Instructional Science

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 533–561 | Cite as

Supporting communities of learners in the elementary classroom: the common knowledge learning environment

  • Cresencia Fong
  • James D. Slotta


We report on a multi-year design study of a technology environment called Common Knowledge (CK), designed to support learning communities in K-12 classrooms. Students represent their ideas in the form of notes, add their ideas to a collective knowledge base, and use this knowledge base as a resource for their subsequent inquiries. CK supports teachers’ orchestration of inquiry in blended learning environments, scaffolding the learning community as it progresses through a complex inquiry script. A community knowledge base is dynamically visualized on the classroom’s interactive whiteboard, serving as a persistent visual reference that allows teachers to gauge the progress of the class, identify patterns, gaps or conflicts, and engage the students in extemporaneous or planned discussions of their ideas. We present enactments of two design iterations in which CK was integrated within broader elementary science units where the curriculum was guided by a theoretical framework called Knowledge Community and Inquiry (KCI). For each version, we analyzed the role of CK in scaffolding student inquiry, with a focus on teachers’ facilitation of productive whole-class discussions. Analysis of teachers’ orchestration patterns revealed a “3R” orchestration cycle (Reflect–Refocus–Release) that teachers used repeatedly within a single class session, to guide reflective community discussion and refocus students’ inquiry. We also identified four distinct teacher discourse orientations, finding that these were invoked in different proportions depending on the orchestrational needs of the inquiry script. Synthesizing our findings, we discuss the role of CK within a classroom activity system for learning communities.


Orchestration Scripting Discourse Collective inquiry Collaboration Blended learning Technology-enhanced learning 



This research was made possible through the generous support of educators, administrators, students, and parents at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School; OISE/University of Toronto; cross-lab collaborations between the ENCORE Lab at OISE/University of Toronto and the Learning Technologies Group at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant No. 410-2011-0474), as well as from the US National Science Foundation (Grant No. 1324977). We are grateful to Instructional Science reviewers and guest editors Dani Ben-Zvi, Katerine Bielaczyc, and Yotam Hod for careful review.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Department, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)University of TorontoTorontoCanada

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