Project findings

Project findings

Selected findings from the Knowledge Building Project are highlighted below.

A fuller account and discussion of project findings is available via the Knowledge at the Crossroads? book and in other publications generated by the project (available via the publications tab above).

Selected findings

Researching across schools and university

  • Schools and universities are often researched in isolation from each other, but we show commonalities of concerns across both, and implications of change at either level for the other parts of the education trajectory.

Knowledge and education policy

  • Different structures of knowledge represented by physics and history (vertical/horizontal paradigm convergent/paradigm divergent) are pertinent issues for curriculum and research, but are often inadequately addressed in Australian policy and management which favour uniform templates for curriculum progression and to measure research outcomes.
  • ‘Innovation’ agendas often take too little account of domain specificities and underpinnings of new work.

History and physics as forms of knowledge

  • Our findings confirm some earlier depiction of differences between these as ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’ forms of knowledge, but also show that the translation into school curriculum faces some similar challenges for both disciplines.
  • We found much similarity in how historians and physicists talk about what is ‘powerful’ in discipline-based study, and that they see this as in conflict with some outcomes-based, short-term and utilitarian agendas in recent reforms.
  • Differences in the two forms of knowledge do provide different kinds of challenges for each in the current reform environment, both as school subjects and in universities. For physics, issues relating to ‘knowledge explosion’ and mathematical underpinning are big curriculum challenges; for history, political agendas and overarching university reforms are areas of concern.


  • Historians and physicists accept accountability in principle, and are open to and involved in interdisciplinary research. But they are concerned about current forms of performance management and research priority setting that distort the knowledge work itself.
  • Disciplinary training produces not only particular knowledge and skills but also forms of identity and dispositions. It is these as well as particular knowledge and skills that are important initial underpinnings of interdisciplinary research and teaching. It is this systematic formation within the form of knowledge that is potentially weakened by some organizational changes to universities that are now in train.

Competencies, skills, vocationalism

  • Both school and university teachers in history and physics are concerned about the effects of short-term vocational agendas on student choice of subjects and their disengagement in foundational subjects.
  • In relation to knowledge-building, these ‘traditional’ disciplines offer depth and ‘problem portable’ knowledge as foundations for students, compared with skills-focused and problem-focused curricula.

Australian schools and the history curriculum

  • The project shows some mismatch between how teachers understand what is important in doing history and how politicians (of both sides) see this.
  • Interviews with history teachers indicate the difficulties of achieving content selection for civic purposes without overloading content and undermining the time needed for history to be effective as a field of study for students.