Our work is in the UAlbany Annual Research Highlights

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Our research project was spotlighted at the NSF Video Showcase event: “Advancing STEM Learning For All: Sharing Cutting Edge Work and Community Discourse” (May 17-23, 2016)

Connecting Idea Threads for Sustained Inquiry and Discourse:  http://videohall.com/p/770

This project aims to enable student-directed, sustained knowledge building by which ideas are continually developed, built upon, and refined, giving rise to shared goals and structures to guide their deepening work. Current collaborative online environments support interactive discourse, but lack effective means to representing collective landscape and progress in long-term, distributed discourse. The lack of collective structural representations makes it difficult for students to monitor and deepen their collective work over time and share discourse progress with other communities.

This NSF Cyberlearning project created Idea Thread Mapper (ITM) to help students monitor what is going on in extended online discourse in order to share progress and formulate collective directions for deeper inquiry. Interoperating with Knowledge Forum and potentially other platforms, ITM profiles unfolding trajectories of discourse as “idea threads,” each of which includes a series of discourse entries that investigate a shared epistemic object (e.g. batteries).

Supported by automated topic modeling and discourse tagging tools, students create and map out their idea threads to reflect on what their community is investigating, with what progress and gaps. They further selectively share productive idea threads with other classrooms for idea sharing, build-on, and collaboration.

Research suggests that young students (Grades 3, 5 and 6) are able to use the ITM tool to formulate productive lines of inquiry for sustained knowledge building. Our undergoing research tests ITM-enabled designs for students to access and build on the productive idea threads of other communities, including those from the previous school years for sustained build-on.

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New NSF Cyberlearning DIP grant: Connect Idea Threads Across Communities for Sustained Knowledge Building

Our Design and Implement proposal (DIP) submitted to NSF’s Cyberlearning program has been funded. This new four-year grant with a total funding of $1.34 million will develop a macro-layer collaborative platform for connecting idea threads across different communities. Drawing on recent advances of learning analytics, we will integrate a set of automated analysis tools to discover productive idea threads based on online discourse data, trace student contributions, and nurture idea connections. These technological innovations will enable new pedagogy to support knowledge-building discourse 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).

See more information: award abstract from NSF; or the project page.

This project was highlighted in UAlbany’s news release , Times Union news, abc News10.

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Dr. Jianwei Zhang gave an invited speech at ICCE 2013 about principle-based design for creative knowledge practices


Inquiry-based learning practices to cultivate creative knowledge work currently rely on prescriptive designs that pre-specify a set of procedures to generate preset outcomes, with limited creative engagement of teachers and students in the design process. In his invited speech at the 21st International Conference on Computers in Education (ICCE) held in Bali Indonesia, Dr. Jianwei Zhang presented an adaptive, principle-based approach to learning design to support dynamic group flow that is essential to creative knowledge work. The teacher engages in opportunistic planning of inquiry processes and co-improvise with students as their idea-centered work unfolds in light of a set of primary principles. Structures of activities are not pre-set, but emerge from and  are “materialized” in practice. This principle-based approach sheds light on new designs of technology to leverage idea-centered group flow, feedback on progress, and inform deeper opportunities for sustained knowledge building. 

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Idea Thread Mapper (ITM) Released in Both English and Chinese

Funded by a NSF Cyberlearning research grant,  Drs. Jianwei Zhang, Mei-Hwa Chen, and their team recently created a timeline-based collective knowledge mapping tool– Idea Thread Mapper (ITM). It can help members of knowledge building communities to engage in formative  reflection on idea progress in extended online discourse. Each line of inquiry focusing on a shared principal theme is represented as an idea thread, extending from the first to the last discourse entry. Reflecting on the diverse, unfolding idea threads  helps students to understand the conceptual landscape of their collaborative work and envision opportunities for deeper contribution and collaboration. We have been testing ITM-aided collaborative reflection in Grade 3 and 5/6 classrooms in Canada, China, and Albany, NY,  with positive impact on sustained knowledge building.

Users of any Knowledge Forum (KF) database can access ITM from within KF or through the following ITM portal, using their KF username and password.

English versionhttp://tccl.rit.albany.edu:8080/ITM

Chinese versionhttp://tccl.rit.albany.edu:8080/itmcn

For more info, see: ITM: Idea Thread Mapper


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