2010 Knowledge Building Summer Institute: New Assessments and Environments for Knowledge Building. August 3-6, 2010 - Toronto, Canada

New Environments and Assessments for Knowledge Building:
Large Size Pharmacy Classrooms

Debra Sibbald


This study investigates the potential for Knowledge Building in large size Pharmacy classrooms. Knowledge Building is the social creation and continual improvement of ideas (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003). The pedagogy and technology that underlie it are based on a complex system involving 12 interdependent principles. This research examines principle-based classroom designs, targeting two Knowledge Building principles--epistemic agency and collective responsibility for community knowledge. Successive design changes were implemented to a self-care course for undergraduate Pharmacy students (n = 183), using case study methodology.

The goal underlying design changes was to develop a more dynamic classroom environment involving all students and empowering them to take charge of knowledge advancement at high cognitive levels, through assuming greater agency and collective responsibility for their knowledge advances. Design features that were incorporated into class procedures included class panels to discuss cases, student-generated self- assessment examination questions, and online discussion views in a virtual learning community, Knowledge Forum.

Surveys, student comments, self-assessments, field notes, online discourse and course exam scores were used to determine effects of principle-based design changes. Results, taken as a whole, indicate that each new design feature contributed to advances with no negative effects uncovered. Raters blind to authorship of student- versus instructor-generated exam questions could not distinguish between them. Analysis of student commentary indicated advances in line with the broad network of Knowledge Building principles, as well as those specifically targeted in design improvements. Advances in performance on exams, surveys, and in student discourse further contributed to the overall picture of positive effects.

Design strategies appropriate for large classroom implementation are shown to facilitate a shift from learning as an exclusively individual enterprise, to the creation of a Knowledge Building Community with students assuming levels of responsibility and agency normally assumed by the teacher.
Link to draft paper