1. Jianwei Zhang
  2. http://www.albany.edu/etap/Jianwei_Zhang.php
  3. Associate Professor
  5. Univ at Albany, SUNY
  1. Mei-Hwa Chen
  2. Associate Professor
  4. Univ at Albany, SUNY
  1. Guangji Yuan
  2. Doctoral student
  4. Univ at Albany, SUNY

Connecting Idea Threads Across Communities for Sustained Knowledge Building

NSF Awards: 1441479

2018 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades 6-8

Idea Thread Mapper (ITM) is a new generation collaborative platform to co-organize and support student-driven knowledge building within each classroom as well as idea interaction across classrooms. With the support of ITM, students in each classroom community co-organize shared inquiry directions over time as they continually build and deepen their understandings, and further tap into the knowledge built by other classrooms in the same and previous school years. The core functions focus on the needs to discover emerging interests and directions in students’ interactive discourse, to formulate unfolding strands of inquiry through reflective processes, and to make such structures visible for student reflection. ITM includes (a) spaces and tools for online discourse interaction through which students generate deepening questions and ideas; and (b) features for inquiry structure creation and visualization to capture emerging inquiry directions and co-organize the online discourse accordingly; and (c) a cross-community space for students from different classrooms to view one another’s inquiry directions and progress and engage in “super talks” to discuss challenging issues across classrooms.  Analytics embedded in ITM the reveal emergent inquiry directions, student participation, idea progress, and connections. See more info at https://tccl.arcc.albany.edu/wpsite/?page_id=694

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Discussion from the 2018 STEM for All Video Showcase (7 posts)
  • Icon for: Jianwei Zhang

    Jianwei Zhang

    Lead Presenter
    Associate Professor
    May 14, 2018 | 08:55 a.m.

    Inquiry-based, knowledge building pedagogy needs new classroom innovations and technology designs to enable sustained, connected, and long-term inquiry within each classroom and to further enable idea build-on across classrooms. We designed ITM to address these needs, drawing upon our theoretical and empirical research on collaborative learning and knowledge building.  Our innovations focus on two goals:

    (a) Supporting student-driven, ever-deepening inquiry processes in a way that engages student responsibility for structuring the collective journey of inquiry;

    (b) Making student creative progress accessible across classrooms for mutual learning and build-on.

    See more info about ITM at https://tccl.arcc.albany.edu/wpsite/?page_id=265

  • Icon for: Kevin Brown

    Kevin Brown

    Associate Director
    May 14, 2018 | 11:02 a.m.

    This looks like an innovative way of leveraging technology to support collaborative learning, and the video really helps explain how the platform works! I am interested in knowing whether collaboration is more effective if it is facilitated by a teacher or if students can self-monitor their interactions to keep the discussion on track and moving forward? Also, has the ITM been deployed in any real-world classroom settings to date or is it still under development in more controlled settings? Finally, do you have plans to evaluate the effectiveness of ITM on learning outcomes (e.g. using a comparison group)?

  • Icon for: Jianwei Zhang

    Jianwei Zhang

    Lead Presenter
    Associate Professor
    May 14, 2018 | 11:14 a.m.

    Thanks for your questions! Yes, we have been conducting a multi-year design-based research study in a set of Grade 3-6 classrooms that use ITM (and Knowledge Forum) to support co-organized inquiry and discourse in the areas of electricity and energy, human body systems, and ecology, etc. In each inquiry-based initiative (unit) that extends over multiple weeks or months, the teacher works with his or her students to costructure their collective journey of inquiry without extensive scripting. High-level issues, such as what to learn/investigate, through what processes, by whom, can be costructured by students with the teacher as the inquiry proceeds over time. 

    Re. the effectiveness of ITM on learning outcomes (e.g. using a comparison group), the following new article reports a study of this kind, showing that the ITM-supported processes to costructure inquiry led to more connected discourse and deeper understandings. (Zhang, J., Tao, D.,  Chen, M.  Sun, Y., Judson, D., & Naqvi, S. (2018). Co-Organizing the Collective Journey of Inquiry with Idea Thread MapperJournal of the Learning Sciences. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10508406.2018.1444992)

  • Icon for: Mark Windschitl

    Mark Windschitl

    May 14, 2018 | 12:26 p.m.

