context. Our goal is to create communication systems in which the relations between what is said and what is written, between immediate and broader audiences, and between what is created in the here and now and archived are intimately related and natural extensions of school-based activities, much as these processes are intertwined and natural extensions of activities conducted in scholarly disciplines.

Schooling focuses on the individual student’s abilities, disposition, and prospects. Educators have failed to grasp the social structures and dynamics required for progressive, communal knowledge building.

There is plenty of discourse in schools, but it bears little resemblance to the kind that goes on in knowledge-building communities. Most of the oral discourse can be characterized as recitation (Doyle, 1986).1 Discussions that could be construed as building knowledge are generally led by the teacher. Socratic dialogue is the model. This means that the teacher, playing Socrates, gives the discussion such direction as it has, and is therefore likely to be the only one whose goals have substantive influence on the outcome. The students’ own goals may influence how successful the discussion is, mainly through influencing the extent of their cooperation. Transcripts of classroom discussion indicate that it typically consists of a string of three-step units, each unit consisting of the following conversational moves: teacher initiates, student responds, teacher evaluates (Heap, 1985)2 . Whatever this formula represents, it surely does not represent the pattern of discourse in a knowledge-building community.

Although openness is an important principle, it must also be recognized that knowledge building requires private and directed discussions at times, so one of the many challenges in coping with educational uses of a communal data base is to interleave open and private discourses, and to provide conditions for freedom from irrelevant, boring, or otherwise unhelpful information.

The challenge we see for educational technology is to preserve a central role for the students themselves, lest they be reduced to passivity by the overwhelming amounts of authoritative external information available. The surest way to keep the students in the central role, it would seem, is to ensure that contacts with outside sources grow out of the local knowledge-building discourse and that the obtained information is brought back into that discourse in ways consistent with the goals and plans of the local group.

LOTS of great stuff, specifically talking about the authors’ CSILE project. Worth a read for how they frame educational implications of technology changes – but these sections are too CSILE-specific to be much use for citing elsewhere.

  1. Doyle, W. (1986). Classroom and management. In M.C.Wittrock (Ed.) Handbook of research on teaching (pp. 392-431). New York:Macmillan. []
  2. Heap,J. L. (1985). Discourse in the production of classroom knowledge: Reading lessons. Curriculum Inquiry. 15(3). pp 245-280. []

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Last updated: February 24, 2024