How is Knowledge about Science Generated in Networked Communities- In consideration of Virtual Reality

When considering networked communities we must first look at how to establish this sort of community and what principles are important in a successful one. In constructivist models, problem solving is at the heart of learning, thinking, and development.  Learners solve problems and discover consequences by reflecting their experience and thus construct their own understanding.  That being said, research shows that knowledge construction is rarely done in isolation but rather by creating and forming a knowledge building community (Lamon, Laferriere & Breuleux, in press). In fact, the goal for learning communities is for a group of people with focused common issues or problems to discourse and work to find solutions to problems, complete tasks, or refine processes beyond the capabilities of any single person. (Lamon et al., in press). The building of a classroom community of learners must be paramount for this type of community to foster.

When considering science knowledge generation in this sphere, several things need to be considered. Research shows that students may misinterpret or overlook important information in a simulation and teachers may be tempted to believe that simulations are automatically effective in communicating complex models to students (Stephens & Clement, 2015). Following this, in order to support knowledge generation teachers need to support students to promote reasoning and comprehension during use of simulations. As part of this, research has suggested that many teachers may need more guidance provided along with simulations to help them identify which features and relationships may be overlooked by students (Stephens & Clement, 2015). Virtual reality alone will not suffice and educators require information and guidance on how to support learners through the science knowledge generation process in networked communities.

To expand on this, research has shown that new knowledge is created in a social process and in concrete situations, and this will occur if a community has reached the boundaries of its existing knowledge and are exposed to conflicting concepts (Johannes, 2011). Using virtual reality to meet the goals of knowledge generation in science is prescient in several ways. Learner object interaction in virtual reality provides the model of a cognitive operation that learners have to carry out mentally in order to create their own mental model of certain facts or of a topic of instruction. It may support knowledge building especially in such domains in which spatial information is essential for understanding. In addition, in networked communities personal and social presence is fostered within the community and is amplified if students are affected personally and see some connection between their own person and what happens in a virtual reality. This also increases collective cognitive responsibility of a group for succeeding together (Johannes, 2011). Educators can provide for rich knowledge generation in networked communities through providing virtual reality experiences that tap into connections or experiences that students feel are relevant to them.

The educator is an integral part of creating the sustainability of knowledge generation through virtual reality as the educator sets up the environment for knowledge generation to occur. The educator must consider the needs of the students, gently guide them back on the right path if they have strayed too far, and always keep in mind the dynamics of the networked community and how to facilitate discussion and reflection. In addition, the educator must critically examine the virtual reality to ensure it is not creating more misconceptions, and this is done through assessing on an ongoing basis throughout the process and making corrections as necessary. So, in my mind, knowledge generation in a networked community depends more on frontloading the experience, carefully monitoring the process of social interaction and knowledge generation and providing time for all of this plus time to reflect on the learning.  I look forward to your views about this.

Johannes, M. (2011). Knowledge building in user-generated online virtual realities. Journal of Emerging Technologies in Web Intelligence 3, 1. DOI: 10.4304/jetwi.3.1.38-46.

Lamon, M., & Laferrière, T., & Breuleux, A. (in press). Networked communities. In P. Resta, Ed., Teacher development in an e-learning age: A policy and planning guide, UNESCO.

Stephens, A., & Clement, J. (2015). Use of physics simulations in whole class and small group settings: Comparative case studies. Journal of Computers & Education. 86, C, pp. 137-156.


  1. I can certainly empathize with the comment about overlooking information in a simulation. I have been working with my science 6 class on the seasons using a sun path simulator. They were collecting data on sunrise and set times when all of a sudden they times shifted by several hours. They didn’t bother to think about it until I asked them to think about whether that made sense with the dates they were looking at. Turns out they accidentally switched hemispheres….

