In Hong Kong, it has already been a long time that schooling puts the main focus on individuals' abilities, dispositions and prospects without deeply exploring the possibility of learning through community interaction. Usually only formal knowledge and demonstrable skills are taught in traditional classrooms. The majority of this kind of knowledge is inert that does not encourage deep thinking and inquiry. There is no mechanism for students to acquire expert-like learning skills. In addition, traditional school curriculums generally overlook informal or tacit knowledge, though it is as important as the formal knowledge. The learning objectives are also transparent to students. Students may be occupied with tasks and activities but they do not have a clear idea about the reasons why they have to do those tasks and activities.
Problem 2: Pedagogical Paradigm Shift due to the Introduction of the NSS Curriculums
Since 2009, the curriculums of most secondary schools have undergone a dramatic change due to the adoption of the New Senior Secondary (NSS) curriculums. Two major changes are the introduction of liberal studies and project-based learning. The liberal studies subject requires students to study contemporary issues from different angles, make use of knowledge from various disciplines, and construct knowledge independently and collectively that makes sense to themselves and their communities. On the other hand, project-based learning (PBL) aims to enable students to construct knowledge through developing their independent learning capabilities, generic and collaborative skills. It is obvious that the new curriculums emphasise on the cultivation of abilities of students to integrate information gathered to construct their own knowledge independently and collaboratively. However, most teachers and students are still not prepared for this pivotal change and feel perplexed about the new mode of teaching and learning.
More experienced teachers may bring extra tasks and activities into the classrooms. The most common activities may be completing worksheets, group discussions, presentations in front of the whole class, etc.. Following the workflow in well-designed worksheets may enhance students' independent thinking but this may limit students' creativity and there cannot be much meaningful collaborative work. Concerning group discussions, there is a turn-taking problem. Students with faster minds or better oral presentation skills tend to dictate the group discussions while those who have remarkable and original ideas may not have an opportunity to put their views across. Similar situations may happen in class presentations that students who are less language-able and confident about speaking in front of the class may not be able to express their thoughts completely, not to mention that collaborative work is absent in the activity.
One of the underlying reasons behind the insufficiency of the usual class activities is that teachers are always the central authorities who evaluate the quality of students' views. There is always insufficient lesson time for every student to express their ideas completely to teachers. Those who do not have opportunities to convey their thoughts may lag behind the others regarding knowledge advancement. Another reason is that all students' ideas concerning a certain discussion problem are not written down usually. Even when there are some written notes in some occasions, they are not accumulated in a centralised workspace or repository. After discussions, students will forget what they have addressed during the discussions and so they cannot advance their knowledge by building on what they have debated before. The most promising solution to tackle the problems is to make use of an online electronic learning platform that can enable users to undertake asynchronous collective discourse anywhere and anytime.
Problem 3: The Problems of the Commonly Used Learning Platforms
Even though some Hong Kong schools understand the problems of the traditional permissive teaching approach, good learning platforms that can fulfil the requirements of this new learning environment are rare in the market. Despite that many schools have installed computers with Internet access in classrooms, there is no obvious difference in student learning quality between this kind of computer-supported classrooms and the traditional ones. Intentional learning and expertise development .can hardly be fostered in this kind of classroom settings.
In order to improve learning quality and effectiveness, some schools in Hong Kong have been adopting certain learning platforms for almost ten years, yet they can only allow students to upload their work, download materials mandated by teachers, post messages to or read messages from electronic notice-boards, etc.. The platforms only act like electronic information repositories that cannot really help students to learn and construct knowledge on their own or collaboratively, not to mention that the user interfaces are not easy-to-use in general. This kind of learning platforms contradicts the e-learning systems suggested by Angehrn, Nabeth and Roda (2001). They claimed that e-learning should be highly personalised, learner-centric, social, active, interactive, connected to learners' goals, supportive of continuous learning and so on.
Research of Existing Learning Platforms Supporting Collaborative Learning
Regarding the issues mentioned above, students in Hong Kong need a learning platform that can provide useful and effective facilities for them to manage and construct knowledge, and learn collaboratively and continuously. The platform should also help them to make better use of the existing online resources and manage and consolidate the information they have obtained for self-regulated learning .
