Laverdiere Essay

Caitlin Laverdiere
October 14, 2009
KM Essay 1

Paradigm shift: How interdisciplinarity and technological innovation have transformed the management of student knowledge

The rise of the digital age – and more specifically, the evolution of the Internet – has opened the doors to new and innovative ways of managing knowledge and fostering a collaborative exchange of ideas and information. Web 2.0 defies the passive disconnectedness of the original World Wide Web system. The advent of interactive social networking sites, collaborative wikis, and dynamic information exchange have revolutionized our conceptions of knowledge creation, integration, and exchange. Interdisciplinary frameworks have become the norm for problem solving and social integration. How, then, has the push for interdisciplinary inquiry and technological integration changed the way student knowledge is managed in the university environment? The advent and increased usability of learning technologies – in conjunction with the greater reliance on interdisciplinary inquiry and collaboration – have broadened the contexts and means through which student knowledge can be created, shared, and integrated within their education.

Knowledge is an active and ever-evolving process of information synthesis. It incorporates our beliefs, attitudes, ideas, and lived experiences to produce a unique perception and pattern of thought. In the university, students are continuously introduced to new theories, ideas, concepts, and methodologies. We must ingest this new information and make it relevant to our selves and our learning through integration and interpretation. However, we are limited – especially as undergraduates – in our ability to assimilate all of the information we are presented with and to produce truly cutting-edge ideas. As such, discussion and collaboration with peers and faculty is imperative; it facilitates an exchange of ideas that transcends our individual limitations and results in the creation and dispersion of new knowledge.

Academic disciplines often define knowledge differently, and employ dissimilar methods to extract and distribute knowledge within their field. This can make it exceedingly difficult to merge disciplinary approaches when undertaking a research project or comparative study. However, the different modes of thinking – just as a collaborative discussion within a single discipline – can shed new light on an issue and produce inventive, new ways of looking at existing material. The development of knowledge and understanding that results from cross-disciplinary study has fuelled the shift towards interdisciplinary inquiry within university settings, amongst students and professors alike. Veronica Boix Mansilla and Elizabeth Dawes Duraising, collaborators on an interdisciplinary studies project at Harvard University, state in an article on the assessment of students’ interdisciplinary work: “Interdisciplinarity is increasingly the hallmark of contemporary knowledge production and professional life” (215). Our ability to fully engage in the world as effective and contributing citizens – and to engage in scholarly conversation – requires adopting multiple disciplines into the framework of our education. Mansilla and Duraising assert that through “interdisciplinary work, students advance their understanding by moving to a new conceptual model, explanation, insight, or solution” (225). By merging disciplines, students combine differing insights to produce innovative solutions that may not have been plausible within the exclusive framework of one discipline. This expands the realm through which students can extract knowledge and implement it in creative ways. Interdisciplinary study requires students to reach beyond the mere accumulation of information and to “identify disciplinary blind spots, consider opportunities for integration, navigate methodological differences, and choose among competing units of analysis” (Mansilla and Duraising 228). Thus, knowledge – as manifested in texts, discussions, systematic analysis, and experimental observation – becomes increasingly complex and diverse with multiple disciplinary perspectives and through collaborative exchange.

In conjunction with the heightened emphasis on interdisciplinary study as a means of “contemporary knowledge production” (Mansilla and Duraising 215), the increased implementation and reliance on technology within the academic environment has changed previous notions of knowledge management. The vast resources available on the Internet fuel the acquisition of knowledge. Books, scholarly journals, encyclopedias, and other research mediums are available at the click of a mouse. Additionally, Web 2.0 offers endless opportunities for increased collaboration and communication in regards to educational, professional, and social development. In their article, “Online Personal Learning Environments,” Helen Barrett and Nathan Garrett state, “The architecture of interaction, that is the foundation of Web 2.0, can…facilitate a pedagogy of interaction” (146). The classroom environment is transformed through the incorporation of learning technologies, and consequently, the creation, integration, and distribution of knowledge follows suit.

Learning technologies take many forms. Online learning systems, such as Blackboard and Scholar, manage students’ course information, assignments, schedules, and deadlines. Additionally, these sites provide discussion boards, messaging programs, and wikis as means of communication and to encourage collaboration on class assignments. In an article on the role of e-portfolios and integrative learning, George Mason University professor, Darren Cambridge, claims, “The rapid pace of change that accompanies advanced information and communication technology…requires workers who are able to quickly learn new skills, collaborate with a rapidly changing cast of others, and make independent decisions, and find creative solutions” (250). The ability to interact and engage successfully with others through digital technology is not only an increasingly important skill in within the university, but carries over into the corporate world as well, marking a technological societal-shift that transcends institutional bounds.

