Teacher-education students' views about knowledge building theory and practice.
ABSTRACT This study investigated the effects of engaging students to collectively learn and work with knowledge in a computer-supported
collaborative learning environment called Knowledge Forum on their views about knowledge building theory and practice. Participants
were 24 teacher-education students who took a required course titled “Integrating Theory and Practice in Teaching.” Data mainly
came from (1) student discourse recorded in a Knowledge Forum database, (2) a survey that examined students’ views about knowledge
building, and (3) interviews with regard to students’ perceived barriers to implementing knowledge building theory in teaching.
Findings suggest that with sustained discourse to construct their collective understanding of the relationships between theory
and practice in teaching for a semester, the participants were able to attain more informed and practical views about knowledge
building theory. In addition, students’ perceived barriers to implementing knowledge building in teaching were identified
and strategies to help overcome these barriers discussed.
- http://lst-iiep.iiep-unesco.org/cgi-bin/wwwi32.exe/[in=epidoc1.in]/?t2000=015556/(100). 01/2000;
- The Information Society - TIS. 01/2003; 19(3):197-201.
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ABSTRACT: Postmodernism's rejecting of the possibility of an objective stance has led some educators to begin treating scientific knowledge as merely a matter of elite consensus ("Most scientists believe that."). Objectivity, I argue, is not an essential claim of science, but progress is. Whether theory B is an improvement over theory A is a question that can be discussed profitably without appeal to objective truth. Such discussion constitutes what I call progressive discourse, which depends on a set of quasi-moral commitments that amount to a devotion to progress in knowledge. Among other things, this view of science as progressive discourse provides more sensible and humane ways of dealing with misconceptions, scientific methodology, and authoritative texts than does the elite consensus view.Educational Psychologist. 01/1994; 29(1):3-12.
Teacher-education students’ views about knowledge
building theory and practice
Huang-Yao Hong•Fei-Ching Chen•Ching Sing Chai•
Received: 31 October 2009/Accepted: 11 June 2010
? Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010
and work with knowledge in a computer-supported collaborative learning environment
called Knowledge Forum on their views about knowledge building theory and practice.
Participants were 24 teacher-education students who took a required course titled ‘‘Inte-
grating Theory and Practice in Teaching.’’ Data mainly came from (1) student discourse
recorded in a Knowledge Forum database, (2) a survey that examined students’ views
about knowledge building, and (3) interviews with regard to students’ perceived barriers to
implementing knowledge building theory in teaching. Findings suggest that with sustained
discourse to construct their collective understanding of the relationships between theory
and practice in teaching for a semester, the participants were able to attain more informed
and practical views about knowledge building theory. In addition, students’ perceived
barriers to implementing knowledge building in teaching were identified and strategies to
help overcome these barriers discussed.
This study investigated the effects of engaging students to collectively learn
Knowledge building ? Teacher education students ? Epistemology ?
Teaching has been viewed as a craft (Bereiter 2002). As commonly observed in the
classroom, most teachers tend to pursue improvement in practices by following some
H.-Y. Hong (&) ? W.-C. Chan
Department of Education, National Chengchi University, 64, Sec. 2,
Zhi-Nan Rd, Wenshan District, Taipei 11605, Taiwan ROC
Institute of Learning & Instruction, National Central University,
300, Chung-Da Rd, Chung-Li City 32001, Taoyuan County, Taiwan
C. S. Chai
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore
known theories, and they are less inclined to assume the role of theory-building for their
practice (Hargreaves 1999; Sawyer 2004). Recent literature, however, emphasizes the
importance of viewing teaching as a knowledge-building enterprise (Hargreaves 1999;
Zhang et al. accepted; Scardamalia 2002). Related concepts have been introduced to
support this idea, for example, creative teaching (Sawyer 2004), adventurous teaching
(Cohen 1989), adaptive teaching (Darling-Hammond and Bransford 2005), teaching as
progressive problem solving (Bereiter and Scardamalia 1993) or as a sustained design
process (Hong et al. 2009b). Yet, the idea of education as a progressive science and
teaching as knowledge building is still new to most teachers (Sawyer 2006).
