A few knowledge management finds

Aug 17, 2006

Miles Berry

I asserted confidently in my Naace Computer Education paper (pre-print online), and subsequently in my recently completed MBA dissertation, that the discipline of knowledge management (KM) had received relatively little attention in education management circles. A few more recent discoveries on the web suggest that there may well be growing interest in the field from the education community. This is jolly encouraging, as KM provides some theoretical underpinning for a lot of the stuff that school management are interested in, such as planning and assessment, as well as far more exciting dimensions of school life like the construction of knowledge and understanding within learning organizations and communities.

There’s an interesting paper from Christopher Thorn from back in 2001, in which he explores a district wide approach to leverage information management towards knowledge management in Milwaukee public schools:

“School information systems are one of the most difficult to harness because they often lack any overall rationality for cooperation and compliance. Differences in data needs and uses across different organizational levels present significant barriers to the collaboration necessary for innovation in knowledge management.”

Which one could imagine being repeated within the English Learning Platform and Information Management agendas, as the data needs of central and local administration are prioritized, potentially at the expense of KM benefits at school and classroom level, although I don’t think it inevitable that these be incompatible. However, as Thorn has it:

“Investment in transformative types of information technology—technologies that will impact the underlying organizational goals and drastically expand capabilities—is inherently risky”

Which is, after all what we’re seeing with the emphasis on aggregated framework agreements with big name players, rather than providing the funding for schools and local authorities to approach a similar agenda in a potentially far more innovative way.

I was also impressed to see that there’s an Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, and that they have quite an archive of papers online, including a couple from Lisa Petrides on schools use of data, which form an interesting counterpoint to NFER’s study on the same subject for the DfES (3mb pdf).

James Francisco has a recent paper exploring a similar theme to my own, looking at how KM ideas can integrate with the use of virtual learning environments, although his perspective is more to do with the technological aspects than the management ones, although he too emphasizes the importance of a collaborative approach here, which seemed a significant factor in effective use of VLEs to support KM from my own research. His assertion that

“End user input is an important part of the process for successfully  designing and implementing information systems in an organization”,

seems to lend support to the notion that open source development, or at the very least close contact between teachers/learners and software developers is important for this sort of system – I think it interesting, and perhaps a result of Moodle’s run away success, that Microsoft’s successor to ClassServer, the SharePoint Learning Kit, is being developed under their community licence terms.

Finally, hitting my aggregator this morning was an interesting post from Graham Attwell, on the contribution that e-portfolio tools such as Elgg can make to KM – Graham’s contention is that it’s the reflection inherent in the development of an e-portfolio (and indeed blogging) that allows the move from data through information to knowledge, and perhaps ultimately wisdom. Whilst VLEs can support management at data, information and knowledge levels, I think the community learning space that something like Elgg provides has the potential to go straight to the knowledge level, as the users (should…) do the necessary filtering of the data and information which in other systems might need to be done through automated aggregation or data-mining processes, and of course the two approaches can happily co-exist.