Learning technologies fuel the extraction of information and thus the discovery and creation of new knowledge. In Meaningful Learning Using Technology, Elizabeth Ashburn and Robert Floden outline the basic effects of integrating learning technologies in education: “representation, information, transformation, and collaboration – explain the impetus for using technology in education. With technology, students can do things that were previously impossible and learn content that was inaccessible to earlier generations of students” (147). Learning technologies, especially wikis and Web 2.0 technologies that foster communication, encourage knowledge exchange between students, which in turn fosters the collaborative design of innovative ideas and furthered understanding. The extraction of individual knowledge, and reciprocal sharing, promotes creativity. Thus, while these technologies present new platforms through which to manage knowledge, they in turn open new portals through which students can expand and integrate their knowledge with others. This process of knowledge management leads to more efficient and complex thinking and understanding of the learning process, which is especially relevant for students engaged in interdisciplinary inquiry. In an article from the International Journal of Learning Technology titled “The Web 2.0 way of learning with technologies,” the authors address the benefits of Web 2.0 technologies in education: “Through community interaction, more ideas are created than would have been created if the individuals making up the community had worked on their own…[and] leads to both quantitatively more and more specifically targeted content and functionalities for a wider variety of niches ” (98). Technological mediums that offer peer/faculty communication and easily accessible information – while simultaneously encouraging multilayered synthesis and reflection, such as e-portfolios – enable students to select, assess, and integrate multidisciplinary ideas in a more direct and engaging manner.

Furthermore, learning technologies afford the opportunity to implement and distribute knowledge between individuals and across disciplines easily and effectively. In his article, “Valid knowledge: the economy and the academy,” Peter John Williams states that: “a significant property of eLearning…is its scalability…many Internet-based eLearning courses have theoretically unlimited capacities” (515). Online classes, wikis, e-portfolios, and other online learning systems present new modes of approaching classroom instruction and student interaction that were not available to earlier generations of learners. These new modes of learning and understanding encourage active integration and collaboration in the process of knowledge creation and transfer. Knowledge is distributed between students and demonstrated to their instructors through innovative mediums. In an interdisciplinary context, the distribution and presentation of knowledge can take the form of a specialized combination of ideas or a nuanced analysis of multidisciplinary findings. Web 2.0 technologies can complement this process through the integration of wikis, e-portfolios, and other learning-centered technology.

Knowledge management has been revolutionized through the adoption and integration of Web 2.0 based learning technologies into the university environment. Heightened collaboration, coupled with an extensive selection of resources, advances and promotes an active exchange of knowledge and ideas. This process of knowledge creation and transfer transcends disciplinary boundaries. The implementation of learning technologies provides a medium for more engaging interdisciplinary study and information synthesis. While the paradigm shift in knowledge management has changed the approach to learning and research within the realm of higher education, it has fuelled collaboration and incited the birth of new, inventive ideas through an ever-evolving and diverse knowledge and information exchange.

Works Cited

Ashburn, Elizabeth A., and Robert E. Floden. Meaningful Learning Using Technology: What
Educators Need to Know and Do. New York: Teachers College, 2006. Print.

Barrett, Helen C. and Nathan Garrett. “Online personal learning environments: structuring
electronic portfolios for lifelong and life-wide learning.” On The Horizon 17.2 (2009): 142-152. Print.

Cambridge, Darren. “Layering networked and symphonic selves: A critical role for
e-portfolios in employability through integrative learning.” Campus-Wide Information Systems 25.4 (2008): 244-262. Print.

Rollett, Herwig, et al. “The Web 2.0 way of learning with technologies.” International
Journal of Learning Technology 3.1 (2007): 87-107. Web. 14 Oct. 2009.

Mansilla, Veronica Boix and Elizabeth Dawes Duraising. “Targeted Assessment of Students’
Interdisciplinary Work: An Empirically Grounded framework Proposed.” The Journal of Higher Education 78.2 (2007): 215-237. Print.

Williams, Peter John. “Valid knowledge: the economy and the academy.” Higher Education
54.4 (2007): 511-523. Web. 14 Oct. 2009.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License