4 Collective Cognitive Responsibility for the Advancement of Knowledge Marlene Scardamalia

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Figure 4.5

Note with the 'Theory Building' scaffold.

support because it was easy to use. This child suggested that 'Did you know?' supported knowledge telling, and that their notes were just repeating information from the text. Others argued that they were doing more than knowledge telling—that they were learning to find key information in texts. Regardless of their different interpretations, they collectively decided to revise the scaffold, to bring back more of the original items, and to add some new supports. There was a corresponding shift in their Knowledge Forum notes, from recording information taken from the text to interpretive accounts, frequently scaffolded through the evidence support. This brief episode demonstrates their ability to distinguish knowledge telling from knowledge building discourse, and to purposefully shift to the latter. It also demonstrates their ability to exert epistemic agency in the design of their environment, to democratize knowledge through provision of supports designed to encourage all participants to engage in increasingly demanding knowledge work, and to make constructive use of authoritative sources regarding the distinction between knowledge telling and knowledge transforming discourse.

Grade 4: 'Our Light Learnings'
We now move ahead to a Grade 4 classroom and to the final stages of an extended inquiry into problems having to do with light. Although the inquiry dealt with issues that commonly figure in the study of light in elementary science classes, it is worth noting that, in keeping with real ideas, authentic problems, the study was launched in this case by questions about lighting that arose from the class’s attending a performance of a Shakespeare play.

Figure 4.6, like Figure 4.1, represents a view-of-views. In this case, however, the views are actually depicted, in the form of miniatures of views actually constructed by the students in each of six areas of inquiry—angles and reflections, sources of light, and so on. Following the pointer to any of those views would take you to a view that contains the actual notes produced by students in their work in that problem area. Students helped maintain each view, determining what was and was not appropriate to appear on it, looking to the arrangement of notes on the view, and so on. Thus they took collective cognitive responsibility for view construction.

Figure 4.6

'Light Learnings' 'view-of'views', Grade 4 classroom.
The notes attached to the 'Our Light Learnings' view are all rise-above notes. Whereas in Grade 1 such notes were produced by the teacher and the students were responsible only for deciding whether their own notes belonged in a particular rise-above, in Grade 4 'rising above' became a major responsibility of the students. Figure 4.7 shows one of the resulting notes and Figure 4.8 shows the first part of another, longer rise-above note. The similar structure of the two notes is due to Knowledge Forum's customizable scaffolds that were in this case designed to fit this particular task of producing a note that integrates 'Our theory,' 'Our evidence,' 'Putting our knowledge together,' and 'What we still need to understand.' The numbers in small boxes are links to supportive notes in other views, which are also referenced at the bottom of the rise-above note. (Referencing occurs automatically whenever one note or a portion of a note is copied into another

Figure 4.7

Two rise-above notes from the 'Our Light Learning' view.

Figure 4.8

Two different rise-above notes from the 'Images' view.
and the copied material appears as a quote. Thus students cite each other, they do not copy ideas and claim them as their own.) The result is, depending on how you look at it, a richly interconnected hypertext document or a review article with ample references. In any case, it graphically represents community knowledge, collective responsibility brought about through knowledge building discourse, and idea diversity.
Grade 5/6. Islands, Evolution, and Biodiversity
A number of advances in collective cognitive responsibility are evident in the grade 5/6 class. These students explored problems related to islands, evolution, and biodiversity. While the Grade 1 teacher was the primary designer of the top-level curriculum view, the Grade 6 students took greater responsibility for the top-level as well as local views. They organized their work around curriculum objectives, and divided up responsibilities, as reflected in a set of linked views that coordinated their work. For example, they divided up the island problem space so that some students conducted research on different island types (Coral Atoll, Volcanic, Sedimentary, Continental); others on locations (Hawaii, Galapagos, Java, Madagascar, Iceland); and others on issues regarding the formation and inhabitants of islands (species, how to create an island, the earth’s layers). The depth of their inquiry was reflected in their efforts to learn from each other and in their portfolios (personal views with select contributions from the database, annotated to provide a reflective overview). For example, here is one student’s portfolio summary note: “This (referring to a note selected for the portfolio) is my theory of evolution. This (another selected note) is Jason’s note that sparked a huge debate. The debate was at first about whether my theory or Alexa’s theory of evolution was right, but eventually it became about whether science is always right, and the validity of resources (three portfolio notes were selected that focus on the validity of resources). These notes are about whether science is always right, and whether how old it is affects how correct it is.” There is clear demonstration of constructive use of authoritative sources. Additionally, committees of students were responsible for maintaining views, and videotapes of discussions among view managers indicate that collective cognitive responsibility and embedded and transformative assessment were taken very seriously by students, as they dealt with the tension between ensuring that their view contained contributions to knowledge and being fair to their classmates. An analysis of the work in this classroom demonstrates important shifts from learning to knowledge building, along all of the dimensions indicated in Table 4.1.

