Designing Knowledge Building Communities in Secondary Schools

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Otago
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2012
Project end date: 
June 2014
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Kwok-Wing Lai
Research team members: 
Ann Trewern, University of Otago; Ken Pullar, OtagoNet
Research partners: 
Darren Sudlow, CantaNet; Joel Dodd, TaraNet/Coastal Taranaki School; Trevor Storr, CantaNet/Waimate High School; Conor Bolton, Volcanics; Carolyn Bennett, FarNet; Pauline Meinung, DunedinNet/Kavanagh College; Sharon Kelly, OtagoNet/Fiordland College; Madeline Campbell, WestNet/Westland High School; Tamara Yuill Proctor, GCSN/Avonside Girls School; Leeana Duncan, Bayfield High School

Project Description

In 2012-2013 sixteen senior secondary classes participated in this study, with eight of them being distance classes. Approximately 220 Year 11-13 students and 8 teachers took part in this study.


This project aimed at designing and evaluating a computer-supported knowledge building community in senior secondary classes. We would like to find out:

  • The roles of teachers and the strategies they used to support students’ advancement of knowledge.
  • The effects of the knowledge building community on the change of students’ domain knowledge, collaborative learning skills, skills of learning how to learn, and dispositions as a lifelong knowledge builder.
  • How to develop a knowledge building culture in secondary schools.

Information and communication technology has the potential to support students to acquire the metacognitive, problem solving, collaborative, and learning how to learn skills that are required to work with and create knowledge in the knowledge society. One of the very few of the technology-supported learning environments that is based on a well-designed pedagogical model is knowledge building communities. The goal of knowledge building is “the production and continual improvement of ideas of value to a community” (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003, p.1370) and is based on the premise that all students can create authentic knowledge work and advance communal knowledge in their classes, similar to what research and science communities do. In a knowledge building community, students use Knowledge Forum, a Web-based networking software system designed to support knowledge building discussions with a set of scaffolding tools. Knowledge building communities have been systematically researched internationally and have demonstrated success in enhancing students’ knowledge building competency.

Why is this research important?

New Zealand is shifting from an industrial society to a knowledge society and there is an urgent need to develop young people’s competency to work creatively and innovatively with knowledge. This research has generated evidence of how this could be effectively done in secondary schools.


Teachers used the knowledge building principles and Knowledge Forum to teach selected topics. Data were collected from:

  • Class and online observations.
  • Online discussion notes and student portfolios
  • Teachers and students interviews.
  • Student questionnaires
  • Participation data.
  • The SPOCK instrument developed by Shell et al (2005) - data on collaborative learning, knowledge building, self-regulation and questioning


Content analysis on the discussion notes, document analysis, thematic analysis of the interview transcripts, and statistical analyses on the student questionnaires and SPOCK data were conducted.

Project Contact

Professor Kwok-Wing Lai
Director, Centre for Distance Education and Learning Technologies
University of Otago College of Education