A sequence for the Knowledge Building Pedagogy

Author: Gutiérrez-Braojos, Calixto 


In my opinion, there are two especially attractive peculiarities of the pedagogy of KB within its pedagogical principles (Scardamalia, 2002). One of them is the continuous search for the improvement of ideas. The second is the effort of all agents to increase cognitive collective responsibility. This pedagogy is interested in generating a knowledge product that is distributed equitably (to the greatest extent possible) among all members and not just a few. In the sense that all students, and not only those with the most facilities, build and master knowledge, this pedagogy represents a boost for the educational quality in any educational level compared to many others in the Spanish context.

Although the Knowledge Building was developed at the end of the last century (e.g. Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994, 2006; Bereiter, 2002), in the Spanish context it can be considered an innovative pedagogy of a more sociocoinstructivist nature than the majority of approaches that are usually carried out in my educational system. Because of its novelty, its implementation requires certain qualities. When students are new to KB pedagogy, a successful implementation requires a plan for students to understand and assume responsibility (e.g. Zhang, et al. 2009). In particular, this is true in my educational context (see Gutiérrez-Braojos, Montejo, Ma, Chen, Scardamalia, & Bereiter, 2019). In this particular text, I will explain how I implement the Knowledge Building in my classes. This could give insights to others who work in contexts similar to the one I will explain later. I would also suggest and would greatly appreciate if each reader could send me feedback or suggestions for improving the implementation and evaluation of KB in my classes. To do this, there are a couple of links at the end of the text. Each one directs you to a short questionnaire where you can send feedback.

Context and configuration of the subject

The subject I teach deals with the participatory action research which is taught in the second year of the Social Education degree at the University of Granada. This subject consists of approximately 60 students and lasts 16 weeks. Students attend three hours of class each week. All students share two hours of classes one day a week. These students are divided into 3 broad groups that usually share an hour of weekly work in seminars. In my subject I consider that each one of these seminars forms a “working community”, and therefore, they share an area to build knowledge in the Knowledge Forum platform. In turn, to facilitate the work organized during the seminars, the students of the seminars organize small work teams composed of approximately 4-6 students. This makes it easier for students to coordinate working hours outside of classroom hours.

Sequence for the construction of Knowledge

Taking advantage of my stays with the IKIT group of the University of Toronto, and my experiences applying the Knowledge Building pedagogy in the context of higher education at the University of Granada, Spain KBP, I have developed a sequence to guide students in the construction of knowledge (figure 1). This refers to a spiral process that focuses on improving ideas and the community, as well as the ability to distribute responsibility within the collective and help them work with ideas. For this, the sequence emphasizes the role of reflexive collective evaluation as the engine of the shared construction of knowledge in the community (Gutiérrez-Braojos, unpublished, 2019; Gutierrez-Braojos, Rodriguez-Chirino & Fernández-Cano, in press).

Figure 1. Note: Figure elaborated by Gutiérrez-Braojos, C. & Gómez-Vaello, J. Figure is based on Gutiérrez-Braojos, (2019), and Gutiérrez-Braojos et al., (in press)

Step 0. Previous actions in contexts where students are novice.

Before starting with the main subject, students receive two or three introductory sessions about the pedagogical principles of the Knowledge Building and management of the Knowledge Forum. These sessions insist on the importance of staying committed  to the constructive discourse and improving collective ideas. Students are taught that it is not exclusively about individually learning a content, but about building a knowledge that everyone shares. Therefore, they are told that it is important that they not only think of themselves, but of the knowledge needs of their peers and the collective. This will increase the chances for everyone to learn, and participate in the construction of knowledge, not only the students which are initially considered more capable. This is important in my context since students usually have a very individual and reproductive conception, which is characterized by a way of thinking based on beliefs. In my experience, I noticed that this pedagogy counteracts these individual practices, and encourages them to think and experience other modes of collective knowledge work practices. In my opinion, it is a pedagogy where educational praxis acquires more social value by constructing an education that values the collective as much as the particular needs of each of the students, promoting that no one is left off-hook, and that no one delegates the cognitive load on their peers.

Step 1. Introduction to a problem

The sequence to facilitate knowledge construction begins with the introduction to a problem, i.e., when the teacher invites the class group to build knowledge on a subject, topic or unit of work. The teacher encourages (and / or helps) the class group to ask one or several open and general questions about the subject. These questions offer the opportunity to understand the initial knowledge, set goals and indicators of achievement in the construction of a knowledge shared by all, as well as spark interest and define the commitment of knowledge construction. In my experience, three interdependent general goals tend to coexist in this specific subject: i) build a body of knowledge that explains participatory action research; ii) carry out the first phase of an action investigation: the initial evaluation of the context and needs (due to the duration of the subject, i.e., 16 weeks); iii) prepare a report on the study they have carried out.

In this text I focus on the first goal and I explain how the didactic sequence is carried out to facilitate the achievement of the first goal for students. At the same time, the students carry out the second goal, and as we reach the end of the subject, they begin to work towards achieving the third goal.

Step 2. Research actions

The next step guides students towards collaborative and individual researching actions regarding the material needed to achieve these goals. This research helps the students build, share and improve a representation of the relevant knowledge in the subject. These work activities or tasks happen in three modalities: face-to-face, non-face-to-face, and online work.

In the classroom, the teacher divides the 2 hour class into two parts with a different purpose for each.

The first part has a duration of approximately 45 minutes and its purpose is to advance on the legitimate knowledge in the field of AI, ie, the knowledge that has given rise to AI as we understand it today, and thus respecting the agenda established in the guide of the subject that was approved at the University of Granada. Although in my university these classes are usually understood by students as master classes, in our session the teacher or some student shares their AI knowledge, leaving the door open to discussions on the subject. These discussions can be directed by either the teacher or a student with some help from the teacher. This is justified since they will be social educators in the future, and these practices help them to develop their skills.