After researching preliminarily on existing learning platforms, there are three major computer supported collaborative work/learning (CSCW/L) systems available for education purposes: FLE3, Synergeia and Knowledge Forum.
FLE3 (Leinonen et al., 2002), which is an open source platform developed under the ITCOLE project, entails a repository, a forum and a shared workspace called WebTop tool, Knowledge Building tool and Jamming tool respectively. The last tool allows learners to make use of all kinds of multimedia digital artefacts.
Synergeia (Stahl, 2004) is also designed within the ITCOLE project that provides free licenses for educational institutions. It shares documents and data through repositories (the Basic Support for Cooperative Work system) and forums (Instant Messages) respectively in an asynchronous environment. The most remarkable tool is MapTool that enables a group of participants to create concept map collaboratively and synchronously. The chat tool is also synchronous.
Knowledge Forum was initiated by Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter . They have proposed that schools should be restructured as knowledge building community based on the idea that learning, expertise cultivation in particular, requires tremendous effort and social support that is not accessible in the first-order school environment. Students should acquire non-asymptotic learning skills, i.e., learn to continuously adapt to changes in the environment caused by others' adaptation. This process will constantly make contributions to the collective knowledge of a school community, transforming the school into a second-order environment .
A learning platform that can guide students effectively to construct knowledge from various kinds of information, especially the multimedia one (Shank, 2005), is of paramount importance. Van Merriënboer (1999) proposed some guidelines of delivery of instructions in multimedia learning environments. He considered multimedia learning in web-based environments very crucial in the coming future as it facilitates distributed distance delivery and combines presentation and communication facilities. He believed that multimedia learning can be used to support competency-based learning, and effective, efficient and appealing collaborative learning. The multimedia capabilities of all of the three platforms literally satisfy the guidelines.
The MapTool of Synergeia allows participants to construct collective knowledge through drawing concept maps: a graphical artefact that expresses knowledge of learners in a form that can be understood easily. The development of concept maps was initiated by Novak and Gowin's (1984) research concerning human learning and knowledge construction. In a concept map, also called knowledge map, a concept is usually placed inside a box or circle that is connected to one or more other concepts via directed arcs, representing the relationships between the concepts concerned. The relationships are described by verbs usually. The concepts are contrived hierarchically with the most general concepts at the top of the map.
The structure of a concept map depends on the context it represents. Concept maps are highly distinctive that may vary in different contexts even when the concepts are similar. There is never a perfect concept map for each specific context. The knowledge of a person regarding a specific context of a topic can be measured by concept maps. Concept mapping has assisted people of different ages obtain knowledge in various fields. They are potent tools for learning details of concepts with respect to a certain context if the words are wisely picked. Users can take advantage of almost any kinds of linking words to manifest the development of meanings.
Knowledge Forum is designed according to the twelve Knowledge Building Principles proposed by Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter. It is a collaborative learning platform operated in a networked environment. It can functions on both wired and wireless networks and users can access it via the Internet. The framework of Knowledge Forum is cross-sector, cross-age and cross-cultural. It has been used in education, health care and business communities in the Americas, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. This reveals that knowledge builders from all walks of life acquire and create knowledge through virtually the same sociocognitive and cultural processes.
The twelve Knowledge Building Principles are as follows:
Real Ideas, Authentic Problems
Ideas are as real as tangible things. Learners are much more interested in real life problems than textbook problems and puzzles. Knowledge Forum fosters a culture for learners to work with ideas creatively.
All ideas are improvable. Learners can actively improve their own ideas and those in the community if they are encouraged to take risks without being afraid to manifest ignorance and receive acute and unconstructive criticism. Knowledge Forum allows continual improvement, revision and theory refinement.
Idea diversity is crucial to the progress of knowledge advancement as it allows ideas to advance into new and more refined forms. Knowledge Forum facilitates linking ideas in different notes and views together to promote interaction and productive use of idea diversity.
New syntheses of knowledge can be obtained by relentlessly working with improvable and diversified ideas. High-order thinking can be cultivated. In Knowledge Forum, rise-above notes and views enable participants to learn adapting progressive changes in the environment.
Learners are responsible for their knowledge advancement that can be stimulated by the ideas of other community members. They learn how to manage their learning by setting goals and plans, asking questions, and evaluating achievement. Knowledge Forum offers features like scaffolds that help learners synthesize high-level knowledge by using a variety of epistemological terms such as conjecture, wonder, hypothesize, etc..
