TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. März 2010

Sektion 7.9. Knowledge Production, Cultural Discourses, and Media
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair: Mark Rectanus (Iowa State University)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Knowledge and Expertise Redefined:
Consensus Sapientia
in the Digital Era and
the Modalities of Teaching and Learning

Tatjana Takševa Chorney (Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Canada) [BIO]

Email: tatjana.chorney@SMU.CA



One aspect of the change in the production and definition of knowledge powered by digital technologies involves the ‘mass amateurization’ of knowledge: the emergence and increasing availability of ‘collective wisdom’ and user-generated online content. A variety of facts and relevant, informed opinions, previously in the possession of experts/ teachers traditionally seen as sources of knowledge, can be accessed and created almost instantly by anyone with an Internet connection. The new forms of collective intelligence compel us to redefine knowledge and expertise, traditionally associated with the mastery of facts and other content, to align it more explicitly with process and method. The changing nature of knowledge has evident consequences for pedagogy, as learning can no longer be understood in terms of mastery and transmission of facts, “however broad, however privileged” (Levine), but rather in terms of active participation in various processes leading to the development of high-level cognitive skills, and the learning of methodologies.

The new modalities of teaching and learning based on a changing definition of knowledge can be conceptualized in terms of the scholarship of engagement and problem-based learning. The outcomes of these practices include the “ability to arrive at informed judgments,” define problems effectively, “gather and evaluate information related to those problems in complex, real-world contexts” (Duch, Groh and Allen), demonstrate intellectual agility, transform information into knowledge and knowledge into judgment and action, and ability to collaborate well with others from various backgrounds and disciplines. All of these outcomes are consonant with the expectations placed on 21st century learners in a complex, increasingly interconnected knowledge-based global society.


Social software and User-Generated Content

The magnitude of technological changes ushered in by the digital media in general, as well as particular recent developments, such as Web 2.0 technologies influence the means of knowledge creation, transmission and processing. The term Web 2.0 technologies, also known as ‘social software’ or ‘open source software,’ was introduced in 2004 to denote a second generation of Internet technologies and a new generation of Web applications providing an infrastructure for more dynamic user participation, social interaction and collaboration. Social software demonstrates the direction of future knowledge creation and dissemination. UNESCO is one global organization that sees the enormous potential of open source software and in whose promotion it is actively involved (UNESCO, p. 51). Among applications of this software are blogs, MySpace, Flickr, Odeo, Google Video, You Tube, and other communication tools, such as social bookmarking, peer-to-peer social networking, instant messaging, podcasting, etc. These applications make it easy for those members of the public previously considered readers, learners or the audience, to contribute ides and content, and become producers or creators in the process of creating forms of collective intelligence.

The platform in which the applications function, the World Wide Web, itself does not represent a “unified hierarchy of organized information, but a collective pool of knowledge, which we can access, view and reorganize in a variety of ways” (Rettberg, p. 4). Using simple interfaces, site users can “build shared collections of resources” such as links, photos, videos, documents, or other media with tools that are built to increase collaboration (The New Media, 2007). Many hobbyists and amateur scholars are engaged in data collection and field studies that make a significant contribution to many areas, and whose work is available on blogs and photostreams. Also, there are recent indications that even the paradigms underlying the business of newspaper publishing are changing under the influence of the Internet and Web 2.0 technologies. The current model “is being extended into a two-way communication” where readers can rebroadcast the “editorials and articles by superimposing their viewpoints and observations along with the original” (Babu 2007). 

Wiki projects are a good example of Web 2.0 applications. The term wiki refers to collaborative computer software used to create collaborative websites introduced to the world of digital media in 1994. Webpoedia defines it as “a collaborative website comprising of the perpetual collective work of many authors. Similar to a blog in structure and logic, a wiki allows anyone to edit, delete or modify content that has been placed in the website using a browser interface.” Wikipedia, the best known example of a wiki, is a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia established in 2001, written by anyone who wishes to contribute to it from around the world, and whose entries are being constantly revised and updated. Since its inception, Wikipedia has grown rapidly into one of the largest reference Web sites. There are more than 75,000 active contributors working on some 8,700,000 articles in more than 250 languages. At the end of 2007, there were 2,067,995 articles in English.

Two related applications, Wikibooks and Wikiuniversity, provide examples of collective intelligence in the service of education. Wikibooks, established in 2003, hosts collections of open-content textbooks, written collaboratively on the website. It is described as a community for collaborative writing of textbooks and manuals, and uniquely suited for use in classroom collaborative projects.(1) It provides a detailed set of guidelines and policies on how to create a class project for any discipline, and its aim is to create a comprehensive curriculum of textbooks for any level that are free and freely distributable, based on the open source development model.  It too uses wiki software and is based on the premise that any user can edit almost any page anytime. The Wikiuniversity, a Wikimedia Foundation beta project built on the open source software model officially begun in 2006, is a “center for the creation and use of free learning materials, and the provision of learning activities” with the aim of creating and hosting “a range of free content, multilingual learning materials/resources, for all age groups in all languages.”(2) All of the above applications enabled through Web 2.0 technologies encourage forms of ongoing epistemological revisionism and a new approach to knowledge in the widest sense, as a dynamic process inviting participation rather than a static collection of facts that requires transmission.