Knowledge-building theory and practice
One way to help teachers to develop a deeper conceptual understanding of teaching as a
process of knowledge-building may be to engage them in the actual ‘‘knowledge-building’’
practice (Hargreaves 1999; Hong and Sullivan 2009). Knowledge-building is a social
process focused on the production and continual improvement of ideas of value to a
community (Bereiter and Scardamalia 2003). The epistemological position underlying the
knowledge building pedagogy is Popper’s (1972) construct of World 3. Other than World 1
(the physical world) and World 2 (the subjective world inside the mind), Popper postulates
a World 3 that is constituted of conceptual artifacts. The ideas and theories created by
knowledge workers such as scientists, engineers and architects are among the conceptual
artifacts. These theories and ideas, once created, have a life of their own in that they can be
improved and transformed by people who interact with them. They are treated as tentative
theories that should be subjected to error elimination under Popper’s schema for the search
for truth. In other words, all created knowledge is open to further inquiry and improvement.
This epistemological stance is translated directly into the practice of treating all knowledge
as ideas and as improvable in a knowledge-building community (Scardamalia 2002).
Bereiter (1994) argues that school focused on changing students’ mind (ie, World 2) and
neglected the enculturation of students’ competencies to work in World 3. Arguably,
teachers are unaccustomed to the ways of building knowledge as professionals, much less
developing such competencies among students (Hong et al. in press).
In a knowledge-building community, students are empowered to produce conceptual
artifacts (Bereiter 2002) such as explanations of phenomena they have encountered. These
conceptual artifacts are then subjected to community scrutiny for further improvement.
This process could be facilitated by software that enables a computer supported collabo-
rative learning environment such as Knowledge Forum (Scardamalia 2003), Inquiry
Learning Forum (Barab 2003), and Math Forum (Stahl 2009). The students’ articulated
conceptual artifacts are captured as an online post uploaded to the discussion forum for the
other members in the community to critique and build-on. Bereiter (1997) argues that this
process is similar to scientists’ intellectual work. Engaging students in the improvement of
conceptual objects will inevitably lead them to the examination of existing theories (ie, the
theories produced by established scientists). It will also encourage students and teachers to
see knowledge as uncertain and evolving. In a knowledge building community, one has to
assume epistemic agency to participate in the active process of continuously improving
conceptual artifacts rather than passively relying on an authority to provide verified truths.
Bereiter (2002) posits that by engaging learners in a knowledge-building community, we
are empowering learners to work constructively and creatively with ideas, i.e., to treat
learners as knowledge producers.
H.-Y. Hong et al.
Knowledge building principles
To facilitate the process of knowledge building, a set of 12 knowledge-building principles
have been conceptualized (Scardamalia 2002). These principles have evolved over the last
two decades: from an earlier focus on transformative discourse (Bereiter and Scardamalia
1987), intentional learning (Scardamalia and Bereiter 1991), and creative expertise as
progressive problem solving (Bereiter and Scardamalia 1993), to the most recent 12
knowledge building principles (Scardamalia 2002). These 12 principles represent some
innovative, pedagogical know-how to help transform a traditional class into a knowledge
building community. They include (1) Real Ideas, Authentic Problems; (2) Idea Diversity;
(3) Improvable Ideas; (4) Epistemic Agency; (5) Community Knowledge, Collective
Responsibility; (6) Democratizing Knowledge; (7) Symmetric Knowledge Advance; (8)
Pervasive Knowledge Building; (9) Constructive Uses of Authoritative Sources; (10)
Knowledge Building Discourse; (11) Concurrent, Embedded, Transformative Assessment;
and (12) Rise Above (see Scardamalia 2002, for more details). Fundamentally, knowledge
building principles are designed to reconceptualize the behaviors of and relationships
between three essential knowledge-building entities: the idea, the agent, and the com-
munity (see Fig. 1). For example, the principle of Real Ideas, Authentic Problems high-
lights the importance of viewing students’ ideas as conceptual artifacts (Bereiter 2002) that
are as real as things touched and felt, and that knowledge problems arise from efforts to
understand the world and the ideas of other collaborators in the community, leading to
problems of understanding that are quite different from textbook problems and puzzles.
The principle of Epistemic Agency underscores that participants deal with the full range of
knowledge problems (goals, motivation, evaluation, long-range planning, etc.), including
knowledge problems normally left to teachers or managers. And the principle of Com-
munity Knowledge, Collective Responsibility emphasizes that contributions to shared, top-
level goals of the community are prized and rewarded as much as individual achievements;
team members produce ideas of value to others and share responsibility for the overall
advancement of knowledge in the community. These principles represent design ideals and
challenges that set the stage for the community’s work in sustained knowledge advance-
ment (Bereiter and Scardamalia 2003), which is very different from conventional
classroom work defined by pre-specified procedures, clear scripts and rules, or any highly-
structured, ritualistic learning activities that represent fixed rather than improvable
classroom procedures (Hong and Sullivan 2009).
