CSILE—the second-generation of which is called Knowledge Forum® (http://www.KnowledgeForum.com)—is an asynchronous discourse medium, which means that participants do not have to be engaged at the same time, as they do in an oral discussion or in a telephone conversation. In this way it is like e-mail. But, unlike e-mail, it does not consist of person-to-person messages. Instead, it consists of contributions to a community knowledge base, which resides on a server and is accessible to everyone in the network. Thus, the knowledge represented by notes in the database is preserved and continually available for search, retrieval, comment, reference, and revision. Various specific supports for knowledge building are provided, and keep being enhanced in successive versions of the software.
Knowledge Forum aims for fidelity to the ways work with ideas is carried out in the real world. Ideas are, of course, central to high-level knowledge work of all kinds. Research, scholarship, and invention indeed lose their character unless everything that is done directly or indirectly derives from and feeds into the further development of ideas. Ideas are seldom treated in isolation. They are systemically interconnected—one idea subsumes, contradicts, constrains, or otherwise relates to a number of others. To gain understanding is to explore these interconnections, and to drill deeper while rising-above, to gain broader perspective. Successful knowledge building, we may say, exhibits deep embedding, both as regards the embedding of ideas in larger conceptual structures and the embedding of ideas in the practices of the knowledge building community. Participants share responsibility for community knowledge, in addition to individual achievement.
Knowledge Forum in its current stage of development permits a depth of embedding that goes well beyond what is possible with other forms of so-called knowledgeware, such as the threaded discourse systems common on the Web. A simple Knowledge Forum note may be thought of as the embodiment of a single idea; but the note is identified with a problem and with “scaffolds,” which give the note a role in more extended work with ideas such as theoryrefinement, evidence gathering, argumentation, literary interpretation, and so forth. Furthermore, every note has a place in one or more views. The views themselves are graphical representations of higher-level conceptual structures and are constructed by participants to give greater meaning to the notes they contain. Students, teachers, and telementors or tele-experts (experts invited to join the online discourse) share responsibility for ensuring that these views do justice to the notes and at the same time represent their best collective understanding. Views help to establish a high standard for knowledge work. Participants know that what is represented in these view reflects the collective best of the community. Views may also be use to enter official curriculum frameworks. Students then link their notes to goal statements, to determine the extent to which their efforts meet or supersede the goals that ministries and departments of education have for them. Notes can live in multiple views (e.g., a curriculum-standards view, a previously constructed student-generated view, a view created by a tele-expert, and so forth). Participants are encouraged to create increasingly high-level 'rise-above' views that point to other views, or 'rise-above' notes, which subsume other notes. They can annotate or 'build on' or quote someone else’s note. Quotes result in automatic links being established between the notes, along with bibliographic cross-references. In short, Knowledge Forum supports deep embeddedness: with notes and views serving to embed ideas in increasingly demanding contexts, going deeper into the content while at the same time situating these ideas in views that provide an integrative context for them. This deep embeddedness is what brings ideas to the center of their work, and in turn enables collective cognitive responsibility.
These capabilities only become effective, of course, if the social practices of the classroom make use of them. Thus there has developed along with the technology a knowledge building pedagogy, where the embeddedness idea comes to pervade the very culture of the classroom. I will later characterize this pedagogy by a set of distinctive attributes and illustrate these with examples. The overarching principle, however, is to foster collective cognitive responsibility. The first challenge is to progressively turn over to students the responsibility of using notes and views to create a valuable shared knowledge resource for their community.
The second challenge is insuring that ideas always remain the focus of this responsibility, that the activities and the mechanics never obscure the goals that give meaning and purpose to their tasks. This represents the largest single challenge to efforts to make knowledge building a reality in schools. All the traditions of schooling—both the traditions of teacher-directed instruction and the traditions of child-centered activity methods—are arraigned against it. These traditions, in turn, are grounded in the social reality of one teacher having to manage 20 to 40 children. These combine to make activities, not ideas, the center of classroom life. Changing this, so that ideas move to the center and activities become subordinate, represents a dramatic shift (Scardamalia, 1997). The classroom may still look much the same, just as the heavens still look the same to one who has undergone the Copernican switch, but everything is understood differently and it becomes possible to move into new levels of work with ideas that could not even have been imagined before.
In summary, the challenge addressed by Knowledge Forum and knowledge building pedagogy is to engage students in the collaborative solution of knowledge problems, in such a way that responsibility for the success of the effort is shared by the students and teacher instead of being borne by the teacher alone.
Grasping the Idea of Idea-Centered Education
Like the Copernican Revolution, the change from an activity-centered to an idea-centered view of education has an all-or-none character (Scardamalia 1999). There is a real sense in which you either get it or you don’t. However, there is this added difficulty with the educational change: Most modern teachers believe they already put ideas at the center. Teaching for understanding and 'constructivism'—the idea that learners construct their own knowledge—are widely proclaimed and they seem to be saying what I have been saying only in different words. They are, of course, related to knowledge building. Knowledge building is a way of teaching for understanding and, as Bereiter (2002) makes clear, it is constructivist. But it is also radically different from most of what goes on in the name of teaching for understanding and constructivism. Because of the slipperiness of words, the difference is difficult to convey, although teachers are very much aware of the difference once they have made the transition.