Web 2.0 Technologies and Traditional Models of Knowledge Creation and Dissemination

Since these models challenge traditional ideas of expertise and the exclusive control over knowledge creation and dissemination thought to vouchsafe the accuracy of information presented for public consumption, criticism of Wikipedia, and other applications of social software such as Slashdot or, brings into focus the concern with information accuracy and abuses of the open source format.(3) Indeed, alertness to the possibility that some of the information presented may be inaccurate or biased remains relevant. At the same time, abuses are possible, likely and often unavoidable in the context of any system or medium, which does not invalidate the premise behind the system itself. As the social software model is still relatively new, aspects of its operational function are evolving in response to new issues that come to light through use. The founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, refers to occasional abuses as “growing pains,” and points out that in order to prevent incidents in the future, anonymous users can no longer post entries (Terdiman, p. 1).  As the medium itself, the software, and its uses mature, its potential and actual benefits as well as issues related to its management will become clearer. While in Wikipedia’s early days the only rule for contributors was that there were no rules, now the site contains numerous rules and policy banners. The first manual on how to become a good editor of Wikipedia, Wikipedia: The missing manual (2008)by John Broughton, himself an editor of more than 15,000 Wikipedia entries, contains sections on how to handle controversial topics, incivility, entries displaying strong personal bias, or those subjects for which the editor has particularly strong feelings.

According to Wales, the premise behind Wikipedia is the striving for a “Neutral Point of View,” which means that “on any controversial topic, Wikipedia itself should not take no stand, but should instead fairly represent all sides of the debate…the process of objectivity is one of thoughtful dialogue and debate…we have no magical solution to the age-old problems of philosophy” (“Wikipedia,” pp. 1-2). This is not unlike the attitude held by traditional scholarly views on knowledge creation. Although changes to its site are immediately visible, there is a “degree of post-public moderation, based on the concept of peer-review,” which means that as soon as an entry is edited, a community of volunteers who monitor groups of entries based on their expertise, experience and interest, assess the changes and revert the entry to its original form if the changes are deemed inappropriate or inaccurate. In fact, Wikipedia is the least “democratic” of these applications, since its most energetic and devoted editors, who constitute a small percentage of all contributors, act as custodians of the posted and edited materials.(4) While in traditional scholarship the same process is finite and takes place semi-privately, among the author, editor and reviewers, here the peer-reviewing is ongoing and more public. The existence and transparency of competing versions of the truth are much more visible at all levels of this process than in the traditional, more closed format. Open software models invite conscious participation and involvement, and bring us face-to-face with a new paradigm for knowledge creation and transmission that challenge our accepted notions about the nature of knowledge.

The impact of the digital media on the process and shape of traditional scholarship and scholarly activity is also significant and ongoing. The increasing access to a wide variety of research materials and the ability to collaborate at a distance are challenging the processes of research, review, publication and tenure (The New Media, p.21). The proliferation of user-generated content combined with open-access content models changes the way we think about scholarship and publication, as well as the way these activities are conducted, and highlights the emergence of collective wisdom and knowledge creation as a social activity with much greater speed and scope than before. Enabled by Web 2.0 technologies, nontraditional forms of scholarship are emerging that call for new ways of evaluating and disseminating work. Many scholars are beginning to employ methods such as prepublication releases for increased review of their work, distribution through nontraditional channels (such as podcasts and blogs), dynamic revisualization of data and results, and new ways to conduct peer-review using online collaboration. 

Blogging scholars report, for example, that the forum for airing ideas and receiving comments on them from their colleagues helps them to refine their thinking and explore avenues they might otherwise have overlooked (Ibid., pp.21-22.). Writers and even some academic journals and magazines use shared editing tools such as Google Docs and wikis to create online books that allow readers to comment sometimes even at the paragraph level, opening up the process of writing to ongoing collaboration. There are growing examples of work that is expanding the boundaries of what has been known as scholarship traditionally. Emerging forms of book publication, including prepublication research releases, drafts shared online, the incorporation of data visualization tools into online publications and forms of custom publishing, are causing us to rethink the format of the printed book, as the content of printed matter is perceived as increasingly ephemeral, unable to communicate new insights as they arise, and largely unable to sustain a living community around concepts ‘entombed’ in the published material.(5)

Motivated by a desire to protect the functioning of pre-digital scholarly activity, academia has been slow to recognize and accept the exigencies of new scholarship. The changes are inevitable, however, and as more scholars and researchers make valuable and original contributions to their fields using these new forms, new methods for evaluating and recognizing those contributions as an accepted form of academic work are being developed.  


