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Social Construction of Knowledge
The idea that knowledge can be socially constructed is typically associated
with social constructivism, but Piaget also acknowledged the value of social
interactions for knowledge construction. (Smith, Dockrell & Tomlinson, 1997).
This idea can be implemented in a number of ways. Students can collaborate to
solve problems, or they can interact with more skilled learners, or they may share
responsibility for learning and understanding. Situated cognition and distributed
cognition are two examples of how instruction might facilitate the social
construction of knowledge.
Situated cognition. Situated cognition can take many forms and names
including cognitive apprenticeships, situated learning, and legitimate peripheral
participation (Hendricks, 2001). In general, situated cognition approaches claim
that both knowledge and learning cannot be separated from the contexts in which
they are learned and applied (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989; Fenwick, 2000;
Greeno, 1991; Kirshner & Whitson, 1997; Lave, 1993). Learning is the process of 48 enculturation during which learners acquire the concepts, ideas, theories, beliefs,
values, and appropriate actions required by members of a community or practice
(Lauzon, 1999; Lave & Wenger, 1991). For example, students learn the
knowledge required of scientists by becoming a member of a scientific
An important implication of situated cognition approaches is that if
knowledge is to be usable, it needs to be acquired through authentic learning
activities (Basden, 2001). Authentic learning activities involve an emphasis on
higher-level thinking skills, substantive conversation among community
members, social support for learning, an emphasis on depth of knowledge, and
connections to the world outside the classroom (Gross & Kientz, 1999; Newmann & Wehlage, 1993). Typically, authentic learning activities are similar
to, or in some cases, identical to “real-world” situations that require the use of
what is being learned. For example, Griffin (1995) found that students were better
able to execute map-reading skills if instruction included map-reading practice on
the actual land that corresponded to the map, rather than as a set of skills taught
only within the classroom.
According to Brown, Collins & Duguid (1989), one way to provide more
authentic learning situations is to use cognitive apprenticeship models of teaching.
A cognitive apprenticeship involves having students develop their concepts
through authentic (realistic) applications of their concepts while collaborating 49 with more skilled learners. For example, students might learn science by
collaborating with scientists on research projects, as in the following example
from Rob Mackenzie’s geology class.
⇒ “To help my students better visualize contour maps, I have them work
with college students and professors from the local university as they
work to produce a contour map of the university....
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- Spring '08