The teacher’s role in all four of these examples is largely that of helping students shoulder their responsibilities and advancing knowledge along with them. It is noteworthy that three of the four examples are from teachers' first-year efforts with knowledge building and Knowledge Forum. I attribute the quick uptake to various factors: 1. the school philosophy is in keeping with this work, and the principal fosters community engagement and stewardship; 2. two other teachers in the school had been engaged in the two preceding years, with impressive results and models to offer to new teachers; 3. research grants allowed us to hire one of the two experienced teachers, to work directly with the three new teachers in a teacher-researcher capacity. All of these teachers and the principal are exciting colleagues, working within a laboratory school setting that prizes teacher-research arrangements.3 Thus this faster-than-usual (Blumenfeld et al. 2000) uptake of new ideas and school-based innovation is attributable to multiple factors, which surely extend beyond those I have listed.

One of the enabling factors, as the examples suggest, is the technology itself. It is what enables cognitive responsibility to be distributed. Hewitt (1996) has traced the changes that took place in one classroom over three years as the focus was shifted from personal knowledge accumulation to the collaborative solution of knowledge problems. One of the interesting markers of this shift was an increase in the number of epistemological terms occurring in students’ notes. Hakkarainen (1995) studied a number of CSILE discussions on science topics to ascertain the extent to which they conform to canons of scientific inquiry. His conclusion, buttressed by independent judgments from two philosophers of science, is that the students collectively exhibit a high level of what may properly be called scientific thinking. Other in-progress research indicates that reading other students’ notes is predictive of later achievement on advanced placement tests (Power 2000). If that is correct, it suggests that awareness of diverse ideas helps one clarify and think through scientific ideas. Other research indicates that students who explicate their naive conceptions are more likely to make contributions to knowledge advancement—and these advances are more related to articulating their ideas than to their scholastic achievement test scores (Van Aalst 1999). These findings suggest that articulating ideas and bringing misconceptions out in the open—generally, dealing with idea diversity—provides an effective context for knowledge advancement.

Expanding Possibilities

Although the laboratory school from which the preceding examples were taken plays a key role in advancing the pedagogical and technological frontier, other important innovative work is going on in at least 12 countries, in grades 1 to university, including inner-city schools, and in health care settings, public-service organizations, small businesses, and other settings. We have now begun to create virtual visits (http://ikit.org/virtualsuite/visits) that allow members of this worldwide community to visit each other electronically. Could such efforts eventually provide a reasonable substitute for live visits to knowledge building classrooms? Will they foster knowledge building practices for newcomers? It is impossible to know at this early stage. There is another development that suggests exciting new possibilities. Underlying these environments are analytic tools that allow us to examine students' individual and collective contributions (text and graphic notes and views in Knowledge Forum). These analytic tools provide detailed accounts of development that can be made available to teachers (and potentially to students) immediately, and these results can also be fed directly back into the process of continual improvement. Thus the goal of embedded, and transformative assessment is becoming increasingly possible and exciting.

If we distinguish knowledge building from learning, then a legitimate concern is with what individual children learn from taking part in knowledge building activities. Assessments are reassuring about general levels of academic achievement (Scardamalia et al. 1992; Scardamalia, Bereiter, and Lamon 1994): Compared to non-CSILE controls, CSILE students did significantly better in language and reading and show no deficit in other areas. Their literacy advantage grows with additional years using CSILE/Knowledge Forum, and they show advantages in graphical literacy (Scardamalia et al. 1994). The students also show more sophisticated understandings about knowledge and learning (Scardamalia et al. 1994). That is as close as we can currently come to documenting what I am here suggesting is the major advantage students in a knowledge-building classroom carry with them into a knowledge society: ability and willingness to take on responsibility for the collective solution of knowledge problems.

Barriers to Adoption

Although most educators who visit a knowledge-building classroom are impressed, many of them to a high degree, there are a number of concerns that stand in the way of wholehearted commitment to the idea of knowledge building. The first, and most insidious—because it seldom comes out in the open—is the disbelief that most children have the motivation and ability to do the things the educator has just witnessed. This shows up first as a suggestion that the children and the teacher, or both, are exceptional. In practice it shows up as a tendency to overstructure and overmanage activity, with the result that some of the essential characteristics of knowledge building are sacrificed—particularly, authentic problems, epistemic agency, and cognitive responsibility.