Net Generation Learners and Higher Education for the 21st Century

Because technologies are “not mere exterior aids but also interior transformations of consciousness” (Ong, p. 301), the influence of technologies on the creation of knowledge is significant. Key global trends concerning higher education and the nature of the student body point toward the implications that these new forms of collective intelligence, user-generated content and the changing nature of knowledge have for the world of higher education and the idea of the expert teacher. The environment of higher education is changing rapidly. There is an increased demand for distance education; the student body is changing as well--it is increasingly diverse; a growing number of students are working and commuting; the demand for instant access and interactive experiences, combined with an interdisciplinary approaches seem to be on the rise. As the emerging society of the 21st century is being characterized as the information or knowledge society, the new circumstances place new demands on both students and educators. They provide students with “wider perspectives and resources,” and place them in a “new and continually changing learning space” (The New Media, p. 3). In many cases, often resulting from the combination between increasingly cross-cultural contexts of instruction and the instantaneous access the Internet provides to a staggering amount of resources and information, educators find themselves in a situation where their students have knowledge they do not. Tasks that were difficult to do in the past, or that resulted in private collections on an individual computer can now be done with a few clicks of the mouse and shared with others. Interaction and collaboration are two concepts that are becoming increasingly relevant in discussions concerning higher education.

This is not surprising given that most students entering higher education today belong to the so called Net Generation, those who have never known life without digital media and the Internet. Studies of learning styles indicate some common characteristics among members of this group. They tend to “gravitate toward group activities” that promote and reinforce social interaction, and they prefer to learn and work in teams; they are “intuitive visual communicators” as they are more visually literate than previous generations; their visual-spatial skills are usually highly developed, and they possess an ability to move between the virtual and the physical instantaneously, which expands their literacy beyond text; in fact, because of the availability of visual media and their almost ubiquitous presence in daily life, their text literacy may be less developed than in students of previous generations (Oblinger and Oblinger, pp. 3-9). They are able to shift “attention rapidly from one task to another and may choose not to pay attention to things that don’t interest them”; they multitask, sometimes performing different activities simultaneously; they value connectivity and interactivity, and are able to “respond quickly and expect rapid responses in return”; they learn better through inductive discovery and by doing than by being told; they like to explore by themselves, or with their peers, and often find peers more credible than teachers when it comes to determining what is worth paying attention to (Ibid.). 73% of those polled say that they are more likely to use the Internet for research than the library, and two thirds indicated they know how to find valid information from the Web (Ibid.; cf. Prensky; Seely Brown; Frand). 

A significant finding from studies on Net Generation learners is that even though it is almost universally assumed that they will want to use IT heavily in their education, since they use it heavily in their daily lives, they tend not to think in terms of technology, but rather the activity that technology enables (Oblinger and Oblinger, p. 6). Knowledge and learning for them are participatory, associated with creativity and a social context involving multiple kinds of interaction. Digital resources enable this kind of experiential learning, in tune with Net Generation preferences, for whom “knowing depends on practice and participation” and who, rather than being told, “would rather construct their own learning, assembling information, tools and frameworks from a variety of sources” (Ibid, p. 7).

At the same time, however, although members of the Net Generation are comfortable using technology intuitively, their actual understanding of the technology or the resources they find is often shallow. In addition, from recent research into emerging digital differentiation it is becoming clear that adolescents’ use of the Internet depends on their socio-economic, cultural and cognitive resources (Peter & Valkenburg; Bonafidelli; Van Dijk 1999).  Adolescents with greater socio-economic, cognitive and cultural resources will use the Internet more frequently as both a source of information and a social medium, while those with fewer or lesser socio-economic, cognitive and cultural resources will use the Internet more frequently as an entertainment medium (Peter & Valkernburg, p. 297).  These findings indicate that while most adolescents do use the Internet, and often for so called ‘ubiquitous internetting’ (i.e., choosing to be online permanently with necessary technological devices), there are significant differences in use that have bearing on the role of the Internet in higher education and the future nature of teaching.

Although the digital media are a powerful presence in their lives, Net Gen adolescents require instruction that would harness their interest in and dependence on the media and capitalize on their learning and cognitive preferences. This instruction in each given area needs an integrated quality: it should be based on research techniques, evaluation of information sources and media literacy--understood in terms of critical autonomy in relation to all media-- but also on training in critical thinking in combination with informed citizenship, aesthetic appreciation and expression, social advocacy, self-esteem, and consumer competence (Yates, p. 2). This instruction could rely in full or in part on social software, and it could reveal the potential as well as the limitations of the new medium beyond information retrieval and entertainment, as a tool for knowledge creation in the context of education. It would begin where basic familiarity with standard software ends, and probe how those tools may be used to make new knowledge.(6) This kind of integrated instruction acquires special relevance in a global world, where there is an increasing emphasis on the knowledge economy and the idea of ‘information capital’ as being linked to one’s ability to position oneself in a global economy effectively, or exert influence in terms of meaningful socially-oriented action. Strategic skills are necessary to use the computer and network sources as the means for achieving particular goals (Van Dijk 2006, p. 228) including the creation and dissemination of knowledge.   


