DIP: Connecting Idea Threads across Communities for Sustained Knowledge Building

PIs: Jianwei Zhang, Marlene Scardamalia, Mei-Hwa Chen, Carolyn Rose
SUNY at Albany
Award Details

An important issue in education is encouraging learners to engage in sustained inquiry around important content and helping them to continually refine their understandings. Technology already exists to help communities of learners (e.g., those in a class) keep track of the ideas they are generating and refining. The innovation in this project will help groups of learners make two kinds of connections: (i) between the different discussions they are having across topical areas and (ii) between the ideas they are discussing and those that groups in other classes are discussing. The project team’s earlier Cyberlearning Exploration (EXP) project showed that such connections gives rise to curiosity and new learning goals as well as deeper understanding. It is expected that technology that makes these connections easier to identify will also make it easier for students to refer back to what they learned in previous years’ classes and to refine their earlier understandings.

Knowledge building is the collaborative refinement of ideas by a community. The goal in knowledge building is to engage learners in sustained inquiry and progressive discourse through which ideas are continually developed and refined, giving rise to higher-level learning goals. The aim in this project is to design and build support for knowledge building across communities and across time, connecting communities into a shared field in which shared bases of knowledge co-advance with each other and across communities (e.g., across classes addressing similar issues; across years of school). Students kick off their inquiry by importing productive idea threads from other classrooms as inquiry starters, then co-review with others, access others’ ideas as they move forward, and engage in live interactions with partnering communities. The knowledge building platform being developed for use across communities is called CITY (Connecting Idea Threads or Youth). Automated analysis developed during the previous Cyberlearning EXP project helps groups within a single class visualize their idea threads and thread idea threads with each other. The automated process is being extended with language processing algorithms that can identify conversations in other communities that have potential to be useful in extending a group’s understanding. The project team, which includes experts in collaborative learning, computational linguistics, and self-regulation, is aiming to learn how to make the technology work across communities, to understand how to use such technology to sustain engagement with and refinement of ideas, and the qualities the surrounding socio-technical system needs to have for such sustained and distributed knowledge building to happen.

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