Building Knowledge and Assessing Learning

It strikes me that three things converged on the same professional question over that past month or so.

In a previous blog post, I mentioned how we at MPI are engaged in the act of developing more purposefully conversations with students about the criteria used for assessing learning. We call this “co-constructing criteria”. Since I’ve talked about this before, I don’t want to go into detail, but I do want to point out that it implies there is a big difference between assessment and evaluation – assessment in the service of learning is a conversation with a student about learning targets, level of completion, and mapping out a pathway to get there. It draws the student and the teacher onto the same side of the table to ask the question “How will WE know when you have reached a sufficient level of proficiency or reason mastery?”

Over the past two months I’ve been taking my data from online conversations, coding them and now I am making meaning of the data in order to finish my dissertation about knowledge building in online communities. One of the key aspects of my research is trying to more closely look at knowledge building principles as a means to evaluate the value of an online community of practice (CoP). (Etienne Wenger defines a CoP as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”).

In “A Brief History of Knowledge Building” by Scardamalia and Bereiter, they state:

“Knowledge building has several characteristics not shared by constructivist learning in general, although common to organizational knowledge building. Two of these are:

Intentionality. Most of learning is unconscious, and a constructivist view of learning does not alter this fact. However, people engaged in knowledge building know they are doing it and advances are purposeful.

Community Knowledge. Learning is a personal matter, but knowledge building is done for the benefit of the community.”

Scardamalia, M. and C. Bereiter (2010). “A brief history of knowledge building.” Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology 36(1).

I believe one of the tangible benefits of good project-based learning is a sense of both purposeful knowledge building in our community, and intentionality in how we address looking at our work as a part of our community to strengthen our own personal learning.

Deeper Learning Network:
In the #dlmooc Deeper Learning MOOC last week, the topic was on assessment. Much of the conversation focused on assessment in the service of learning – that is, assessment that happens during the learning as a means to give students feedback, direction, additional strategies to support their building of knowledge – which is happening in conjunction with their peers in their teacher as a conversation. This to me has much of the same hallmarks as knowledge building mentioned above. In the end, there can be different assessments at the end to evaluate learning, but the act of formative assessment is an application of knowledge building principles and it’s exciting to see how it is the most significant step in the learning process.

“How do you know that?” In my training back in the 1990s on the Modeling approach to learning science (, that question of how do you know something became a critical one for us to unpack students’ thinking. To me, it ties together these ideas of knowledge building, and assessment in the service of learning that seem to have converged in the last couple of weeks.

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