Fig. 1 Relationships between three essential knowledge building entities: the idea, the agent, and the
Views about knowledge building
The present study
A growing body of evidence has suggested that it is important to consider teachers’ epis-
temological views since such views will influence classroom performance (Chai et al. 2009;
Pajares 1992; Richardson et al. 1991; Wilson 1990). The aforementioned principles rep-
resent essential concepts underlying knowledge building as a theory of knowing and as a
way to transform traditional teaching practice. In order to help prospective teachers develop
a more informed view of knowledge building theory and practice, instead of employing
traditional direct teaching, the present study engaged the participants in self-initiated and
self-directed knowledge work in a knowledge building environment (Hargreaves 1999;
Hong et al. 2009b). Previous research suggests that engaging students in a knowledge-
building environment is an effective means to support collaborative learning activities in
class settings (Hong et al. 2008; Scardamalia 2002; Scardamalia et al. 1994; Sun et al. 2010;
van Aalst and Chan 2007; Zhang et al. 2007). Chai and Merry’s (2006) study on in-service
teachers who experienced both learning and teaching through knowledge-building also
provided some evidences that it may stimulate belief change among teachers (see also Chai
and Tan 2009). Two out of seven teachers in their study have reportedly developed a more
sophisticated and relativistic epistemological stance. Therefore, it is posited that engaging
teacher-education students in a collaborative knowledge building environment should also
have effects on their views about knowledge building. Yet, such an assumption remains to
be tested, especially in the Taiwanese society. The purpose of the present study is to
investigate whether engaging students in knowledge work in Knowledge Forum as a
knowledge building environment would help them become more engaged in their collab-
orative efforts to advance knowledge and whether it would also help them develop more
informed and practical views about knowledge building theory and practice.
Our research question focuses on: How does the knowledge-building environment and
technology affect students’ learning processes and outcomes? Specifically, in terms of
processes, we looked into participants’ online performance patterns, social interaction
patterns, and patterns in relation to their reflective understanding of the relationships
between theories and practices in teaching. In terms of outcomes, we looked into pre-post
changes in students’ views about the importance and feasibility of knowledge building, and
their perceived barriers to implementing knowledge building in class.
Participants and context
The present research was conducted in a university course titled ‘‘Integrating Theory and
Practice in Teaching’’ in Taiwan. The course was offered by the university’s Center of
Teacher Education to teacher-education students as its last required course before they start
their teaching practicum. The university is ranked as one of the best universities in the
nation. As such, the students enrolled in the subject university are all academically high-
achievers. Based on the test results of the national Basic Competence Test for Senior High
School Students (BCTSHSS), in order to enroll in this university, a student’s test scores in
BCTSHSS need to be ranked above the 95th percentile nationwide. Participants in the
present study were 24 teacher-education students (14 females) who were planning to teach
at the high-school level in the near future. Their ages range from 21 to 29 (M = 24;
SD = 2.3).
H.-Y. Hong et al.
Instructional design and online knowledge building environment
By engaging students in building knowledge in Knowledge Forum, the two main
instructional goals were: (1) to help students better understand the complex relationships
between theories and practices in teaching; and (2) to help students develop a more
informed and practical view about knowledge building. To these ends, an invited talk about
knowledge building theory, pedagogy, and principles, and a tutorial workshop about how
to use Knowledge Forum for knowledge building were given in the beginning of the
semester. The basic design features and functions of Knowledge Forum were demonstrated
to students, for example, how to create a note or a ‘‘view’’ (i.e., virtual spaces for col-
laborative discourse among community members) and how to ‘‘build-on’’ to an existing
note. Other major instructional activities included: (1) a weekly reading assignment in
which students (a) reviewed literature related to various teaching theories, and (b) read
teachers’ interview transcripts in which in-service teachers share their successes and
challenges encountered in their daily teaching practice; (2) an invited guest speaker (i.e.,
a veteran teacher) shared his personal teaching experiences; and, (3) most importantly,
sustained online peer discussion about the relationships between theories and practices in
The technology platform used to support peer discourse in this study is Knowledge
Forum (Scardamalia 2003), which enables a computer-supported collaborative learning
(CSCL) environment. The key concept of CSCL is that shared digital environments can be
used to foster meaning interactions that produce deeper understanding for the group and its
participants. As such, the uniqueness of CSCL designs consists in their features for sup-
porting effective group collaboration and meaning interaction (Stahl 2007). Previous study
(for example, see, Hong et al. 2009a) comparing Knowledge Forum with other types of
networked learning environments (e.g., Blackboard) indicates that Knowledge Forum is
more likely to engage students in creative and collaborative knowledge work. In the
present study, participants were guided to spend extensive time collectively constructing
their knowledge in Knowledge Forum. They contribute their ideas in the form of notes.