To clarify what is distinctive about knowledge building and the technology that supports it, I have listed in Table 4.1 twelve ideas that in combination set a knowledge building classroom off as profoundly different from even the best of traditional and modern classrooms. Table 4.1 also suggests the close links between knowledge building practices and technology, which in combination help to produce these shifts. Fortunately, the interconnectedness of these ideas means that implementing one tends to unlock the others. Although in principle you could have the practices without the technology, we have found the technology to be important not only for practical reasons—to overcome the objective obstacles created by classroom conditions—but also for conceptual reasons. The core ideas of knowledge building often come across as abstract and fanciful until people see them embodied in the technology. The combined practices and technology also help align participants and their environment so that knowledge advancement: 1. is in the social fabric of the organization; 2. is enhanced through primacy given to creative work with ideas; and 3. represents sustained work at the frontiers of understanding (Scardamalia 2000; 2001). This culture captures the natural human tendency to play creatively with ideas, and expands it to the unnatural human capacity to exceed the boundaries of what is known and knowable--to exceed expectations rather than settle into routines. Creating a shared intellectual resource and a rallying point for community work helps to provide an alternative to tasks, lessons, projects and other expert-designed motivators of work, replacing them with a system of interactions around ideas that leads to the continual improvement of these ideas. Tasks and projects are completed, but they are not reduced to routine or sufficing strategies that obscure the broader goals that gave meaning to them in the first place.
Socio-Cognitive and Technological Determinants of
Real Ideas, Authentic Problems
Socio-cognitive dynamics: Knowledge problems arise from efforts to understand the world. Ideas produced or appropriated are as real as things touched and felt. Problems are ones that learners really care about—usually very different from textbook problems and puzzles.
Technological dynamics: Knowledge Forum creates a culture for creative work with ideas. Notes and views serve as direct reflections of the core work of the organization and of the ideas of its creators.
Socio-cognitive dynamics: All ideas are treated as improvable. Participants work continuously to improve the quality, coherence, and utility of ideas. For such work to prosper, the culture must be one of psychological safety, so that people feel safe in taking risks—revealing ignorance, voicing half-baked notions, giving and receiving criticism.
Technological dynamics: Knowledge Forum supports recursion in all aspects of its design—there is always a higher level, there is always opportunity to revise. Background operations reflect change: continual improvement, revision, theory refinement.
Socio-cognitive dynamics: Idea diversity is essential to the development of knowledge advancement, just as biodiversity is essential to the success of an ecosystem. To understand an idea is to understand the ideas that surround it, including those that stand in contrast to it. Idea diversity creates a rich environment
for ideas to evolve into new and more refined forms.
Technological dynamics: Bulletin boards, discussion forums, and so forth, provide opportunities for diversity of ideas but they only weakly support interaction
of ideas. In Knowledge Forum, facilities for linking ideas and for bringing different combinations of ideas together in different notes and views promote the interaction that makes productive use of diversity.
Socio-cognitive dynamics: Creative knowledge building entails working toward more inclusive principles and higher-level formulations of problems. It means learning to work with diversity, complexity and messiness, and out of that achieve new syntheses. By moving to higher planes of understanding knowledge builders transcend trivialities and oversimplifications and move beyond current best practices.
Technological dynamics: In expert knowledge building teams, as in Knowledge Forum, conditions to which people adapt change as a result of the successes of other people in the environment. Adapting means adapting to a progressive set of conditions that keep raising the bar. Rise-above notes and views support unlimited embedding of ideas in increasingly advanced structures, and support emergent rather than fixed goals.
Socio-cognitive dynamics: Participants set forth their ideas and negotiate a fit between personal ideas and ideas of others, using contrasts to spark and sustain knowledge advancement rather than depending on others to chart that course for them. They deal with problems of goals, motivation, evaluation, and long-range planning that are normally left to teachers or managers.
Technological dynamics: Knowledge Forum provides support for theory construction and refinement and for viewing ideas in the context of related but different ideas. Scaffolds for high level knowledge processes are reflected in the use and variety of epistemological terms (such as conjecture, wonder, hypothesize, and so forth), and in the corresponding growth in conceptual content.
Community Knowledge, Collective Responsibility
Socio-cognitive dynamics: Contributions to shared, top-level goals of the organization are prized and rewarded as much as individual achievements. Team members produce ideas of value to others and share responsibility for the overall advancement of knowledge in the community.
Technological dynamics: Knowledge Forum's open, collaborative workspace holds conceptual artifacts that are contributed by community members. Community membership is defined in terms of reading and building-on the notes of others, ensuring that views are informative and helpful for the community, linking views in
ways that demonstrate view interrelationships. More generally, effectiveness of the community is gauged by the extent to which all participants share responsibility for the highest levels of the organization's knowledge work.
