A major aspect of affinity spaces is the sharing of knowledge – but not in the traditional consumption model in which the learner is presented with a body of knowledge to commit to memory or master a set of skills. Scardamalia and Bereiter propose (2003) that knowledge building is “the production and continual improvements of ideas of value to a community, through means that increase the likelihood that what the community accomplishes will be greater than the sum of individual contributions and part of the broader cultural efforts” (p. 1370). To have environments that build knowledge, ideas need to be addresses as “objects of inquiry and improvement” (p. 1371) and be made available to the community to dissected, connected and discussed. Therefore a shared work space is needed along with an organized method of interactions with the ideas. It is through this interaction that the ideas themselves are improved, but also the participants are able to engage in the discussion as their own level and make individual connections to the ideas. Knowledge building is a form of constructivist learning, in which the learner constructs his or her own meaning of the ideas through connecting the new experiences to previous experiences. However, deep constructivism requires that “people are advancing the frontiers of knowledge in their community” (p. 1372). To do so, the learners must identify their own problems and goals, gather and report information, make conclusions and theories, and refine the ideas, which Scardamalia (2002) calls collective cognitive responsibility. In other words, all members of a group have an individual responsibility to contribute to the joint creation of knowledge, which is distributed across the group, not concentrated in a leader.
In a 2002 article, Scardamalia delineated the principles of knowledge building:
- Real ideas and authentic problems
- Improvable ideas
- Idea diversity
- Rise above (forming theories or principles)
- Epistemic agency
- Community knowledge, collective responsibility
- Democratizing knowledge
- Symmetric knowledge advancement
- Pervasive knowledge building
- Constructive uses of authoritative sources
- Knowledge building discourse
- Concurrent, embedded, and trans-formative assessment
Affinity spaces seem to be good places to see knowledge building in action. Since affinity spaces are created based on the shared interest in content, or ideas, the building of knowledge within this space is a primary goal, plus the goals or problems are defined by the people inhabiting the space. In addition, according to the characteristics of an affinity space, as defined by Gee, status and leadership is porous or constantly changing – novices and experts work side-by-side.
Scardamalia, M. (2002) Collective cognitive responsibility for the advancement of knowledge. In B. Smith (Ed.), Liberal education in a knowledge society (pp.67-98). Chicago: Open Court.
Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2003). Knowledge Building. In Encyclopedia of Education, (2nd ed. pp. 1370-1373). New York: Macmillan Reference, USA.