The Knowledge Forum environment also enables participants to co-author notes, build-on,
reference (i.e., citation excepted from other community members’ notes), and annotate the
work of others, set problem fields and add keywords, and create ‘‘rise-above’’ notes that
bring greater coherence to the contents of the knowledge space. All these features are
designed as different means to foster collaboration in depth. For example, the ‘‘rise-
aboves’’ allow users to gather theories and ideas that have already been presented, syn-
thesize these old ideas and point out new challenges to understandings. Operations such as
reading, referencing, editing, rise-above etc. are recorded automatically in the database,
and can be summarized statistically by means of an Analytic Toolkit (Burtis 2002). The
Knowledge Forum technology designs—in line with the overarching commitment to
continual knowledge improvement—allow students to exchange ideas and continuously
improve them. Figure 2 shows a screenshot of a Knowledge Forum ‘‘view’’.
Study design and data sources
This research employed a mixed-method design. The rationale for using such a design is
that ‘‘the quantitative data and results provide a general picture of the research problem;
more analysis, specifically through qualitative data collection, is needed to refine, extend,
or explain the general picture’’ (Creswell 2005, p. 515). Given the nature of the research
questions, a more comprehensive approach is necessary in order to address the questions of
Views about knowledge building
what the overall online knowledge building process is, how students changed (or did not
change) their views about knowledge building and why. To this end, we collected the
following sets of data: (1) students’ online discourse which was recorded as notes in a
Knowledge Forum database, (2) a survey, and (3) interviews. We describe each in detail
First, a descriptive analysis and a social network analysis (SNA) were performed on the
recorded dataset in the Knowledge Forum to describe in general the overall online
knowledge building process. In addition, all participants’ notes in the Knowledge Forum
database were content-analyzed to examine if students gained a deeper understanding of
the relationships between theories and practices in teaching. To do so, an open-coding
procedure (Strauss and Corbin 1990), using the note as the unit of analysis, was adopted.
A two-level coding scheme based on Anderson and Krathwohl’s (2001) revision of Bloom’s
(1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives was adopted. The two levels are: (1) lower-
level cognitive activity/responsibility (including remember, understand, apply teaching
theories), and (2) higher-level cognitive activity/responsibility (including analyze, evaluate,
and create teaching theories). Two researchers repeatedly read and re-read all students’ notes
and then categorized each note into a level. An inter-coder agreement was computed to be
0.89 (with all differences resolved by discussion). Table 1 shows the coding scheme. To
determine whether there were any changes in terms of students’ discourse levels, the whole
semester was divided into two stages: an early and a later knowledge-building stage (using
the midterm exam as a point of separation). A Chi-square was computed to decide if there
were any differences between the two stages in terms of the discourse levels.
Second, a survey that measures students’ views about the importance and feasibility of
knowledge building was administered in the beginning and at the end of the semester as a
pre-post assessment. This survey was designed by the authors to assess participants’
mindset about the importance and feasibility of knowledge-building. There are 12 items in
this survey, each is represented by a knowledge-building principle (see Scardamalia 2002,
for details). Using subjects (N = 22) from another teacher education program of a com-
parable university, the Cronbach Alpha reliability estimates were calculated to be .87 (for
Fig. 2 A screenshot of a Knowledge Forum view
H.-Y. Hong et al.
the ‘‘importance’’ dimension) and .74 (for the ‘‘applicability’’ dimension). All items in both
surveys employed a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree; 5 = strongly agree).
T-tests were conducted to see if there were pre-post changes in students’ views.
Third, an approximately 1-h long interview was conducted as a follow-up investigation
to further explore the perceived barriers and challenges among the teacher-education
students who have expressed concerns about implementing knowledge building in their
future teaching. Six (out of total 24) participants who rated knowledge building as
important but less feasible in their surveys were approached and they agreed to participate
in the follow-up interviews. The interview data were transcribed verbatim and qualitatively
used to help uncover some major barriers to implementing knowledge building.
