Digital Toolbox: Co-constructing Knowledge with Your Students

At a Glance 

Knowledge co-construction is a collaborative process in which learners learn from one another to further expand their knowledge based on one another's ideas and contributions. Education scholar Elizabeth Stacey explains the value of knowledge co-construction like this:

“Shared spaces can become the locus of rich and satisfying experiences in collaborative learning, an interactive group knowledge building process in which learners actively construct knowledge by formulating ideas into words that are shared with and built on through the reactions and responses of others” (1999, p. 4).

This toolbox explores four different ways students can use technology to co-construct knowledge in your course:

A Closer Look 

When students collaborate, they are able to engage with more complex ideas and accomplish greater learning than they would on their own, entering what psychologist Lev Vygotsky terms the "zone of proximal development" (Wertsch, 1984). 

The following activity ideas below help you leverage available technology tools to maximize student engagement, communication, and learning.


Activity 1: Co-authoring documents

Sharing is key to community building in a classroom (Palloff & Pratt, 2006 as cited in Vesely, Bloom & Sherlock, 2007). Offering students the ability to co-author and share ideas broadens and deepens their learning.

Microsoft Tools

  • Microsoft Teams - Teams provides a highly inclusive, engaging, comprehensive learning environment. It can serve as a hub for teamwork with other apps like SharePoint and OneDrive, helping students collaborate seamlessly and stay connected via file sharing and storage, digital whiteboards, and text, audio, and video chat.
  • OneDrive - OneDrive offers many opportunities to co-author via a shared storage area that connects to Office 365 tools like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and others.
  • SharePoint - SharePoint has many uses, one of which is to allow you to create a clean-looking website that organizes and displays your OneDrive files.
  • OneNote class notebooks - OneNote class notebooks offer a workspace with private notebooks for each student, a class content library, and a collaboration space for creative activities. Features include:
    • Drawing tools to add highlights, handwritten notes, the ability to sketch diagrams, or annotate contents

    • The ability to integrate audio or video into the text-based content of the notebook

    • Integration of web-related content

    • Automatic linking of web-related content that alleviates copyright concerns 

    • Best uses:
      • Collaborative lecture/class notes
      • Sharing recipes 
      • Managing group to-do lists or various projects
      • Sketching and brainstorming
      • Creating a class wiki. OneNote can update and save in real time.

Blackboard Tools

  • Blackboard Blogs and Journals – For activities that are reflective in nature, activities that require construction of thoughts, and responses to other participants’ thoughts. Blogs and journals encourage students to clearly express their ideas.  
    • Best uses:
      • Short form writing assignments such as reflective journals, or

      • Gathering opinions and information from students 

  • Blackboard Discussion Boards Discussion Boards are great for when you want students to carry on discussions online, both synchronously and asynchronously. The discussion board is recorded on the course site for all to review and respond at their convenience. 
  • Blackboard Wikis Wikis are useful when you need students to build a vast compilation of information that serves as a repository of some kind.
    • Wikis can be created for the entire class or for student groups; for course-wide access or just for a specific project  
    • Best uses:
      • Group projects with rubrics
      • Small activities or projects in conjunction with other Blackboard features


Activity 2: Knowledge sharing

  • YammerYammer is Microsoft’s company-focused social networking tool. Microsoft search helps find information, answers, and experts across the organization. Microsoft integrates Yammer into search results allowing messages and conversations to be indexed and searched.
    • Best uses:
      • Group work – Yammer can be used create thematic groups e.g., language exchange, travel, instructional design, etc. These groups can be used to nurture and reinforce a culture of trust and sharing. 
      • Hashtags – Add relevant keywords to posts in order to make them easy to filter and discover by topic. Students can gather important information for their projects by performing a keyword search.
      • Polls and Praise – These features have long been overlooked.
        • Polls can be used to anonymously collect information from your Yammer network. Students or instructors can initiate polling activities to make learning fun.
        • The praise feature can be used to give positive feedback, create connections, and promote positive behaviors with a simple click.
  • Teams  
    • Best uses
      • Use shared OneDrive documents for collaboration  
      • Channels for students to share their work with the class
      • Screensharing PowerPoint presentations, documents, and videos
      • Using the text chat feature for comments and brainstorming ideas
  • SharePoint hub – Requiring some heavy setup, SharePoint is a tool that allows you to create a polished-looking website based on materials you have saved to a Group or Team. 

Activity 3: Running a project

When you generate a team for your course in Microsoft Teams, it automatically comes with a shared document library on OneDrive. You can add and manage task and issue lists for project activities using Teams-friendly apps Planner and To Do.

Using SharePoint to manage your Team's task lists

Project management is a fun way of co-constructing knowledge with your class. The process gives students a sense of belonging while learning from one another constructively.

The first step is to create a new SharePoint site that will become your Team's project hub. From the project hub, instructors can create project descriptions, set timelines and due dates, and link SharePoint resources to Microsoft Teams. The following features are the most relevant to educators when using Microsoft Teams and SharePoint:

  • MS chats – Use this feature for private one-on-one or group chats via text, audio, or video.
  • Document storage – The Files tab of your Team's channels displays all of the files your class Team can collaborate on.
  • Co-authoring and co-editing – Multiple people can work together on a document on OneDrive or SharePoint.
  • Channels – Use these dedicated sections within a Team to organize conversations by topics, disciplines, or projects—whatever works for you! These channels can be private to a few individuals or public to everyone in the Team to participate. 
  • Planner – Use the Planner feature to assign tasks to a user or multiple users. Any communication or progress associated with the task can be pinned to the task for easy sharing of information and progress.  
  • To Do – Use To Do to access planned tasks, access tasks assigned to you, or mark tasks as important. 


Activity 4: Synchronous meetings

Of course, having conversations with one another is one of the best ways to collaborate and learn. For more ideas on how to run your synchronous class meetings, review our Digital Toolbox on Delivering Synchronous Instruction.



Blanchard, A. L., & Markus, M. L. (2004). The experienced "sense" of a virtual community: characteristics and processes. ACM Sigmis Database: the database for advances in information systems, 35(1), 64-79. 

Engel, G., Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2011). Using mobile technology to empower student learning. In 27th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning, University of Wisconsin. 

Stacey, E. (1999). Collaborative learning in an online environment. Journal of Distance Education, 14(2), 14-33.  

Wertsch, J. V. (1984). The zone of proximal development: Some conceptual issues. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 1984(23), 7-18.