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Networks and the spread of ideas in knowledge building environments

, University of Toronto , Canada

University of Toronto . Awarded


This case study examined the spread of ideas in a Gr. 5/6 classroom in which the teacher was attempting to foster a knowledge building community. The goal of the research was to explore the relationship between the social network of the classroom (in terms of face-to-face and computer-mediated interactions), the teacher’s role, and the spread of ideas. Further, the thesis examined how social network tools may help teachers better understand the pedagogical implications of Scardamalia and Bereiter’s (1991) Teacher A, B, C models.

Analyses of videotaped lessons revealed the teacher used a complex mix of traditional instructional methods and knowledge building strategies while trying to shift the locus of control of learning to students. Critical teacher-driven processes included the class-wide adoption of knowledge building vocabulary and practices, and efforts to foster higher levels of student-student discourse.

Analyses of online interactions provided strong evidence of highly interconnected student-student online networks, with the note reading network being especially dense. Longitudinal studies revealed these network established themselves early in the unit, and persisted during the course of the inquiry. There was evidence that idea improvement was present in addition to idea spread. In face-to-face classroom communication, the teacher’s role was more central, particularly in “Knowledge Building Talk” sessions. However, here too, the teacher made efforts to shift the locus of control.

Overall the analyses suggest that social network tools are potentially useful for helping teachers make the difficult transition from “Teacher A” and “Teacher B” strategies, in which the locus of control is with the teacher, to “Teacher C” strategies, in which strategic cognitive processes are turned over to students. This dissertation proposes that movement toward Teacher C practices may be illustrated, in part, by a shift in classroom network topologies from that of a star-shaped network, centered on the teacher, to a highly interconnected student-student network. Finally, the thesis recounts a number of ways in which the use of social network tools uncovered discourse patterns of which the teacher was unaware, including gender differences in reading, building-on, and contribution patterns.


Philip, D.N. Networks and the spread of ideas in knowledge building environments. Ph.D. thesis, University of Toronto. Retrieved December 13, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

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