Successful pedagogies for inquiry and knowledge building


KB & KB Principles

Knowledge building (KB) activities pervade in progressive organizations such as scientific communities and corporate businesses in knowledge-based societies. In essence, members of these organizations work together collaboratively to advance the knowledge of the community or the organization as a whole.

Educationally, it is an approach to learning that takes seriously the goal to prepare learners for the knowledge society. Students as members in a knowledge building group or community actively engage in brainstorming ideas, identifying problems, researching for solutions and evidence, debating and discussing with peers. These activities have a clear goal of co-creating new perspectives and advancing knowledge beyond the limit of an individual.

Numerous research findings show that KB induces motivation to learning, improves learners’ higher order thinking e.g. critical thinking, problem-solving, and fosters personal development e.g. communication skills, interpersonal skills and lifelong learning attitudes. Even young children are found to be capable of engaging in KB work given that they are provided with appropriate opportunities and support. Some emerging research evidence also indicates that KB improves the aspects of academic performance formally measured by school and public exams. On the other hand, it is to be noted that progress in knowledge building does not happen naturally without facilitations.

Based upon extensive research and education development work with teachers and students, Scardamalia (2002) put forward 12 knowledge building principles as defining characteristics of knowledge building. Law & Wong (2003) investigated the the growth and development in knowledge building at the team level based on these 12 principles and found a developmental trajectory in the data analyzed. Further analysis suggested a strong tendency for advances in the achievement of the knowledge building characteristics to happen in clusters, and 4 levels of developmental stages in knowledge building at the group level was identified.

Stages in the development of a KB Community 12 KB Principles (Scardamalia, 2002) Checkpoints for Teachers (How far have students achieve?) Indicators for Relevant KB Principles Found in KB Discourse
Open exploration and sharing of ideas
  • Community knowledge, collective responsibility (team building and collective benefit)
  • Democratizing knowledge (catering for individual difference)
  • Idea diversity (multiple-perspectives)
  • Are students participating in the online discourse?
  • Are there students who made zero contribution?
  • Build on each other’s notes (agreeing, asking and answering questions, offering opinions)
  • Establish a culture of accepting individual difference; assess evenness of contributions
  • Link and expand ideas to make productive use of diversity
Progressive inquiry orientation
  • Epistemic agency (active learning and ownership)
  • Establish a culture of accepting individual difference; assess evenness of contributions
  • Link and expand ideas to make productive use of diversity
  • Constructive use of authoritative sources (use of information)
  • Are students participating in the online discourse?
  • Can students raise questions that stimulate idea improvement?
  • What are the key content themes of the discussion threads?
  • Which notes have potential for further development?
  • Which aspect of the discussion can be further improved?
  • Clarify areas of disagreement, shared problems/gaps in understanding
  • Research for updated knowledge in the topic; make critical use of authoritative sources to support one’s arguments
  • Negotiate a fit between personal ideas and ideas of others
  • Deal with problems of goal setting, motivation, evaluation and long-range planning by themselves
Socio-metacognitive orientation
  • Real ideas, authentic problems (relevant to daily life)
  • Rise above (deepening)
  • Embedded and transformative assessment (assessment for learning)
  • Can students effectively reflect on their learning progress and thus enhance learning?
  • Are students deepening their discussion through summarizing and categorizing big ideas?
  • Identify problems/aspects that concern one’s natural curiosity – usually very different from textbook problems and puzzles
  • Work with diversity, complexity and messiness, summarize and evaluate what have learnt in order to achieve new syntheses, formulate higher level of problems and solutions, giving rise above current best practices
  • Review progress regularly by reflecting upon individual and group learning through writing reflection journals or developing learning portfolios
A communal “habit of mind”
  • Symmetric knowledge advancement (win-win situation)
  • Pervasive knowledge building (different subjects/ inside-outside school)
  • Is there any advancement in my students over 1 or 2 years of KB activities, in terms of question framing, evaluating and summarizing ideas, as reflected from their contributions to the online discourse?
  • Exchange and share expertise among groups, co-construct knowledge across teams
  • Transfer KB way of thinking and acting (higher order thinking and social skills) in a collaborative manner to other subjects or situations in and out of school


Law, N. (2005). Assessing Learning Outcomes in CSCL Settings. Proceedings of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning 2005, Taipei, Taiwan.

Scardamalia, M. (2002) Collective Cognitive Responsibility for the Advancement of Knowledge. B.Simth (Ed.) Liberal Education in a Knowledge Society. Chicago, Open Court.