The structure of the global economy today is quite different compared to the way it was in the industrial era. Instead of having an economic system rooted in the manufacture and delivery of physical goods, the economy of leading nations today shows greater dependence on the manufacture and delivery of information products and services. The prosperity of the global economy has become contingent upon the capacity of its citizens to innovate and create new knowledge (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2006).
There is a recognized need for new forms of learning and instruction to help prepare students for a 21st century “knowledge economy.” Internet and “Web 2.0” technologies facilitate peer collaboration, knowledge mobilization, and the aggregation of ideas, rendering industrial-aged, top-down, “one-size-fits-all” models of schooling outmoded and counterproductive (Tapscott & Williams, 2012). However, despite the increased availability of Internet technologies in schools and the growing call for new forms of peer collaboration, pedagogical approaches have remained relatively unchanged, maintaining an emphasis on lectures and content-based tests (Tapscott & Williams, 2012).
Several research programs have investigated new forms of collaborative learning where students work together as a knowledge community to create and advance knowledge. For example, Scardamalia and Bereiter (1999, 2006) have advanced a theoretical perspective called “Knowledge Building,” where students use a technology platform called “Knowledge Forum” to engage in sustained knowledge creation and idea improvement. Other researchers in the field of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) have explored the use of online discussion tools (Jeong & Hmelo Silver, 2010), wiki-based environments (Slotta & Najafi, 2012) and handheld data collection activities (Metcalf et al., 2010). Another approach that has emerged is the “flipped-classroom,” where students learn course content at home, typically through online videos, and then apply this content within engaging inquiry and problem solving activities during class time.
One of the greatest constraints to bringing collaborative approaches into mainstream classrooms is that of assessment. Speaking as a secondary school teacher, I recognize that collaboration between students could serve to increase the levels of knowledge mobility and exchange within my classroom. However, it would be a great challenge for me to integrate these methods effectively into lesson designs while ensuring active participation by all students and, importantly, measurable progress on the learning expectations. Knowledge community approaches represent a fundamental shift away from the focus on individual students as learners (i.e. potentially in competition with their peers) to ones in which community knowledge advancement is favoured over individual gains. Here, students must take collective responsibility for progress within the community, combining their own interests, experiences and expertise with those of their peers to achieve both individual and collective goals (Scardamalia, 2002).
Creating new knowledge entails breaking free from current practices and exploring new paradigms for achievement. For example, as Scardamalia et al. (2012) describe, “Instead of using [assessment] to narrow the gap between present performance and some targeted outcome, it would be used to increase the distance between present performance and what has gone on before, opening the door for exceeding targeted outcomes” (p. 233). Or, to use an aphorism of Sir Ken Robinson, “It’s not about standardizing, but about raising standards – and that’s something different” (Robinson, 2006).