The second part has a duration of 1 hour and 15 minutes and is aimed at facilitating opportunities to work with ideas and achieve pre-established goals. Small work groups face collaborative and participatory tasks that make it easier for them to access, understand and discuss knowledge about the subject matter obtained from legitimate sources (resources of what is discussed in class that are hosted in the Knowledge Forum). These collaborative tasks are open to variations coming from the students as long as they justifiably adapt to their needs. For example, in the case of participatory action research, students face a practical case in which the challenge is to build a resource to facilitate learning in an agile way for future practitioners without knowledge or experience of AI, with the purpose of participating in the improvement process.

During the two-hour sessions, small groups have total freedom to communicate and form teams with the other classmates with whom they share the same seminar. Although the organization and monitoring functions of the community tend to occur mainly during the seminar time depending on the needs of each particular community (a community in this subject refers to students who share a seminar and collaborate closely with the construction of knowledge to achieve the pre-established goals).

In addition to this research phase, students must work offline and online in non-presential hours to reach the agreed goals. To facilitate collaborative work, the student members of each community have an open virtual space available in the Knowledge Forum, which they can use to discus ideas, issues, and achievements. The online discussion should be constructive in the sense that it should help answer the initial questions of collective or individual knowledge, or go further by discovering new questions or emerging ideas. As the discourse progresses on the KF platform, the students select the contributions they consider may be helpful so that the community subsequently builds a contribution of advanced synthesis or rise above, justifying the value of those ideas. For this they use the tool promising ideas available in the KF. Normally the categories that students agree to select and classify these ideas are: i) new idea; ii) full and clear explanation; iii) useful artifact; iv) interesting reading.

Part 3. Rise Above

The third step involves building an advanced synthesis (rise above). In this phase, the students organize themselves in their communities during the seminar time in order to organize the ideas they had selected which had value for the community, and elaborate an advanced synthesis. Thus, this synthesis should be based on ideas with value for the community collected during the previous step and be justified in terms of their impact and value in the community. In other words, I teach my students that advanced synthesis must be based on previous elements that are ideas with value for the community.

Step 4. Collective reflexive evaluation

The fourth step involves a reflexive evaluation. Students organize themselves in the large work group to carry out a reflexive evaluation of the synthesis developed in the previous phase. This implies several reflections: i) assess the quality of the ideas provided in terms of their relevance to the community (for example, students may question whether advanced ideas are sufficient to build knowledge about the unit of work, or if many of the ideas involved repeat information), ii) determining whether there are unresolved doubts or insufficiently developed ideas, and identifying possible new emerging ideas, iii) Assessment of the collective’s commitment to the construction of ideas, iv) assessment of teacher support. The broad group shares its assessments and possible improvements in the knowledge creation process carried out. Here, the teacher or an external expert has the opportunity to contribute by offering feedback on the work through an assessment rubric.

Step 5. Individual reflexive evaluation

At the end of the fourth phase, it could be interesting to invite student to reflect personally on: i) their commitment and real contribution to the advancement of the community; ii) ideas that the community (their peers) have contributed. This reflection can be elaborated in the individual virtual space offered by the Knowledge Forum platform. Although, the latter depends on the workload of the students. In my context it is important that students do not perceive an overload of work to maintain the commitment to the construction of knowledge, and provide high quality ideas. The work in my subject, together with that of others, entails many hours of face-to-face and non-face-to-face work. Therefore, in my case I usually only recommend it, but I insist more on the importance of the quality of the collective product, and therefore the reflexive collective evaluation.

Step 6. Emerging goals

The previous step closes a cycle. Students would then begin an emerging cycle, which can lead to resolving emerging issues with a higher level of abstraction, new questions, or responding to ideas that were insufficiently resolved. This is why the sequence is a spiral process that, likewise, is consistent with the procedure of the subject matter that works, i.e., AI.


At this time, we are working on the effects of this sequence. We have carry out two studies in higher education (subject: Action Research in Social Education). One of them (n=55 students) results indicates that students perceive that use this sequence generates greater confidence in the development of knowledge and greater levels of regulation shared among the members (Gutiérrez-Braojos, Chirino, & Fernandez-Cano, in press, Routledge).

In another study with this sequence we find that students perceive that with this sequence it generates greater confidence in the development of knowledge and perceives a greater degree of regulation shared among the members.

 One of the tests was a surprise exam on the content of the subject worked to know the acquisition of knowledge. The results are promising. Only one student failed the exam (n ≈ 150 students). I only got these results on this occasion during my teaching experience. Other years the results are a greater number of students who fail in the knowledge acquisition test. We In any case, we are currently conducting additional analyzes focusing on the knowledge building and CCR, and not so much in the individual acquisition of knowledge In any case, these results show that a pedagogy aimed at the collective construction of knowledge does not prevent individual learning, but quite the opposite.

Feedback through questionnaires.

Thank you for reading A sequence for the construction of knowledge. Below are two links. I would greatly appreciate if you could take some time on either or both questionnaires. This will allow me to have feedback from which to reflect and make improvements in the implementation of KB.

The first link takes you to suggestions for improvements to the didactic sequence: https://forms.gle/ughdXF239zmKmFQVA

In the second link, you are invited to answer another questionnaire, which is intended towards identifying quality indicators of an evaluation software that facilitates the reflective evaluation of students within the implementation of the explained KB sequence. We would be very grateful if you could answer it. If you need more information you can find it in this link: https://forms.gle/bUzTq8HEfVhNZqms7