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Using Knowledge Building to Support Deep Learning and the Development of 21st Century Skills

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Computers in Education Division - General Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1323.1 - 23.1323.21



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Paper Authors


Glenn W Ellis Smith College

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Dr. Glenn Ellis is a professor of Engineering at Smith College who teaches courses in engineering science and methods for teaching science and engineering. He received his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering and Operations Research from Princeton University. The winner of numerous teaching awards, Dr. Ellis received the 2007 U.S. Professor of the Year Award for Baccalaureate Colleges from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. His research focuses on creating K-16 learning environments that support the growth of learners’ imaginations and their capacity for engaging in collaborative knowledge work.

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Yanning Yu Northwestern University

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Using Knowledge Building to Support Deep Learning and the Development of 21st Century SkillsThere is a growing consensus that engineering education needs to change to meet the changingdemands on the profession. While engineering graduates must be knowledgeable in traditionalcontent areas and competent in applying standard problem-solving procedures, they also must belifelong learners and innovators who can create multifaceted designs involving complicatedinterrelationships including human and environmental factors. Knowledge building, asdeveloped by Bereiter and Scardamalia, is a potentially transformative approach to engineeringeducation that will help prepare students to meet these demands. In knowledge building studentsparticipate in an interactive on-line discourse that takes place in a virtual workspace specificallydesigned to support collaboration and idea improvement. Research has shown that such anapproach not only supports deep learning of concepts, but also supports the development of whatare often referred to as 21st-century skills—such as collaboration, information literacy, life-longlearning/metacognition, etc. Although knowledge building has been utilized internationally in avariety of academic levels and settings, its potential for undergraduate engineering education isstill largely unexplored.This paper will present the application of knowledge building in a sophomore-level introductorymechanics course. In this class 44 students engaged in knowledge building based upon theirengineering mechanics questions and design challenges that arose from investigating the 2011tornado that struck Springfield, MA. Included in the paper will be a description of key elementsof the pedagogical approach and learning environment—including the use of narrative utilizingcognitive tools and student observation to create emotional engagement; on-line and off-lineapproaches to formulating knowledge building questions; initiating and supporting on-line andoff-line student metadiscourse; the impact of the knowledge building discourse on other elementsof the class; and student approaches for “rise aboves” (i.e. pulling together ideas from thediscourse to form higher-level conceptual artifacts).Assessment data to be included in the paper will include pre- and post-student surveys; apreparation for future learning (PFL) assessment; quantitative measures from sequesteredproblem solving (SPS) assessments; quantitative measures describing the on-line studentdiscourse (such as contribution and social network measures, semantic overlap and vocabularygrowth); and a qualitative description of idea growth in the discourse. Finally, based upon theassessment data, best pedagogical practices for initiating and sustaining a knowledge buildingdiscourse will be presented and discussed.

Ellis, G. W., & Yu, Y. (2013, June), Using Knowledge Building to Support Deep Learning and the Development of 21st Century Skills Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22708

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