Criss-Crossing Idea Landscapes via Idea Networks in Knowledge Forum

Conference paper
Part of the Communications in Computer and Information Science book series (CCIS, volume 618)


Knowledge Building pedagogy engages students directly in continual idea improvement through progressive inquiry, with the ultimate goal of creating knowledge of value to the community. Knowledge Forum technology serves as the community space for creative work with ideas, where students design views (i.e., idea landscapes) to explore ideas, refine ideas, and synthesize ideas, with supports in place for criss-crossing these idea landscapes with ease. This study explores next-generation designs for visualizing idea landscapes in Knowledge Forum. Whereas in a typical view, explicit idea connections via build-on notes are automatically displayed, implicit idea connections via keyword tagging are not immediately accessible to students. Semantic analyses were conducted on student notes in Knowledge Forum in order to identify ‘big ideas’ in the student discourse and compare word cloud visualizations with idea network visualizations of the community knowledge. Implications of these designs are discussed within the context of education for knowledge creation and innovation.


Knowledge building Knowledge forum Knowledge creation Idea network Semantic analysis Network analysis Data visualization 

1 Introduction

The emergence and rapid proliferation of information communication technologies have drastically transformed the way in which we communicate, collaborate, and learn in our everyday lives, resulting in the rise of digital literacy as an educational priority for the 21st century (Voogt and Knezek 2008). Studies in the field of learning sciences consistently demonstrate that computer-supported collaborative learning environments facilitate students’ development of traditional learning skills and new digital literacies (see Stahl et al. 2006 for review). Of particular educational importance is new competences for knowledge creation, such as generating new ideas, searching for related ideas, identifying promising ideas, developing criteria to evaluate multiple sources, and creating coherence amongst diverse ideas, in order for students to engage in knowledge creation and innovation for public good (Goldman and Scardamalia 2013). In other words, education for knowledge creation must socialize students into a pervasive culture of productive work with ideas so that they may improve their own ideas for their own learning, as well as connect to and extend the ideas of others for knowledge creation.

2 Current Study

2.1 Knowledge Building Pedagogy and Technology

Knowledge Building pedagogy and Knowledge Forum technology provide students with opportunities to work creatively with ideas, “exploring idea landscapes, criss-crossing them in every direction” (Scardamalia and Bereiter 2016, p. 3), which in turn facilitates the development of digital literacies and competencies essential to knowledge creation and innovation. Knowledge Building is synonymous with knowledge creation: It is the collective endeavor of advancing collective understanding through the production of knowledge of value to the community (Scardamalia and Bereiter 2014a; 2006). Much like rapid prototyping in the field of HCI design, Knowledge Building involves continual development and refinement of ideas – a process that is highly collaborative, iterative, non-linear, and ever-changing. The technological challenge is to design environments that support complex, emergent interactions and self-organization (Scardamalia and Bereiter 2014b).
Fig. 1.

Grade 5/6 human body view in knowledge forum and word cloud visualization of student discourse.

Knowledge Forum is a networked online learning environment optimized to support collaborative knowledge creation (Scardamalia 2004). In Knowledge Forum, students design idea landscapes, called views (see Fig. 1), so that their ideas have a place to live and grow. In a given view, students contribute ideas as notes, sketches, images, videos, and other multimedia, which then become objects of the community, so that other students can build on, cite, annotate, tag, and even synthesize ideas in the form of rise-above notes. Whereas in a typical view, explicit connections are made between ideas via build-ons, implicit connections, such as keyword tags, are not immediately accessible; therefore, embedding analytic tools can make such connections visible to students. Guided by the Knowledge Building principles of epistemic agency, idea diversity, and rise above (see Scardamalia 2002 for overview), this study aims to explore designs for visualizing idea landscapes in Knowledge Forum, so that students may discover hidden connections between ideas in the community knowledge and find new ways to create conceptual coherence across idea landscapes.