A second, and surprisingly widespread, concern is that students will learn something wrong. This concern crops up even among educators who are well aware of the extensive research indicating how profound is the mislearning that normally occurs in schooling. Research carried out in CSILE classrooms indicates that the spread of misconceptions and false information is minimal, and is easily exceeded by the amount of correction of misinformation and misunderstanding that go on. This is not to claim that the students are immune to the misconceptions that pervade society. But knowledge building work in a medium like Knowledge Forum brings them out in the open, whereas they usually remain hidden in conventional school work, and the process of idea improvement, if sustained, can be relied on to overcome many of them.

A third concern arises from a belief that can be summarized as 'Learn first, produce later.' This belief is common throughout the education world and underlies much educational practice, especially in liberal education. It is devastating to the approach I have been describing, because it implies that creative work with ideas can come only after a long period of absorbing knowledge that has already become established. This belief is implicit in such terms as 'basic education' and 'foundations.' And, of course, the belief has considerable substance. Many kinds of human performance presuppose prior learning; we would not want to entrust airline piloting or thoracic surgery to on-the-job learning, even though we recognize that such skills reach a high level only through practice.

Picasso is often held up as an exemplar of the 'learn first' approach. Although he was an extraordinary innovator, he devoted his early years to assiduously mastering classical styles and techniques. But it is important to note that he learned by producing art works—derivative ones, to be sure, but we may presume that like most art students he was simultaneously striving to produce works of artistic merit and to learn. According to self-reports, students in the knowledge-building classes we work with also have this dual motivation. They are consciously trying to learn but at the same time they are trying to produce theories, ideas, and other objects of scientific or scholarly merit. In this chapter I have emphasized producing ideas—knowledge building; in another paper, included as an appendix to this book, Bereiter and I deal with intentional learning.

Although we have never witnessed knowledge building unaccompanied by learning, we have witnessed a great deal of learning that was never converted to knowledge building. We continually advise teachers against assigning a portion of the day to 'learning' and a different portion to 'knowledge building.' Such a division weakens both, whereas they ought naturally to reinforce and boost each other. Even on into their late careers, knowledge builders ought to be simultaneously engaged in advancing the frontiers of knowledge and in personal learning. That is what a non-trivial conception of 'lifelong learning' ought to comprise. I have been arguing that this combination of knowledge building and learning can start in early childhood.

Even after conceptual barriers have been removed, and even with the strongest technological supports, instituting a knowledge building classroom remains a challenge. It entails creating a culture in the classroom that is not a miniature of the surrounding culture but rather is a model of what that surrounding culture might become—a culture in which the creation and improvement of ideas pervades social life. One of the most successful teachers reported that it usually took him from September to January or February each year, to get his grade 5-6 class functioning well as a knowledge building community. This was true even though, because of the split-grade structure, a number of the students each year were carry-overs from the year before. Once the community was functioning, however, new students entering the class could join it with relative ease. That was because the other students could help with the enculturation. We have seen some evidence that when a school-wide culture of knowledge building is established, the year-to-year problems of culture-building diminish and instead there is an upward progression where each year the culture advances beyond where it was before. Then you have a genuine knowledge building culture, with its own dynamic of continual advancement. That, I maintain, is what schools must become if they are to play their part in the Knowledge Age.4
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1 The Ministry of Education in British Columbia maintains a Web page devoted to cross-school projects, some of which are evidently administered by a branch of the Ministry. See http://www.etc.bc.ca/tdebhome/projects.html.

2 The virtual tour, which describes these events in the teacher’s own words and voice is available at (http://ikit.org/virtualsuite/visits)

3The school is the Institute for Child Study of the University of Toronto (ICS). ICS participants are Patti MacDonald (Grade 1), Mary Jane Moreau, (Grade 3), Richard Messina (Grade 4), Bev Caswell (Grades 5-6), Richard Reeve (teacher-researcher), and Elizabeth Morley (Principal). The project researcher is Mary Lamon.

4 The author wishes to acknowledge the generous support of Bell Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Education, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence. I am indebted to the students and teachers who contributed their time and talents to this project, and to the entire CSILE/Knowledge Forum team, without whose contributions the work reported here would not have been possible. I am also grateful to Carl Bereiter and André Carus for their thoughtful input to this manuscript.

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