    I like the focus on students' ideas, the connections between ideas of multiple students, and the built in assumptions that students' ideas are objects of inquiry themselves. The framework reminds me a bit of the work by Carl Bereiter and Malene Scardemalia on knowledge construction by communities. How do you prepare teachers to support this work by students? It looks like there must be some fundamental shifts in how classes are run, how assessment is used and how the curriculum unfolds over time. I'd be interested to hear about this.

  • Icon for: Jianwei Zhang

    Jianwei Zhang

    Lead Presenter
    Associate Professor
    May 14, 2018 | 02:07 p.m.

    Hi Mark,

    You're right in seeing the connection between this work and Knowledge Forum/knowledge building communities by by Carl Bereiter and Malene Scardemalia. Actually ITM interoperates with Knowledge Forum in supporting student collaborative discourse and implementing analytics/assessment for inquiry.

    The change required of teachers is fundamental. We have been working with a distributed team of collaborative teachers to co-design the changes and reflect on classroom processes using data over time throughout the school year. A summer institute is held each year. We also have a mid-year shared meeting and team-based biweekly/monthly meetings. Based on the extensive experience and data analysis, we hope to be able to make the pedagogical design and process transparent so we can design more powerful technology and analytics to support the dynamic co-organization of the classroom processes. 

    Re. Assessment: ITM provides a way to visually track student progress and participation in core areas of inquiry. The areas are framed in connection with big ideas/key issues in the curriculum. ITM includes (and is adding more) analytics to trace who is working on which areas of inquiry, with what level and kinds of contributions. The co-assess their journey of inquiry by highlighting the core questions, insights/ideas gained, and gaps of knowledge building. This process servers as collaborative formative assessment. I have a paper on the assessment design, which shows specific measures such as idea quality, collaboration ties, etc. https://tccl.arcc.albany.edu/wpsite/wp-content/uploads/isls-paper-02_29Jingping_final.pdf


  • Icon for: Megan McKinley

    Megan McKinley

    Doctoral Student
    May 15, 2018 | 05:29 p.m.

    Hello, Jianwei and colleagues. This project looks like a great way to facilitate collaborative inquiry and discourse. I’m interested in hearing more about the design and development of ITM. What did this process look like and how were various stakeholders (e.g., teachers, students) involved?

  • Icon for: Jianwei Zhang

    Jianwei Zhang

    Lead Presenter
    Associate Professor
    May 15, 2018 | 09:24 p.m.

    H Megan, great question. The design and redesign/upgrading of ITM has been informed by our design-based research in a set of Gr 3-6 classrooms in the last seven years. The initial design was created based on our early analysis of how productive knowledge building communities/classrooms operate in each scientific inquiry (a unit). Central to their success is the reflective process the teacher and their students co-engage in to frame their shared inquiry directions and pursue unfolding lines of research as their understandings deepen. Deeper questions are defined as learning progress is made. This gives us the insight in the importance of co-constructed inquiry structures (we call reflective structuration) that is different from typical teacher designed structures. ITM was created to capture co-constructed directions and roles of inquiry and organize/visualize student discourse in the unfolding lines of work accordingly. The early versions of ITM (ITM 1 and 2) were tested in a set of classrooms to see how the teachers and students use it to organize and deepen their inquiry processes and discourse. Rich data were collected to document the classroom use and impact, including interviewing the teachers and students. The data analysis and input from the teachers and students gave us the feedback needed to rethink the process and re-design ITM to offer more effective and friendly support. So it has gone through cycles of iterative design and improvement based on the classroom-based design experiments. (See the framework and data analysis in Zhang, J., Tao, D.,  Chen, M.  Sun, Y., Judson, D., & Naqvi, S. (2018). Co-Organizing the Collective Journey of Inquiry with Idea Thread MapperJournal of the Learning Sciences. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10508406.2018.1444992

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