Results and discussion
Knowledge building practices
Online contribution patterns
The overall online activity and performance in this community is shown in Table 2.
a mean number of 26.04 (SD = 6.69) notes being generated per person. In addition, Table 2
also shows other related online knowledge-building measures recorded in this community,
including number of note revisions, number of keywords in notes, and number of build-on
notes generated, and number of rise-above notes created. Overall, the online activities were
substantive as compared with our previous study (see, Hong and Lin 2010; Chai and Khine
2006). Nevertheless, while these behavioral measures gave a general picture of how partic-
ipants worked online in this database, they do not tell much about how participants actually
interacted with one another. To better understand the social dynamics in the community, a
social network analysis (SNA) focusing on network density was conducted.
Table 1 Coding scheme employed for analyzing students’ understanding of the relationships between
theory and practice in teaching
Level FocusDescription Example (translated from
Teachers should know
and understand theories
Teacher should understand some
basic theories, such as
behavioral learning and
ApplyTeachers should be able
to apply theories in
I think teachers need to apply
different theories in different
Analyze/EvaluateTeachers should be able
to analyze theories and
Experience and theory are like
Na-Kon-Hsin-Fa [a type of
Chinese Kung Fu]. After one
masters some theories, they can
help supplement and/or be
integrated into one’s own
personal teaching experience
Create Teachers should be able
to improve and even
Teacher’s experiences and self-
reflection can help with the
development of new theories
Views about knowledge building
Online interaction patterns
SNA was conducted to investigate interaction patterns in the community by using the
automatic assessment tools embedded in the Knowledge Forum. Figure 3 shows the overall
interactive and collaborative patterns in the community throughout the whole semester,
using two indicators that are available in the Knowledge Forum: passive ‘‘note-reading’’
and active ‘‘note-linking’’ (including build-on notes, references, and annotations). Table 3
further shows detailed results of participants’ interactions in two knowledge-building
stages (using the mid-term exam as a point of separation). In this particular analysis,
density is defined as the proportion of connections in a network relative to the total number
possible. The higher the number of the density is, the stronger the social dynamics of a
community is implied. An intention of adopting the knowledge-building practice in this
course was to transform the traditional knowledge-transmission mode of learning into a
knowledge-construction mode to engage these students in collective problem-solving and
knowledge work. Therefore, it was expected that the students should collaborate more as
they progress. As can be seen, there was an increasing trend of social interactions as
reflected by the measures of density recorded online for this community from the early to
the later knowledge building stages, especially in terms of note-linking (which include
build-on, reference, and annotation). Lipponen et al. (2003) regarded a social network
density of .39 for students building-on each other online messages as adequate. In this
Table 2 Descriptive analysis on individual online knowledge-building activities
Online activity MeanSD
No. of notes created26.04 6.69
No. of note revisions 8.57.0
No. of keywords in notes6.6 4.21
No. of build-on notes created 10.24.45
No. of rise-above notes created 1.10.81
Note The ‘‘rise-above’’ function allows users to gather ideas that have already been presented, synthesize
these old ideas and point out new challenges to understandings
Fig. 3 Interaction patterns in the community throughout the whole semester as reflected by SNA. a Note
reading among participants, b Note linking among participants
H.-Y. Hong et al.
study, the social network density for building-on at the end of course is 44.2%. The
findings indicate a satisfactory level of social interaction in this community.
To further understand the quality of learning in this community, we content-analyzed
students’ notes. In so doing, we illustrate the processes of how they actually learn and
deepen their understanding towards the pre-determined teaching goal, which was to better
understand the relationships between theories and practices in teaching.