Net Generation Learners and Traditional Pedagogy

The aptitudes, attitudes, expectations and learning styles of the Net Generation reflect the environment in which they were raised, showing how culture and technology interact and shape one another. The environment in which they are growing up, at the same time, is one that is clearly different from that which existed when faculty and administrators were growing up (cf. Oblinger and Oblinger).  Many facets of higher education “have remained relatively untouched by time,” often to the detriment of functioning well in this new era (Clayton-Pedersen & O’Neill, p. 2). Even though new technologies and students’ learning orientations in general seem inherently suited to increase interaction and collaboration, and to enable engagement with knowledge as a collective social process of meaning-creation, researchers note that faculty, who are primary instructional planners, often lack the skills needed to function in environments where they are collaborative designers, rather than transmitters of knowledge, which is how their role has been defined traditionally (Campbell; Chorney 2007). Educational sectors have yet to develop a work ethos promoting pedagogical practice oriented toward the needs of Net Generation learners, and based on changing attitudes toward interaction, learning, and knowledge creation and dissemination (Wiles & Littlejohn; Campbell; Clayton-Pedersen & O’Neill).   

Many of the reasons for this gap are due to the fact that traditional academy and pedagogy are built on the idea of authority and control, supported and regulated by dominant bodies of knowledge and institutionalized academic structures (Chorney 2005; 2007). Teachers are traditionally viewed as figures with access to specialized knowledge, and as possessing the prerogative to identify not only what is important to learn and know, but also how it will be learned. Studies of professional teacher behavior and cognition have revealed a tendency toward routinization of thought and instruction, as well as avoidance of critical analyses of teaching routine. Many secondary teachers, for example, appear to equate much of teaching with classroom control, an observation consistent with empirical literature on preservice and beginning teachers (Kagan & Tippins, p. 109; Davis, Sumara, & Luce-Kapler). Many of these tendencies manifest themselves in the university classroom as well. The interaction that ensues in these learning environments is implicitly controlled by the same set of boundaries. Students often have the impression that the degree of dialogue or interaction built into this model assumes that there exists an implied hierarchy of answers and dialogue cues. Interaction in this context often implicitly appears as a demonstration of “knowledge already in place” (Chorney 2005, p. 52), rather than a participatory, collective process through which multiple solutions may be found and new knowledge may be developed.

It has been documented that in this environment, where hierarchies of knowledge, method and solution exist, students feel it is necessary to disguise potentially effective strategies so that the teacher believes the problem has been solved in the appropriate way (Seely-Brown, et. al., p.36). Assignments are designed as self-enclosed units, and problem-solving often rests on a linear logic, operating according to pre-determined, teacher-set rules. What is being communicated by the teacher in this situation, even without words, is that there is a preferred version of knowledge (the knowledge that the teacher is in possession of), that the number of ‘legitimate’ questions and their answers is delimited to its circumference, and that learning is circumscribed and measured by the students’ ability to assimilate the given knowledge according to the given parameters.  

Although the goal of all instruction is to encourage problem-solving and critical thinking, traditional teaching practice “tends to disregard most of the inventive heuristic that students bring to the classroom,” implicitly devaluing fragile individual interpretive approaches and the whole process of inventive problem-solving (Seely Brown, et. al., 1989, p. 36; Chorney, 2007, pp. 262-3). Typical problem-solving taught in schools often tends to be situation specific with well-defined problem parameters that lead to predetermined outcomes with one correct answer. In these situations, it is often the procedures required to solve that problem that are the focus of instruction. Unfortunately, students skilled in this method are not adequately prepared when they encounter problems in which they need to transfer their learning to new domains, a skill required to function effectively in global society (cf. Reich).

According to the assumptions that underlie this traditional model, the concept of knowledge remains implicitly understood as a more or less ‘closed’ set of ideas or facts, in contrast to the participatory, open and socially-constructed models of knowledge to which Net Generation learners, with their reliance on technology, the digital media and varieties of social software are increasingly used to. Meaning in this context is seen as a set of predetermined ‘nuggets’ of knowledge transferred from expert teacher in possession of it and in the privileged position of lecturer (the sage on the stage), to students who lack it, rather than something that they arrive at through a process of co-learning and the collective work. When knowledge is framed as something that one “receives, holds and then releases, the message is that all knowledge is preexisting” and the world is static and unchanging. This is a set of assumptions that stand in opposition to an “active responsiveness to a fluid, constantly changing world” required of future global citizens (Ostrow).

Critics of the new media and the collective intelligence it promotes often cite the difference between knowledge and information as a way to assert the superiority of traditional models of knowledge creation. While the distinction between information and knowledge remains relevant, it is also important to reflect on the relationship between the two. On the one hand, information is the ‘raw data’ which is the basic material for generating knowledge. This in itself is a complex process in that “the reflective nature of the judgment” needed to turn information into knowledge involves more than a “simple verification of facts” (UNESCO, p. 47).  The process involves mastery of cognitive, critical and theoretical skills that help us “orient ourselves in thought” rather than being drowned in a flood of information. On the other hand, the new media also enable and accelerate the process by which information becomes the product of an operation by which it turns into raw data. This operation points to the fact that knowledge too can be and is increasingly being shaped as information, though the so called “informationalization of knowledge.” (cf. UNESCO, p. 47; Chow). This is a process by which knowledge acquires a material dimension that makes it easier to process, transmit, manage and consume globally; this also means that knowledge is thus commoditized, which contrasts the traditional sense of value attached to the process of knowledge acquisition, dissemination and preservation, as aspects of knowledge that are not reducible to particular practical ends. Especially for scholars in the humanities, the values that “might once have been more firmly subscribed to—metanarratives of truth and culture, of which scholars were deemed custodians, have become thoroughly relativized” through this process, to the point where experts in the humanities now suffer from a “crisis of rationale” (Chow, p. 4).

