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The Gulf from Understanding to Creation

What percentage of the media you use to learn are created by people like you? Not that many.

Here is a fundamental flaw with collaborative knowledge building. We often understand things through artifacts that we could not ourselves create. A fourth grader learns science through a textbook designed for fourth graders. Was it a fourth grader who wrote that book? Of course not. Could the fourth grader write that book? No, again. Would a science book written by a fourth grader be useful to a fourth grader? I doubt it. So, with respect to fourth grade science books, the gulf from understanding to creation is great and makes collaborative knowledge building impossible. In Kafai's ISDP classroom, fourth graders create fraction tutorials for third graders. While I believe this is a wonderful activity for the fourth graders, the software they create can't really be used by third graders. Creating effective computer learning environments is a challenge for experienced educators and programmers. Fourth graders just can't do it. Again, the gulf is large and the environment can't be an effective collaborative knowledge building environment.

Those examples demonstrate how collaborative knowledge building in these media fail to work. Learners can't bridge the gulf between understanding and creation. Here are two examples of collaborative knowledge building that do work. Georgia Tech students are able to have an on-line discussion about an open-ended topic, such as a reading in an English composition class. The students can read each others post and get some useful understanding from them. Here, collaborative knowledge building works; students learn from each other. So, for university students, discussion boards is a medium that allows learners to bridge the gulf from understanding to creation, thereby allowing collaborative knowledge building. As an academic, I read journal and conference articles. I also publish journal and conference articles. For the research communities they support, journals are a useful collaborative knowledge building medium, since they allow their members to bridge the gulf from understanding to creation.

If research communities could only communicate via feature-length movies instead of journals, I'm sure the research community would suffer tremendously. So, the key to collaborative knowledge building is communicating via media that bridge the gulf from understanding to creation.