ITM: Idea Thread Mapper

What is ITM?

Idea Threads Mapper (ITM) is a timeline-based collective knowledge mapping tool designed to sustain collaborative knowledge building online and in classrooms. It was created by a team led by Professors Jianwei Zhang (Education) and Mei-Hwa Chen (Computer Science) through a NSF Cyberlearning research grant.

Online environments have the potential to foster continual build-on and advancement of ideas in collaborative communities. However, current online environments lack effective means to represent community knowledge in extended discourse. In threaded discussions, chatting, and messaging, student ideas are distributed across individual postings over time. It is difficult for students to understand the conceptual landscape of their collective work, to identify knowledge advances, and to reflect on gaps and problems.

Based on our previous research (Zhang et al., 2007), we created a timeline-based collective knowledge-mapping tool: Idea Threads Mapper (ITM).  Beyond micro-level representations of discourse as postings and build-on trees (physical conversation threads), we introduced idea threads (or inquiry threads) (Zhang et al., 2007, ETR&D Outstanding Article) as a larger, emergent unit of ideas in online discourse. Each idea thread represents a conceptual line of discourse addressing a shared focal problem,  extending from the first to the last discourse entry. It is composed of a chronological sequence of discourse entries (possibly in several build-on trees) contributed by a subset of the members of a community. Interoperating with Knowledge Forum, and potentially other collaborative learning platforms, ITM helps students to review high-interest/fruitful topics of inquiry, as their communal focuses, that have emerged from interactive discourse, and identify important ideas contributed over time to address each focal topic.

An idea thread on how underwater plants grow created by a grade 3 classroom studying plants. There were 15 Knowledge Forum notes addressing this problem, from March 28 to April 16. Each square in the thread visual represents a note, and a line between two notes represents a build-on link. The lower part shows the list of note titles and the content of a selected note. The user can choose to show/hide titles, authors, and build-on links and zoom into a specific time period (by day, by week, by month).

An idea thread on how underwater plants grow created by a grade 3 classroom studying plants. There were 22 Knowledge Forum notes addressing this problem, from early April to late June. Each square in the thread visual represents a note, and a line between two notes represents a build-on link. The lower part shows the list of note titles and the content of a selected note. The user can choose to show/hide titles, authors, and build-on links, highlight/un-highlight notes, and zoom into a specific time period, view the previous versions of this thread under Thread History, and compose of Journey of Thinking synthesis to reflect on advances and deeper issues.

 

Login ITM

Users of any Knowledge Forum (KF) database can register their database at the following ITM portal, and, then, login ITM using their KF username and password. Preferred browsers: Chrome, Safari.

English version:

http://tccl.rit.albany.edu:8080/ITM2  (for Knowledge Forum 5)

http://tccl.rit.albany.edu:8080/ITM (for Knowledge Forum 4)

Chinese version: http://tccl.rit.albany.edu:8080/itmcn

Research Use: Using ITM to trace and analyze unfolding threads of inquiry in online knowledge building discourse

Researchers can use ITM to conduct inquiry thread analysis to cluster and profile online discourse into unfolding conceptual threads of inquiry, identify emergent subgroups/social knots who are involved in each line of inquiry, and analyze the idea improvement processes, conceptual scopes, and cross-thread/group connections evident in the online discourse data (see example analysis in Zhang et al., 2007;  van Aalst & Truong, 2011)

Classroom Use: ITM-Aided Metacognitive Conversation

ITM may be used in creative ways to support collaborative reflection of students so they can take on high-level collective responsibility for continually advancing their community’s knowledge over time and across activities. The following short video shows how a Grade 5/6 knowledge building community engage in metacognitive conversations using ITM to review their collective progress and plan for deeper inquiry and collaboration: ITM in Grade 5/6 electricity study.

  • Using ITM, students engage in metacognitive conversations to identify high-interest focuses of inquiry from their ongoing discourse in an inquiry initiative/project. With their online discourse space projected on a screen, students as a whole class discuss high-interest/productive topics–or “juicy topics”–that have emerged from their knowledge building discourse. The final list of shared topics is then recorded on a chart paper or smart-board.
  • The class will then choose a main topic (e.g. how allergies work) to co-construct an idea thread in ITM, as an example: search in the view(s) for relevant notes (e.g. “allergy” mentioned anywhere in a note), and identify notes that have contributed important ideas/questions so far, and display the notes as an idea thread in ITM.
  • Students who are knowledgeable about the various focal topics then work in small-groups to select key discourse contributions for the rest of the focal topics. ITM plots the discourse contributions addressing the same focal topic on a timeline, as an idea thread, with build-on links visually identified. ITM further retrieves contributors (i.e. authors) in each idea thread, who represent a social knot/group in action to address shared issues. Through reviewing the discourse contributions, students co-author a wiki-like synthesis, a “Journey of Thinking,” for each thread to summarize the key questions, “big ideas,” and deeper issues.
  • The whole community then maps out the different idea threads to discuss their shared progress, potential connections and clusters, and weak areas, informing deeper inquiry and collaboration.
A map of idea threads created by a Grade 5/6 classroom studying the human body. Each colored stripe in the upper map represents an idea thread extending from the first till the last note contributed addressing its focal problem/topic (e.g. how allergies work). Each square represents a note; a blue line between two notes represents a build-on link; a green dotted line shows notes (in red) that are shared between different threads discussing interrelated issues. The user can hover the mouse over a note to see a preview of its contents and open an idea thread by clicking its title (left). The example analyses (bottom) show the distribution of notes in the different idea threads and conceptual connections between the threads based on the frequency of cross-thread shared/common notes.

A map of idea threads created by a Grade 5/6 classroom studying the human body. Each colored stripe in the upper map represents an idea thread extending from the first till the last note contributed addressing its focal problem/topic (e.g. how allergies work). Each square represents a note; a blue line between two notes represents a build-on link; a green dotted line shows notes (in red) that are shared between different threads discussing interrelated issues. The user can hover the mouse over a note to see a preview of its content and open an idea thread by clicking its title (left). The example analyses (bottom) show the distribution of notes in the different idea threads and conceptual connections between the threads based on the frequency of cross-thread shared/common notes.

 

Video Tutorials

Teachers and their students may use the following functions of ITM to engage in collaborative reflection on their knowledge building and assess collective progress over time.

Project: Fill information about what you are studying (i.e. content area) and who you are.

Thread: Set a focus, find important ideas (i.e. notes), show them on a timeline, summarize progress and next steps.

Map: Show your idea threads on a map, reflect on what you have learned as a whole group and what you need to focus on next. You can revisit and update your idea threads map over time as your online discussions continue.

 

Publications

Zhang, J., Chen, M.-H., Chen, J., & Mico, T. F.  (2013). Computer-Supported Metadiscourse to Foster Collective Progress in Knowledge-Building Communities . Proceedings of the International Conference of Computer-supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL). Madison, Wisconsin.

Chen, M.-H., Zhang, J. & Lee, J. (2013). Making Collective Progress Visible for Sustained Knowledge Building. Proceedings of the International Conference of Computer-supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL). Madison, Wisconsin.

For more publications and research findings, see the ITM Research Project .