At the same time, however, the process whereby knowledge is transformed into information allows knowledge to become the means for producing new knowledge–knowledge production always being based on the level of existent knowledge and the transformation of information (UNESCO).  In terms of the changing demands of teaching and learning, the complex relationship between knowledge and information in the digital age compels us not to stop teaching content or the skills needed to evaluate and produce accurate information, but to begin teaching in a systematic and explicit way the cognitive, critical and practical tools enabling the transformation of information into knowledge, and of knowledge into information that can then serve as the basis for the generation of new knowledge. A reconceptualization of disciplinary and subject-based knowledge is necessary to enable an engagement with thought and cognitive processes that would make possible cross-disciplinary, cross-referential approaches to knowledge creation; rather than remaining concerned with the perpetuation of a particular kind of conceptual arrangement that may have been traditionally dominant in a particular discipline, we should focus our energies on the “intelligent constructions of possible movements and passages among different conceptual arrangements” (Chow, p. 6).   


Knowledge and Expertise Redefined   

The degree granting structures and the narrow disciplinary orientation of graduate programs, where professional values are most firmly shaped, have encouraged a narrow view of knowledge and expertise. The doctoral dissertation, for example, is thought of as original research, usually on an increasingly isolated, narrow topic disconnected from the concerns of the world outside the university or even the world of other disciplines; consequential assertions are often footnoted, and creative integrative thinking often discouraged (Boyer 1990, p. 68). The result of this orientation is a subject-based conception of knowledge as a body of information to be transmitted, and an understanding of expertise based on content mastery: to be an expert is “to know a lot of content; it is to have ‘covered’ much in one’s learning; typically, one has a great deal of prepositional knowledge that … (such and such is the case)” (Margetson, p. 44).  Additionally, in the changing context and the future of education for a global world, this traditional conception appears too preoccupied with knowledge as “a product of inquiry processes, rather than the processes in relation to the products” (Ibid., 49).

In his Report for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Scholarship Reconsidered (1997), Ernest Boyer notes the real danger that graduate students, who are the future experts, will “become specialists without perspective, that they will have technical competence but lack larger insight,” and calls for graduate education that is more attentive to the usefulness and social consequences of knowledge (p. 69). While many students should continue to a specialized field of study and do original research, all students should increasingly “be encouraged to work across the specialties” in order to achieve an integrative perspective that would allow them to “connect thought and action” and place their work in a larger context (Ibid., p. 69). Students and faculty should be challenged to see and articulate the larger consequences of their work, reflect on its social consequences, and help reconnect the academy to society. As the traditional categories of human knowledge have become more and more discreet, the need for collaboration, interdisciplinary insight and integrative perspective increases exponentially with the complexities of a global world.

Although there is a widespread tendency to construct, conceive of and practice expertise based on these and similar narrow definitions, it is useful to recall that experts also habitually engage in a number of process-based research and cognitive activities, which can be said to constitute the hidden, invisible aspects of expertise harder to articulate, such as critical thinking and classifying, evaluating, or perceiving connections among apparently disparate concepts and information.  Shifting the emphasis in the definition of expertise in such a way as to place emphasis on these aspects would allow an alternative understanding of the concept. So redefined, expertise would denote the “ability to make sound judgments as to what may be problematic about a situation, to identify the most important problems, and to know how to go about solving or at least ameliorating them” (Margetson, p. 44). Approaching issues in a way that would develop these processes in context “presupposes propositional knowledge” but does not equate expertise with it (Ibid.). Future emphasis in instruction should be placed explicitly on these processes as the basis of a new approach to teaching. 

Thus, social software and the rapidly emerging tools promoting collective intelligence, along with the learning and cognitive preferences of the Net Generation, reveal a tension between, on the one hand, scholarship, knowledge and expertise understood traditionally and often identified in terms of a narrow specialization, possession of facts and methods, and increasingly ubiquitous forms of consensus sapientium, collaboration and interdisciplinarity, on the other. Even though the new technologies offer great potential for both interaction and collaboration, there are still significant challenges in trying to find ways to implement new techniques in the service of education that would reflect the changing nature of knowledge.

Perceiving a discrepancy between the shifting paradigms of knowledge generation and transmission, the changing nature of the student body, and the increasingly interconnected complex world on the one hand, and traditional higher education on the other, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (2002) recently called for a dramatic reorganization of higher education. The learning that students need in the 21st century is defined primarily in terms of open-ended, transferable cognitive processes. The outcome of their education should equip them to understand and employ quantitative and qualitative analysis to solve problems; interpret and evaluate information from a variety of sources; understand and work within complex systems and with diverse groups; demonstrate intellectual agility and the ability to manage change; transform information into knowledge and knowledge into judgment and action (p. xi).  The outcomes of this new reformed education assume the connection between the world of higher education and the public outside it. Taking into consideration the changes that are affecting higher education today under the impact of the new technologies, the national panel of experts was charged with identifying the hallmarks of a 21st century graduate. On the basis of their study, the report recommends new emphasis be placed on educating students to become “intentional learners.” To become intentional learners students need to develop

self-awareness about the reason for study, the learning process itself, and how education is used. Intentional learners are integrative thinkers who can see connections in seemingly disparate information and draw on a wide range of knowledge to make decisions. They adapt the skills learned in one situation to new problems encountered in another—in a classroom, the workplace, their communities, and their personal lives. As a result, intentional learners succeed even when the instability is the only constant (pp. 21-22).