    When working with simulations, it seems to be particularly important to encourage students to look for information that doesn’t make sense as this often leads to either an error or a misconception. I have taken to having my students call me over anytime something does make sense or come out neat and tidy. I can let them know if it is a minor measurement error, user error, or if they are confronting a misconception. While they may not be able to tell what the porblems is, they can begin to develop stronger inquiry skills by beginning to look for them in the first place and figuring out what resources (teacher, internet, peers, text, etc.) they can access in order to rectify the situation.

  2. I agree that critical thinking seems to be one of the missing or overlooked pieces to this puzzle. Also it is a skill that takes much practice to become competent at. With all of the material avialble from different souirces and “information overload” it can be very difficult to weed through to find the bare facts, as sometimes especially in the field of science these may change as new research reveals new information. Finding credible sources is an important step as well as trying to keep up to date with new discoveries, research and ways of using technology to both learn about these and manage these. Thank you for your thoughts.

  3. Michelle,

    Thank you for your informative post. The readings you chose are all different from my own, so I appreciate learning through your articulated thoughts.

    While reading, I will admit that I began to feel overwhelmed with all the proposed “work” the teacher has to do in order to successfully implement virtual reality experiences. Although this is essential for developing PCK, I needed to remind myself that the student’s learning isn’t dependent on this tool, but the tool is simply a selected vehicle to help the student understand more clearly complex phenomena. Along with this tool, the teacher will be implementing many non-technology based learning experiences as well. The teacher will need to assess the value of the VRE in their student’s overall knowledge construction – selecting the most effective and applicable.

    In your last statement, you mentioned “time to reflect” for the student {and teacher, I’m sure;)}. I think when simulations and other virtual reality tools are being used in a student’s learning, the opportunity to reflect in a meaningful way is key to deepening the experience, making sense of their learning and holding on to what was acquired through the interactions. By stepping back from the interactions with VRE, the student is more able to contemplate what the interaction meant for their learning. Often, we perceive learning as being at its climax in the midst of activity, but I think slowing in the reflecting is the time when students are truly able to shape their learning.

  4. Hello Michelle,

    You readings and analyses have yielded an important insight: Virtual reality alone will not suffice and educators require information and guidance on how to support learners through the science knowledge generation process in networked communities.” Many of the technologies cannot independently tutor the student alone and an active role for the teacher is vital. This role and possible teacher activities, as described in several parts of your post, reminds me of social constructivist concepts on scaffolding and the zone of proximal development.The frontloading idea is interesting; from your perspective, how might it support teacher’s in scaffolding the tele? Thank you for sharing the ideas from the research Michelle, Samia

    1. Thank you for your thoughts Samia. By frontloading I am envisioning frontloading the experience of using simulations in several ways. Firstly, the educators should go through the simulation themselves to determine how the simulation runs, to determine what student goals the simulation meets and also to determine how they will integrate the simulation into their teaching. For example, some simulation experiments allow students to solve problems in a linear fashion and, depending on the design, may allow the students to re-examine parts of the experiment. To support this, during the problem solving simulations the teacher could prepare to teach using a problem-solving approach. In this way, the teacher is frontloading the use of simulations by being prepared to use the proper pedagogy to suit the simulation.
      Frontloading can also be viewed in terms of the students. Before using a simulation, for example to study the effects of weather systems, the educator should determine what the students currently know, what they want to know (perhaps need to know) and know which students may require extra guidance or support throughout the simulation. They should also determine who is able to work independently or who may need partner support and what extra materials could be provided to allow extra supports throughout the simulation (texts, models, videos, artifacts).
      Lastly, frontloading can be viewed in terms of the usage of the technology. Is the simulation intuitive and easy to navigate? What issues might the students have throughout the simulation in terms of the design of the simulation? Is the simulation linear? Does the simulation have a feedback loop or an assessment component built in? Are there any parts of the simulation that may be unclear or lead to further misconceptions and how can this be mitigated? Is the educator able to modify the simulation to suit the particular needs of the class?
      Preparing for any/all these possibilities by frontloading the experience will provide for a more rich learning experience and will allow the simulation to help with knowledge generation.

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