Contested knowledge

When there are competing perspectives on a topic, use structured collaboration to help students engage with them all.

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The Cloudworks Team
27 March 2008

The management of natural resources in north Australia is controversial, partly because of conflict between the dominant universalising western scientific tradition and local indigenous (Aboriginal) knowledge systems. A concept such as ‘Wilderness’ is highly contested.

Teachers wanted students to develop an understanding of the contingent nature of all knowledge systems and for them to participate actively in the negotiation and construction of knowledge, challenging the privileged voice of the teacher.

Students used a scaffold of four central questions (neutrally not privileging any of the perspectives) to explore and critique literature. They worked on both a major topic, on which they had to produce a website, and a minor topic – which was the major topic for another student, whom they had to help by contributing resources, references, and points to consider. Both their own major topic website and their minor topic contributions to other students’ work were assessed. Students also contributed to a dynamic glossary and bibliography.

Barbara White, Greg Williams, Michael Christie

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