In conjunction with the new forms of collective intelligence, instant access to various forms of knowledge and information, and the changing nature and expectations of students and higher education, these developments urge us to redefine knowledge, traditionally associated with mastery of facts and other content, to align it more explicitly with process and method. Knowledge thus conceived in light of possibilities and developments enabled by the new technologies, becomes more clearly associated with a collective, collaborative process of meaning creation, and less with an entity in the exclusive possession of experts. The goal of learning itself can no longer be understood simply in terms of mastery and transmission of facts, but rather in terms of participation in processes and the learning of methodologies. Social theories of learning that emerged in the 1970s with the work of Vigotsky (1978), and were later developed by Bruner (1986) and Jonassen (1999) acquire new relevance and applicability in this new context. They reveal that cognitive development is profoundly influenced by social interaction, and that learning is a product of the connection between people and the cultural context in which they interact in a shared experience (Crawford, 1996). The activity in which knowledge is developed and used is nether separable nor ancillary to what is learned, but an integral part of it, as both learning and cognition are fundamentally situated and embedded in the context in which they take place (Seely-Brown, pp. 32-33; Bonk & Reynolds; Hao). A number of experiential learning theories, as well as those that advocate ‘situated learning,’ define learning in terms that show affinity with the kinds of engagement and knowledge creation enabled by social software and the preferences of the Net Generation: it is a participatory, open-ended process in which knowledge is created through the transformation of the learner’s experience and existent knowledge in interaction with their learning community.


Scholarship of Engagement as a General Approach to Higher Education in the 21st Century

Thus newly redefined knowledge and expertise dictate new approaches to teaching and learning with a clear emphasis on processes. The new modalities of teaching and learning based on a changing definition of knowledge and expertise can be conceptualized in terms of scholarship of engagement and problem-based learning, two interrelated, process-oriented practices, the outcomes of which could begin to address the needs of contemporary students, and the changing nature of knowledge.  

The phrase ‘scholarship of engagement’ was coined by Ernest Boyer in the nineties as a way of challenging higher education to move beyond an exclusive focus on traditional and narrowly defined research and expertise as the only legitimate avenue to further knowledge. Anticipating the changes in the nature of knowledge and expertise, Boyer proposed five interrelated dimensions of scholarships: discovery, integration, application, teaching and engagement:

These dimensions of scholarship should not be thought of so much as being organized around content-oriented “blocks of knowledge” as around “modes of thinking.”  The premise behind the scholarship of engagement is that the role of the educator shifts from one who transfers knowledge from self to students, to one who participates in the creation of knowledge on the basis of a scholarly agenda and who integrates community and as many social contexts outside the classroom into the process of knowledge creation. In this context, community should be understood in a broad sense, referring to audiences external to the university or college campus, who are part of a collaborative process contributing to the public good, as well as experts from other disciplines. In this new paradigm, educators become guides or facilitators of the learners’ navigation through networks of existing meaning and knowledge to create new ones. They systematically encourage students to see and pursue the connections between thought and action. They acknowledge the validity of collective intelligence, show its uses in the process of knowledge construction and dissemination, encourage learners to make connections between various kinds of available knowledges, to evaluate and integrate previous with new knowledge, transfer it from one context to another and seek solutions that draw on a number of relevant disciplines. This kind of participation and engagement can take many forms: it can be “incidental and passive, or it can be regular and active”; it can be “one-directional or interactive, formal or informal” but in all forms it is based on a dynamic process that includes collaboration between different individuals and sources inside or external to the academy across “the range of actions involved in scholarship: from setting goals, and selecting and applying means and methods, to reflection and dissemination” (Cox, p. 2).  In all cases, the process also encourages and honors collective intelligence, and the involvement of persons or sources of knowledge outside the academy in “shaping the questions, choosing and executing the means” by which knowledge is created and disseminated.