Figure 4 shows how the focus of students’ discourse with regard to teachers’ cognitive
activity/responsibility changed over time from the early to the later knowledge building
stages. A Chi-Square test showed a significant difference between the two stages
(v2= 19.78, df = 1, P\.001). As it shows, at the early KB stage before the midterm,
students’ online discourse tended to focus more on lower-level cognitive responsibility of
teachers, highlighting that teachers only need to understand and appreciate teaching
theories, and apply them accordingly in practice. As an example (translated from Chinese),
below is a student’s online reflection after she read an article about corporal punishment; in
her reflection, she basically views theories as authoritative sources for knowledge
The teacher [in the reading materials] expressed her opinions on ‘‘education of love’’
and ‘‘corporal punishment’’. I have no teaching experience, in reality, and therefore
Table 3 Social network analysis (SNA) of interactivity in this community
Network density Early KB stageLater KB stage Whole semester
Note reading223 (80.79%)223 (80.79%) 276 (100%)
Note linking47 (17.02%)130 (47.1%) 143 (51.81%)
Build-on35 (12.68%) 109 (39.49%) 122 (44.2%)
Reference16 (5.79%)15 (5.43%)30 (10.86%)
Annotation 17 (6.15%) 57 (20.65%)71 (25.72%)
Fig. 4 Changes in students’ understanding of the relationships between theories and practices in teaching
over a semester
Views about knowledge building
am not able to judge which strategy works better. I, however, very much agree with
her ideas. ‘‘Education of love’’ certainly could cultivate more independence and
autonomy in students, but I also doubt its effectiveness. For those students who
appreciate the teacher’s encouragement, ‘‘education of love’’ might work well;
however, for those who do not care about the teacher’s encouragement, ‘‘corporal
punishment’’ might not be a bad thing…Nevertheless, I believe that the approach of
‘‘education of love’’ has more benefits than drawbacks…If the teacher can apply the
right strategy at the right situation, students will be able to trust him/her.
At the later KB stage, students’ online discourse began to focus more on the higher-level
cognitive responsibility of teachers, emphasizing that teachers need to improve and even
generate their own teaching theories. For example, below is another excerpt from the same
student drawn from a note composed at the later knowledge building stage:
Thank you, those who replied to my note. I am glad to see that we are gradually
linking our ideas together. I believe we all think that ‘‘a theory needs to be shaped
again and again.’’ This is a process and also a procedure of strengthening a theo-
retical statement. By referring to classmate Hsu’s idea, I think theory itself is a
conceptual sketch. No matter how it is challenged or shaped by the practice, the
sketch will be modified and refined in a better way.
To substantiate this shift in the emphasis of students’ discourse from lower-level to higher-
level cognitive responsibility of teachers, we further provide two contrasting examples as
We have to learn theories in order to apply them in the actual teaching context.
Building on our group discussion, we argue that teacher expertise must be built based
on a solid theoretical and experiential foundation. The stronger this foundation is, the
broader a teacher’s expertise will become. Teachers need to be able to freely apply
any theories in order to be regarded as professional.
[Teaching] experience cannot be 100% replicated, but it can be assimilated into
one’s own thinking and acting in order to shape one’s new experience. The same can
be said about teaching theories. I think teachers also need to learn to improve and
modify existing theories, and then integrate them into their own experiences, so that
they can create their own unique teaching style and achieve better teaching practice.
The above findings suggest that engaging students in knowledge building practice is
helpful to gradually promote more reflective discourse among participants and deepen their
understanding of the relationship between theory and practice in teaching. Below we
examine whether engaging students in knowledge building practice also has any effects on
their views about knowledge building theory and practice.
Students’ views about knowledge building
Changes in students’ perceived importance and feasibility of knowledge building
To further understand if engaging students in knowledge building practice also has impact
on their views about the importance and feasibility of knowledge building, t-tests were
conducted. First, in terms of the pre-test, it was found that the teacher-education students
tended to consider knowledge building to be both important (M = 4.38, SD = 0.41) and
feasible (M = 3.35, SD = 0.49) as their means were both higher than the average mean
H.-Y. Hong et al.
value (M = 3.0). To explore further, however, a paired-sample t-test showed a significant
difference between the importance and feasibility of knowledge building (M = 1.03;
SD = 0.68; t = 7.41, df = 23, P\.01), suggesting a perceived discrepancy among the
participants (see Table 4). In terms of the post-test, a paired-sample t-test continued to
show that there was a significant perceived discrepancy (M = 0.79; SD = 0.49) between
the importance (M = 4.23, SD = 0.54) and feasibility (M = 3.44, SD = 0.44) of
knowledge building (t = 7.88, df = 23, P\.01) at the end of the semester. These find-
ings, however, were quite expected as the participants were teacher-education students who
had no prior teaching experience at the time of this study; thus it was natural that they
inclined to rate the feasibility lower than the importance, both in terms of pre-test and post-
test. Nevertheless, what is more important to know is whether the discrepancy was reduced
after engaging students in knowledge-building practice for a semester. Further t-test
indicated there was a marginally significant difference (M = 0.24, SD = 0.57) between
pre-post tests (t = 2.02, df = 23, P = .055), suggesting that engaging students in
knowledge-building practice did help reduce their perceived discrepancy to some extent.
