EXP: Fostering Collective Progress in Online Discourse for Sustained Knowledge Building

PIs: Jianwei Zhang, Mei-Hwa Chen, Janette Pelletier, Allan Lockwood
SUNY at Albany
Award Details

The PIs are designing, developing, and testing a software tool, called Idea Threads Mapper (ITM) that helps young learners (grades 4 and 5) sustain inquiry and discussion more regularly in their classrooms. The tool allows them to visualize the ways the class’s ideas are taking shape and being improved over time and help them analyze the on-line discourse (e.g., threaded discussions, notes) of other classes or communities and use the ideas of others to move forward their own ideas. The tool helps learners examine on-line discourse and index the pieces in new ways. The tool and learners work together to examine discourse and index it, with the tool providing scaffolding for the examination of discourse that learners do. ITM is being added to Knowledge Forum, a platform for community knowledge building that is used extensively in elementary-school classrooms. It is being designed as an open-source tool that will be usable within other collaborative learning platforms as well in which students contribute, examine, refine, and build upon their own ideas and those of others through sustained discourse (e.g., WISE, Blackboard).

Along with design and development of innovative technology in support of sustained inquiry, PIs are conducting research that investigates how to foster reflective awareness of and monitoring of community knowledge. This research is expected to produce conceptual, pedagogical, and technological advances that will make sustained, progressive inquiry more achievable among young students, whether they are working together in small groups, as a class, or across a network of classrooms. It is expected that pedagogical designs enabled by this tool will foster students’ collective responsibility to monitor, build on, and advance community knowledge for deep understanding at the same time they are contributing to and gaining support from the shared knowledge of the knowledge building communities they are participating in. Because teachers will use the same system to collaboratively plan across classrooms, it is expected that the project will also contribute ideas about effective planning tools for teachers and teacher professional development.

A key to creative productivity is a sustained, progressive trajectory of inquiry by a collaborative group in which ideas are continually generated, refined, and further built upon to formulate more advanced ideas and problems, expanding the community’s shared knowledge and using that knowledge to continually inform further initiatives. Inquiry-based learning requires similar sustained efforts of students to be productive in developing deep understanding and creative/adaptive capabilities. Such a sustained, progressive trajectory of inquiry is rare in classrooms; but it is achievable. This project is focusing on how to make sustained, progressive inquiry more achievable among young students and in the classrooms of more teachers. Cultivating collaborative, inquiry-based practices that expand the knowledge of a community is expected to prepare students for careers in our knowledge-based society in which they play key roles in expanding our society’s knowledge.

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