Problem-Based Learning as a Practical Application of the Scholarship of Engagement

One method through which the scholarship of engagement can be practiced and implemented into any curriculum is Problem-Based Learning (PBL). The principle behind PBL is older than formal education itself, that is, the notion that learning is initiated by a problem, query or puzzle that the learner wants to solve. In this problem-based approach learners are encouraged to identify and research the concepts and principles they need to know to work though through those problems. Although the roots of problem based learning can be traced back to inquiry training, John Dewey, and apprenticeships, recent evolution of the pedagogy was introduced in 1969 at McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences, Canada (Schmidt, Neufeld The structure developed by this university now serves as the basis of the curriculum at many secondary, post-secondary, and graduate schools including Harvard Medical School (Jones). In fact, over 80% of medical schools use the problem-based learning methodology to teach students about clinical cases, either real or hypothetical (Vernon & Blake; Bridges & Hallinger). Although PBL is practiced most commonly in the context of medical education, as an approach to learning rather than a particular technique, it can be applied to any area either as the only method of instruction or in combination with traditional methods, depending on the level of intellectual maturity of students and their motivation. Forms of social software, in fact, encourage PBL as an instructional strategy, and could be incorporated into the context of any learning unit. The defining characteristics of PBL are that learning is driven by challenging, open-ended problems, students work in small, permanent collaborative groups, and teachers take on the role as "facilitators" of learning. The acquisition and structuring of knowledge in PBL is thought to work through the following cognitive effects:

In the context of PBL, knowledge is seen as a tool for thinking and for enabling learners to participate in a meaningful activity collaboratively. The ability to solve problems is more than just accumulating knowledge and rules; it is the development of flexible, cognitive strategies that help analyze unanticipated, ill-structured situations to produce meaningful solutions. As such, PBL appears well suited to the learning and cognitive preferences of the Net Generation, as well as to the development of intentional learners in the context of a global world.

The learning cycle in PBL begins with a problem (case, media clip, scholarly study/article). If it is not immediately evident, the instructor may encourage students to see how the problem relates to either wider social perspective or their own lives as full individuals, as well as to help clear any misunderstandings concerning the problem. In groups, students then organize their ides and existing knowledge related to the problem and try to define the broad nature of the problem. Through discussion, they are continually encouraged to articulate and pose so called “learning issues,” that is, aspects of the problem they do not understand, which are recorded by the group. These issues are then ranked by importance, and it is decided which of those will be pursued by the entire group and which can be assigned for individuals who would later teach them to the group. Students and instructor discuss what resources, possibly from different disciplines and other sources will be needed to research the learning issues, and where to find them. When students reconvene, they explore the learning issues by integrating new knowledge into the context of the problem; they are encouraged to connect new concepts to the old, continuing to define learning issues as they progress through the problem. The extent of guidance by the instructor could vary, and could include brief statements of objectives for various topics or issues raised, lists of possible references, or self-assessment quizzes on the content of the topics raised by the problems (Swartz, p. 68). 

Given their increasing availability, as well as the cognitive preferences of learners of the Net Generation, instructors may decide to rely on Web 2.0 technologies to facilitate this process, or to incorporate them into traditional instruction. Many of these technologies provide the opportunity for shared knowledge construction, meta-cognitive reflection, and for leaning as a process based on social interaction and engagement (Pettenati, Cigognoni, Due to their multimedia capacity and Internet connectivity, as well as their basic function to enable collaboration and allow for user participation in content creation and editing, Wikis and other content management tools, like blogs, are effective in promoting the scholarship of engagement and problem-based learning, and can be integrated into the assessment scheme. Studies show, for example, that requiring students to compose weekly blogs results in these being used as “locales for online dialogue where new knowledge is created” (Hall & Davison p. 4).  In addition, they can require students to comment on the “tools and techniques they had identified as a result of engaging with the contributions of other students” (Ibid.). They can replace weekly classroom meetings in distance education, or be used in addition to meetings in person.(7)  

Students are thus encouraged and allowed to participate in learning as an ongoing collective and social process, in which there will always be learning issues to be explored, even for the teacher (Duch, Groh & Allen; Engel). PBL encourages students’ active learning through posing their own questions and seeking respective answers. It also encourages integrated and cumulative learning as well as learning for understanding. Learning take places across a variety of subjects or disciplines concurrently and in a context that can be applied in real-life situations. It is achieved through a sequence of learning experiences that are progressively more complex and relevant to students’ goals. Rather than learning for recall of isolated facts, students learn for understanding through opportunities to reflect on their educational experience, and through frequent feedback linked with opportunities to apply what has been learned (Engel, p. 25).

 Assessment in the context of these approaches is conducted in a number of ways that are compatible with traditional models of evaluation. Tests can require students to apply their knowledge to the solution of real but unfamiliar problems, or to commonly occurring problem-solving situation; short essays can require students to integrate their insights into a systematic framework; even multiple choice tests can be designed to prompt students to apply their knowledge in problem-solving situations. Content itself acquires a different meaning as it is not only “what” but also “how”. Content can be information, as well as interpretation of information by experts, novices and students. It can be in the form of research reports, arguments, journalistic accounts and essays, represented through text, graphics and other multimedia format.

