Knowledge Building

Since computers were first introduced to classrooms, educators have explored various methods for using computers to access, process, and create information. Computer literacy, an instructional model built on the assumption that one who knew the parts and functions of components could create useful products was discredited as was the extensive use of drill-and-practice software in many communities. In recent years, technology integration, a model in which information and computer technology (ICT) becomes a tool for learning, has been encouraged, so has teaching via computers in which ICT is used but it plays no role in how learners construct knowledge. Replacing slides created using 35mm film with slides created on presentation software and using a document camera and projector to display an image of a student’s homework so it can be a model solution in math class are familiar examples of teaching via technology. In these 20th century models, there was a separation between the technology and that which was being learned; students learned about content through ICT

Scarmelia and Bereiter (2006) contrasted 20th century ICT-supported instruction (in which ICT was assumed to be equivalent to print-based technologies) to knowledge building. For Scarmelia and Bereiter, ICT can support knowledge building as a social endeavor in which ideas are improved, and the community comes to more clear understanding of ideas together rather than each individual learning facts. Also, knowledge is built through discourse that creates meaning from authoritative information. Through knowledge building, learners build knowledge of the curriculum as opposed to building knowledge about the curriculum.

In classrooms designed for knowledge building, the ICT provides capacity that is directly connected to the social interaction and information that leads to knowledge. Modern ICT is a social technology as much as it is an information technology, so it can become a venue for all to connect and collaborate in the social interactions. ICT also provides a permanent, yet editable, source of information; one can quickly and easily suggest improvements to ideas, expand and link ideas, and save all versions of their ideas for continued review and refinement later. Digital information has an ephemeral permanence (it is dynamic, yet each iteration can be saved) that is not available when using non-ICT based information, and this forms the basis for continual improvement of understanding that is the foundation of knowledge building.


Scarmelia, Marlene, and Carl Bereiter. 2006. “Knowledge Building: Theory, Pedagogy, and Technology. In The Cambridge Handbook of Learning Science, edited by R. Keith Sawyer, 97-115. New York: Cambridge University Press.