Socio-cognitive dynamics: All participants are legitimate contributors to the shared goals of the community; all take pride in knowledge advances achieved by the group. The diversity and divisional differences represented in any organization do not lead to separations along knowledge have/have-not or innovator/non-innovator lines. All are empowered to engage in knowledge innovation.
Technological dynamics: There is a way into the central knowledge space for all
participants; analytic tools allow participants to assess evenness of contributions and other indicators of the extent to which all members do their part in a joint enterprise.
Symmetric Knowledge Advancement
Socio-cognitive dynamics: Expertise is distributed within and between communities. Symmetry in knowledge advancement results from knowledge exchange and from the fact that to give knowledge is to get knowledge.
Technological dynamics: Knowledge Forum supports virtual visits and the co-construction of views across teams, both within and between communities. Extended communities serve to embed ideas in increasingly broad social contexts. Symmetry in knowledge work is directly reflected in the flow and reworking of information across views and databases of different teams and communities.
Pervasive Knowledge Building
Socio-cognitive dynamics: Knowledge building is not confined to particular occasions or subjects but pervades mental life—in and out of school.
Technological dynamics: Knowledge Forum encourages knowledge building as the central and guiding force of the community's mission, not as an add-on. Contributions to collective resources reflect all aspects of knowledge work
Constructive Uses of Authoritative Sources
Socio-cognitive dynamics: To know a discipline is to be in touch with the present state and growing edge of knowledge in the field. This requires respect and understanding of authoritative sources, combined with a critical stance toward them.
Technological dynamics: Knowledge Forum encourages participants to use authoritative sources, along with other information sources, as data for their own knowledge building and idea-improving processes. Participants are encouraged to contribute new information to central resources, to reference and build-on authoritative sources; bibliographies are generated automatically from referenced resources. Knowledge Building Discourse
Socio-cognitive dynamics: The discourse of knowledge building communities results in more than the sharing of knowledge; the knowledge itself is refined and
transformed through the discursive practices of the community—practices that have the advancement of knowledge as their explicit goal.
Technological dynamics: Knowledge Forum supports rich intertextual and inter-team notes and views and emergent rather than predetermined goals and workspaces. Revision, reference, and annotation further encourage participants to identify shared problems and gaps in understanding and to advance understanding beyond the level of the most knowledgeable individual.
Embedded and Transformative Assessment
Socio-cognitive dynamics: Assessment is part of the effort to advance knowledge—it is used to identify problems as the work proceeds and is embedded in the day-to-day workings of the organization. The community engages in its own internal assessment, which is both more fine-tuned and rigorous than external assessment, and serves to ensure that the community’s work will exceed the expectations of external assessors
Technological dynamics: Standards and benchmarks are objects of discourse in Knowledge Forum, to be annotated, built on, and risen above. Increases in literacy, twenty-first-century skills, and productivity are by-products of mainline knowledge work, and advance in parallel.
To illustrate the ideas summarized in Table 4.1, I narrate four examples from actual classrooms. They illustrate both knowledge building pedagogy and the role that Knowledge Forum plays in it. I hope they will also convey a sense of the whole that Table 4.1 cannot convey—a sense of the spirit of classroom communities in which ideas are at the center, knowledge building is the job, and collective cognitive responsibility is nurtured over the course of the elementary school years. For ease of reference, I use italics to refer to the specific ideas elaborated in Table 4.1.
1. Grade 1 Science: Adaptation, Cycles, and Energy
The starting point for knowledge-building in Knowledge Forum is a view. Figure 4.1 shows a view co-constructed by a Grade 1 teacher, her students, and a teacher-researcher to launch a year-long study of the topics that provincial guidelines specified for Grade 1 science. A view may contain notes or pointers to other views.
In this case, as a top-level organizer, the view contains only pointers to other views. In Figure 4.2, we follow one of these pointers, the one in the Fall view that points to work on leaves. Here there are a number of notes authored by the children. As the note titles indicate, they do not contain miscellaneous information about leaves but instead focus on a problem that the students themselves had come up with (real ideas, authentic problems): What causes leaves to change color in the fall?
Figure 4.3 shows one of the notes, which hypothesizes that plugs develop that prevent sap from getting to the leaves, causing the chlorophyll to die. Some other theories, illustrating the principle of idea diversity, are
“Fall – I think the chlorophyll goes into the tree to keep warm for the winter.”
“I think leaves change color because when the leaf falls down I think that the chlorophyll goes to the outside of the leaf so it leaks off the leaf.”
“Because it’s too cold for the chlorophyll to make food for the tree.”
Top-level 'Welcome' view titled Adaptation, Cycles, and Energy, with pointers to related views. What we cannot see here, but what the teacher reports in the virtual tour of her knowledge base,2 is an account of a field trip the students took to a maple-tree farm to see how maple syrup is made. One child, watching the sap flow from the tree, noted that