Scholarship of engagement and problem-based learning do not deny the importance of content; instead they “place content in an active perspective which renders it important” (Margetson, p. 50; cf. Swanson, Case & van der Vleuten; Gossman, Stewart,; ChanLin & Chan; Otting & Zwaal).  In teaching and learning, the emphasis is placed on identifying problems, finding out what kind of propositional knowledge is needed in order for a problem to be solved or managed, and a greater integration of knowing ‘what’ with knowing ‘how.’ In this way, the scholarship of engagement and problem-based learning reflect the changing nature of knowledge as a complex, dynamic result of responses by communities of persons to problems they perceive in their world, and they embrace a process of collective discovery (cf. Margetson, pp. 45, 49)



What distinguishes the practice of the scholarship of engagement and problem based learning and reconciles scholars-educators to the emergent forms of collective knowledge and wisdom is the flexible teaching model according to which the teacher is not only a practitioner of knowledge but also a learner, modeling the social construction of knowledge. In this kind of learning environment the instructor provides opportunities for learning in context and for scaffolding as a method of solving issues. This means creating learning opportunities for learning to occur through dialogue with peers, experts and amateur scholars. For example, while traditional formal education and research place too much emphasis on collection, scaffolding can be used instead to encourage “continuous sorting and sifting as a part of a ‘puzzling’ process—the combining of new information with previous understanding” to construct new knowledge. Through this process, learners themselves participate in a social and collaborative construction of knowledge by adding on, extending and refining their existing knowledge, while acquiring a “more astute view of whatever truth matters for the question at hand” (McKenzie; Chorney 2007, p. 267). Once knowledge is redefined from being understood as the possession of facts and correct methodology passed one-directionally from expert to non-expert, to an active and flexible process of “meaning negotiation” in which multiple ways of arriving at different ‘knowledges’ exist, are validated and can lead to the same desired learning goals, the nature and design of evaluation of student learning will shift.

This inquiry-based, process-oriented form of instruction provides the forum in which the skills of 21st century learners can be developed in conjunction with technology which is an integral part of their lives, but also an increasing part of everyday life for most people in developed countries. It does not suggest either that expertise or specialized research will become obsolete, or that universities and graduate programs should become centers for social service or political action. The growing emphasis on interdisciplinary research, global online collaborations, as well as the expansive variety of information (data and facts) easily accessible to all though the digital media, do not pose a threat to particular specialized expertise if that quality is aligned with more explicit and purposeful articulation of those invisible aspects of expertise based on various cognitive processes.  At the core of higher education must remain “disciplined inquiry and critical thought” (Boyer 1990, p. 69).  At the same time, the changing nature of knowledge, the increasing demands of a global knowledge economy powered by the new technologies, and the changing nature of the student body place a new kind of responsibility on educators to think about knowledge in collective, interdisciplinary ways, to reflect on the social consequences of their own work, to frame questions of inquiry and evidence so as to make them understandable to students and to serious lay readers, and to use the tools that allow them to do so (cf. Ibid.). The outcomes of this practice include the “ability to arrive at informed judgments,” define problems effectively, “gather and evaluate information related to those problems and develop solutions,” as well as to use those solutions to “address specific problems in complex, real-world” contexts (Duch, Groh and Allen 2001). There has been no better time to come to terms with the collective and interdisciplinary nature of knowledge creation promoted by the concept of social software, to practice the scholarship of engagement and to embrace problem-based learning, whether as the basis for a complete curriculum or in addition to traditional models of instruction.





1 NOTE: The author gratefully acknowledges the research support provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Information about the wikibooks project can be found at:
2 Information about wikiuniversity can be found at:
3 See for example, Daniel Terdiman, “Growing pains for Wikipedia”(December 5, 2005), Charles Cooper, “Wikipedia and the nature of truth” (December 2, 2005) from News.Com at (accessed on May 15, 2008), and “Wikipedia: the dawn of democratic media” (November 23, 2005) from A Policy Dialogue Platform, eGov Monitor at: on May 15, 2008).
4 See Chris Wilson, “The Wisdom of Chaperons: Digg, Wikipedia and the Myth of the Web 2.0 Democracy,” Slate (Feb. 22, 2008), accessible at: (accessed on May 15, 2008), and Tony Dokoupil, “Revenge of the Experts,” Newsweek (Mar 6, 2008), accessible at: (accessed on May 15, 2008).  I am grateful to Heather Sanderson for bringing these materials to my attention.
5 The New Media Consortium, The Horizon Report (2007), p. 22. Accessible at: Accessed on May 13, 2008. For examples of work that is pushing the boundaries of traditional scholarship and illustrates one aspect of collective knowledge enabled by the digital media, see two networked books,  GAM3R 7H30RY, by McKenzie Wark, accessible at:, and The Django Book by Adrian Holovaty and Jacob Kaplan Moss, accessible at: For a consortium of scholars promoting and exploring new forms of scholarship see NINES, accessible at:; for academic journals and magazines using evolving scholarly peer-reviews, see Poetess Archive at:; EnterText, at, and Academic Commons, at For further examples, see The Horizon Report.
6  A systematic application of these principles of instruction in relation to the new technologies is being practiced in the emerging field of the Digital Humanities. For more information on the Digital Humanities, see the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations and its publications, accessible at: (accessed on May 15, 2008)
7 For extensive accounts of the educational uses of wikis and other Web 2.0 technologies, see S. Mader, Using wiki in education (2008, published with the Creative Commons  Attribution at and S. Mader, Wikipatterns (Toronto: Wiley, 2007; accessed on May 13, 2008).

7.9. Knowledge Production, Cultural Discourses, and Media

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Tatjana Takševa Chorney: Knowledge and Expertise Redefined: Consensus Sapientia in the Digital Era and Reframing the Modalities of Teaching and Learning - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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