2.2 Knowledge Forum Next Generation Designs

When students are working in a view in Knowledge Forum, the view is synchronized in real-time as a dynamic community space. The Knowledge Building process can be visualized in real-time as the view changes when new ideas are added, existing ideas are edited, ideas are moved around and connected together, and so forth. Over time, the view can become a cluttered space, making it difficult to navigate and search for ideas. Figure 1 shows a view in Knowledge Forum for a grade 5/6 class studying the human body over the span of a week. Though it cannot be seen clearly in Fig. 1, several themes have already emerged in the student discourse, such as sleep and dreams, puberty and aging, food and digestion, cancer and illnesses, and evolutionary psychology. The word cloud visualization tool (as indicated in the pink box) was developed to help students get a general overview of the ‘big’ ideas in the view. The tool has automatically detected ‘brain’, ‘genes’, ‘cancer’, ‘body’, ‘food’, ‘sleep’, and ‘dream’ as the ‘big’ ideas in the student discourse. Recent work (Resendes et al. 2015) revealed that when students used word cloud visualizations as formative feedback for their Knowledge Building process, they benefited from identifying and refining ‘big’ ideas in their community knowledge, which in turn advanced their collective understanding.

One design challenge associated with the word cloud visualization, however, is that the most common words in the discourse do not necessarily represent the most important or relevant words for the topic of inquiry. For example, as the student discourse on Knowledge Forum grows over time, it can become saturated with common words, such as ‘if’, ‘the’, ‘think’, ‘just’, ‘maybe’ and ‘okay’, which do not reflect collective progress or understanding. Thus, as new and important ideas are entered into the discourse, it may become difficult for them to be picked up by the tool, ultimately limiting the possibility for students to find interesting ideas in their view. Another drawback of this tool is that the existing connections between ideas that are already in the view are lost in the word cloud visualization, which reduces the conceptual coherence that is already created in the view. Looking at the word cloud, it is difficult to see which ‘big’ ideas are connected to one another and which ones are not.

One way to address these design challenges is to create idea network visualizations of student discourse in Knowledge Forum, as shown in Fig. 2. The idea network was created based on keyword tagging of student notes, followed by thematic coding of keyword tags (see Appendix for themes and associated keywords). Whereas each circle represents one theme related to the topic of the human body, each square represents a note containing keywords related to that theme. For example, a student working on the topic of sleep can search for related ideas by clicking on the ‘neuroscience’ theme, which is also connected to the ‘evolution’ and ‘nervous system’ themes. Notes connected to these themes cover issues such as stages of sleep, dreams and consciousness, brain processes, and bodily growth. Whereas in Fig. 1, notes about REM, sleepwalking, dreaming, and consciousness are placed in various locations on the view, in Fig. 2, the idea network visualization, brings all these ideas together based on both explicit connections (i.e., build-ons) and implicit connections (i.e., keyword tags). This then allows students to explore and create unexpected connections between ideas. For example, the pink box in Fig. 2 shows one student’s note about dreaming, which lies at the intersection of the ‘neuroscience’ and ‘evolution’ themes. Though this student is simply sharing information, their note represents a significant contribution to the community because they are reframing the discussion about the human body in terms of its evolutionary history and purpose, and in turn, advancing the collective understanding of sleep by discussing its role in the history of the human species. The ability to find and make serendipitous connections between ideas is invaluable to the Knowledge Building process, and the idea network visualization has the potential to support students in engaging creatively with ideas in Knowledge Forum.
Fig. 2.

Idea network visualization of Grade 5/6 human body view in Knowledge Forum and one student’s note.

3 Design Implications

In this study, word cloud and idea network visualizations were designed to facilitate criss-crossing idea landscapes and connecting ideas in a view in Knowledge Forum. It is expected that “idea networks” will help students reach higher levels of explanatory coherence amongst diverse ideas in their community knowledge and support the role of serendipity in identifying promising ideas for their knowledge work – both of which are essential digital literacies for knowledge creation. Knowledge Building pedagogy and Knowledge Forum technology represent one avenue for schools to move from the periphery to the center of the Knowledge Society, preparing students to participate in the growing need to innovate and create knowledge for public good (OECD 2015).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ontario Institute for Studies in EducationUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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