Zhang Awarded Sustained Knowledge Building Grant

Albany, NY (November 1, 2011) - Jianwei Zhang (PI), Educational Theory and Practice, and Mei-Hwa Chen (Co-PI), Computer Science, received $550,000 from the National Science Foundation for the project entitled Fostering Collective Progress in Online Discourse for Sustained Knowledge Building.

Inquiry-based learning requires a sustained, progressive trajectory to be productive. This three-year project will produce conceptual, pedagogical, and technological advances to make sustained, progressive inquiry more achievable among young students and further extend it to a network of classrooms that builds shared knowledge and resources for continual advancement of ideas. This project is funded by the Cyberlearning: Transforming Education program of the National Science Foundation which is dedicated to integrating advances in technology with advances in what is known about how people learn.

Classroom innovations to prepare students for creative careers in the 21st century need to engage students in sustained, progressive inquiry by which ideas are continually developed and refined, giving rise to higher-level goals. Students need to learn how to monitor, build on, and advance their collective knowledge in a community —the “state of the art” that has emerged from extended, collaborative discourse. Online learning environments support extended discourse but lack effective representation of collective knowledge progress; student online discourse is thus often disconnected and lacks deepening questions and ideas. To represent and visualize collective progress in online discourse, this project will create a software tool for Inquiry Threads Mapping (ITM) that interoperates with collaborative online learning platforms. A set of ITM-aided designs will be tested in elementary science classrooms to foster a sustained, progressive trajectory of inquiry. These designs will focus on (a) collaborative reflection on progress of understanding over time within a community, (b) cross-community build-on for sustained progress mediated through student-created inquiry threads and syntheses, and (c) inquiry threads of productive knowledge-building communities as a resource to support progressive inquiry in emerging communities.