Kimmerle, Joachim, Johannes Moskaliuk, and Ulrike Cress.  “Individual Learning and Collaborative Knowledge Building with Shared Digital Artifacts.”  International Journal of Human and Social Sciences vol. 9, no. 4.  2009.

  • The authors begin by noting that web 2.0 tools like wikis, blogs, podcasts, folksonomies, file sharing, and virtual worlds have changed the web from a small to large-scale user generated information resource.  This means that individual users have the opportunity to participate in the collective development of knowledge and also benefit from said knowledge.
  • Learning in this new environment is self-initiated and self-regulated.  Individuals participate in communities of knowledge, contributing their efforts to a new set of knowledge processes wherein large numbers of individuals work jointly on shared digital artifacts.
  • The central question of the authors is how much new knowledge is actually generated from these process of distributed social knowledge production.  To answer this question, the authors try to discover the conditions under which new knowledge generation occurs.  Utilizing Luhmann’s work on systems theory and Piaget’s model of equilibriation, the authors investigate Wikipedia as a site of cognitive learning at the individual level as well as social learning (collaborative knowledge building) at the level of the system [1. Or, I might say, the level of the discourse community.].
  • Quick primer on Luhmann’s system theory:  Whatever isn’t part of the system is part of the environment.  The system is comprised of operations which make the boundary line between system and environment.  These operations are, in human systems, comprised of communication.  At the level of the individual, cognitive systems operate via consciousness and cognitive processes.  Systems view environments as complex and messy, using binary code (yes/no inclusions) to keep the system closed.  Emergence occurs when portions of the system at higher levels observe new operations that aren’t observable at lower/different levels.  This is made possible through reciprocal action (synergy).  Knowledge building in digital environments occurs in social systems wherein written communication is mediated by digital artifacts.  These systems are structurally coupled with the cognitive system of its users.
  • Quick primer on Piaget’s theory of Equilibration: Cognitive structures provide structure to individual understandings and simplify the stimuli that interfere with sense of self from the complex environment.  Knowledge itself is a construction of one’s environment or an interpretation of one’s experience of the environment using individual cognitive schemas (651).  This is how the process works:  individual experience with environment leads to cognitive dissonance or perturbation (“equilibration”).  Adaptation of the preexisting cognitive schema results in either assimilation (giving the environmental factor a place in existing schemas) or accommodation (adapting to the environmental factor by changing the cognitive schema) of the new experience.
  • Cress and Kimmerle have integrated these two approaches in the “integrative framework model.”  Here’s an example:  in the case of wikis, the social system is composed of the content of the wiki and the associated community while the cognitive system is a person’s declarative knowledge in semantic memory.  Through structural coupling (the complex affectation or perturbation of two systems who are plastic and mutually adapt over time) the individual participating on the wiki and the social system of the wiki itself both transform.  Processes of accommodation (transformation of the wiki message and individual cognitive schema) as well as assimilation (buttressing of the number or quantity of support for existing systems/schema) both function on the wiki to demonstrate structural coupling.  The only way to discover the “new knowledge” generated through the process of structural coupling at the level of system as well as cognition/consciousness is by considering both systems simultaneously – demonstrating emergent knowledge patterns that appear in both.  The entire process described above is autopoetic, self-becoming.

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