Perceived barriers to knowledge building
As the above finding suggests, students’ perceived feasibility was relatively low as com-
pared with their perceived importance of knowledge building. With this in mind, a relevant
question to ask is what might be the barriers to students perceiving knowledge building as
feasible? Making these barriers explicit is an essential step to addressing them. Our follow-
up interviews indicated concerns regarding the aforementioned three knowledge building
entities (agency, ideas, and community).
Views on student agency
distrust of children as epistemic agents capable of constructing their own knowledge. For
example, as one participant commented, ‘‘I think it [knowledge building] is less feasible
because of age differences. Age differences must be considered. This is especially true for
young students. I believe that if they plan their own learning, they will focus on playing.’’
Apparently, this interviewee tends to believe that children are too young to plan and
regulate their own learning as an independent knowledge agent. Such beliefs, however, are
contrary to previous research findings that suggest knowledge building is possible even
among young children such as grade five students (Hong et al. 2008; Oshima et al. 1995;
Sun et al. 2010; Zhang et al. 2007). Unfortunately, such disbelief in children’s knowledge
building capacity does align with conventionally held educational beliefs which hold that
learning must always come first (e.g., during K-12 schooling), before one can really
produce new knowledge (e.g., during graduate study) (Hong and Sullivan 2009). Under
The interview data first revealed teacher-education students’
Table 4 Students’ perceived discrepancy between the importance and feasibility of knowledge building
Importance-feasibility discrepancy in pre-test 1.0280.679 7.410 0.000**
Importance-feasibility discrepancy in post-test0.792 0.492 7.8810.000**
Reduced discrepancy between pre-post tests 0.2360.5732.0170.055*
* P\.10, ** P\.01
Views about knowledge building
this view, maximizing one’s individual knowledge (i.e., seeing knowledge as a psycho-
logical state confined within Popper’s second World) seems an important criterion in
judging whether instruction is effective or not, leaving little room for knowledge-building.
Views on idea-centered learning
idea-centered learning that highlights the importance of sustained production and
improvement of ideas. Instead, they tended to emphasize the importance of accumulating
basic knowledge in order to pass exams. As an interviewee commented, ‘‘…it [knowledge
building] is less feasible because what is taught in school in order to help students pass
exams is often not related to the real ideas or authentic problems in life.’’ As another
commented, ‘‘It is not practical to teach more than one solution to a math problem. For
example, in learning math, more than one solution [as opposed to idea diversity] may lead
students to confusion, especially when the instructional goal is to help students pass the
test.’’ As mentioned above, conventional classroom work tends to be defined by pre-
specified procedures, clear scripts and rules, and highly-structured learning activities in
order to help learners acquire pre-specified knowledge efficiently and then pass exams. As
such, establishing a broader knowledge base becomes much more important as an
instructional goal than encouraging students to work innovatively with knowledge and
engage in sustained idea production and improvement.
The interviewed students were also less in favour of
Views on community knowledge
was focusing more on equal and fair division of labours in group work, rather than on the
collective advancement of knowledge in their group. For example, a participant com-
mented, ‘‘I think people can work together in a group but there will never be equal
contribution in a group.’’ As another commented, ‘‘You can not make sure everyone will
have the same value and share the same responsibility, as each one has his or her own
individual learning goal.’’ It is not clear whether they considered the products of their
collective endeavors a public property or an individual one, but they highly cared about an
equal responsibility across all members in the process. In addition, they were less inclined
to accept the concept that to give knowledge is to get knowledge in a knowledge com-
munity. For example, one said, ‘‘some members never give/share knowledge, but just take
from others. To maintain a good social relationship is a key factor that should be taken into
consideration.’’ Perhaps, this is because their past schooling and test-related experiences
tend to emphasize individual learning rather than group knowledge work. Clearly, how to
help transform these teacher-education students’ individualistic learning view into a view
that also appreciates the social aspects of learning remains an important challenge.
To sum up, the traditional educational concept basically sees learning as an activity
directed towards enhancing personal knowledge (Polanyi 1967), whereas knowledge
building is a self-directed, idea-centered, and collaborative process aimed at continually
improving ideas represented as community knowledge (Bereiter 2002; Bereiter and
Scardamalia 2003; Hong and Scardamalia 2008; Scardamalia 2002). An important dis-
tinction between personal and community knowledge is that the former emphasizes a
psychological concept of knowledge—i.e., a World 2 view—and thus sees knowledge as
possessed within an individual’s mind (Hyman 1999; Popper 1972). On the contrary, the
latter highlights a social concept of knowledge and sees knowledge as something that has a
public life—i.e., a World 3 view—(Bereiter 2002; Hyman 1999; Popper 1972). Appar-
ently, those interviewed participants who tended to see knowledge building as relatively
less feasible also tended to hold tight to a strong World 2 view on the nature of knowledge,
The interview data showed the future teachers’ concern
H.-Y. Hong et al.
which regards reality as mental states created in the human mind. In other words, they did
not yet realize that ideas can have a social life beyond the individual mind. Although the
future teachers were working with ideas as world 3 objects for a semester, they were not
able to view ideas as world 3 objects.
Summary and conclusion
In this exploratory research study, we reported the process of knowledge building among a
group of teacher-education students and investigated the effects of this knowledge building
process on their views about knowledge building theory and practice. In summary, it was
found that engaging students in knowledge building is helpful to (1) promote gradually
more interactive and reflective online knowledge building activities; and (2) to somewhat
reduce their perceived discrepancy between the importance and feasibility of knowledge
building as a theory of knowing and as a way to transform conventional teaching practice.
In addition, a major challenge of implementing knowledge building identified through in-
depth interviews among participants who especially rated knowledge building as less
feasible was that participants’ prior schooling experience and socio-cultural expectations
tended to strongly influence how they might interpret and value the feasibility of knowl-
edge building. Overall, these participants’ prior epistemic views are still largely confined
within Popper’s world 2 epistemology which sees knowledge as psychological entity (as
opposed to the concept that sees ideas as public artifacts) and learning as individualistic
activities (as opposed to the concept that sees learning as a communal activity) and as
accumulation of authorative knowledge (as opposed to the concept that values self-initiated
and self-directed knowledge construction). To help students develop more informed and
practical views of knowledge building theory and practice thus implies helping them to
develop a world 3 knowledge view that sees knowledge as public conceptual artifacts and
learning as a social process (Hong et al. in press).
The instructional goal of the present research was (1) to help better prepare teacher-
education students to attain a deeper understanding of the relationships between theory and
practice in teaching, and (2) to help them develop more informed views about knowledge
building. To further this end, we conjecture that a possible strategy is to make teacher-
education students’ own pedagogical, epistemological, and socio-cultural views about
learning and knowledge-building more visible to themselves. Accordingly, an effective
instructional design may be to engage them to discuss more explicitly in class their own
views about knowledge-building, while at the same time engaging them in actual
knowledge-building practices. It is posited that doing so would further help students clarify
their conceptual discrepancies between theories and practices in teaching, and gradually
achieve World-3 oriented views and thus be able to see knowledge building as more
feasible in reality. In other words, it is important to initiate an intrapersonal reflective
discourse among the students by encouraging them to explicate their initial doubts about
knowledge building. For example, drawing upon Reiman (1999) taxonomy of guided
written reflections framework, Chai and Tan (2009) demonstrated how they practice
emphatic understanding while at the same time challenge students’ beliefs to help students
reflect deeply about their beliefs. It is further conjectured that after being immersed as a
knowledge builder in the teacher education program, it may be beneficial to engage tea-
cher-education students in facilitating knowledge-building communities during their
practicum experiences under the guidance of experienced knowledge building teachers
(Chai and Tan 2009). The experience of teaching can be another source of challenge which
Views about knowledge building
will help students reflect on their stance again. In our experience it is usually the K-12
students’ knowledge building work that help teachers to change their beliefs about the
feasibility of knowledge building (see Chai and Merry 2006). Given the deeply rooted
nature of beliefs highlighted above, it seems clear that a single stand-alone course on
knowledge building is unlikely to counter the effects of existing beliefs and views on one’s
own teaching and learning. These claims, however, remains to be further examined by
Taiwan, grants NSC96-2524-S-008-001 and NSC97-2511-S-004-001-MY2. We extend special thanks to the
students and teacher for their participation and for the research opportunities enabled by them. Our special
thanks also go to Florence R. Sullivan for editing the manuscript.
The preparation of this paper was supported in part by the National Science Council,
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