Community Knowledge, Collective Responsibility
Community achievements are valued more than individual achievements. Participants share responsibility for the overall knowledge advancement in the community. Knowledge Forum provides an open and collaborative environment that allows community members contribute conceptual artefacts that can be linked together effective for future reference.
All participants, including the more and less talented, are empowered to engage in knowledge innovation in Knowledge Forum. Every member strive for knowledge advancement in a joint venture manner.
Symmetric Knowledge Advancement
It can be achieved from knowledge exchange between members of different kinds of intelligence in a community as to give knowledge is to get knowledge. Knowledge Forum supports virtual visitations and co-construction of views across user groups, both within and between communities.
Pervasive Knowledge Building
Knowledge building using Knowledge Forum can be carried out in and out of school through the Internet.
Constructive Uses of Authoritative Sources
Authoritative sources such as news and multimedia materials found on the Internet can be attached to Knowledge Forum that can be acted as the foundation for knowledge builders to advance community knowledge.
Knowledge Building Discourse
Knowledge Forum accommodates discourse of knowledge building communities that refines and transforms knowledge through the discursive practices of the community.
Embedded and Transformative Assessment
Knowledge Forum allows a community to tailor-make its own internal assessment that is more suitable for the community than external assessment.
After comparing the main features of the three collaborative CSCL/W tools, it is stark that Knowledge Forum emphasizes profoundly on the process of community knowledge building based on principles like improvable ideas and progressive problem solving. It should be a more feasible resolution for teachers and students to handle the upcoming pedagogical paradigm shift than the other two. It is perceived that Fle3 is merely designed as a bundle of repository, forum and shared workspace without significant stress on the process of collaborative knowledge construction. Concerning Synergeia, it is empowered by the noteworthy concept maps that are widely accepted as a very effective way for knowledge construction. Nevertheless, the rise-above and build-on features of Knowledge Forum maximise the learning capacity of each learner through community effort that triumph the concept-organising property of concept maps.
Mostly importantly, there are already many teachers practising knowledge building pedagogies using Knowledge Forum in many places. Apart from Toronto, Hong Kong has the largest teacher community dedicating inordinate effort to teaching students collaborative learning skills. However, the teachers who have experience in using Knowledge Forum reported some inadequacy of the learning platform. For instance, when a teacher wants to read a certain kind of messages, such as questions, he/she has to browse through all the notes directly in the present design. It is one of the reasons why it is not very easy to assess students' contributions . Sometimes a contributor may want to have a list of his/her own contributions so that he/she can scrutinise the learning process; nevertheless, this function is not available in the current version.
The objectives of this research are as follows:
To investigate extensively how Knowledge Forum can help students construct community knowledge.
To understand the problems faced by teachers and students in using Knowledge Forum, especially those concerning assessing students' learning progress and performance.
To explore a set of appropriate web and database technology, especially knowledge and information visualisation, that is useful to fortify the functionality of Knowledge Forum, especially assessment tools that can avail teachers to evaluate students' contributions.
To develop a prototype of supporting tools that can reinforce Knowledge Forum regarding assessment, information storage and retrieval.
To evaluate the quality and performance of the prototype.
Knowledge Building and Problem Solving through Knowledge Forum
Scardamalia and Bereiter believe that a school should be a place for intentional learning and expertise cultivation . However, traditional schooling only tackle visible parts of knowledge, i.e., formal knowledge and demonstrable skills. These kinds of inert knowledge seldom touch students' thought and behaviour and useful informal/tacit knowledge is rarely embraced in traditional school curriculums.
Furthermore, in a traditional school, many teachers project their focal point on tasks and activities without underlying the associated learning objectives, so students are generally unaware of knowledge objectives behind the tasks and activities they are supposed to do. Scardamalia and Bereiter point out students can achieve intentional learning only if they actively try to attain a cognitive objective. Thus, the current schooling system only benefits those with high individuals' abilities, dispositions and prospects, only those so-called "bright" students are able to pry into the "secrets" of those tasks and activities.
Expertise cultivation in schools is also of paramount importance, i.e., students should be able to learn to be an expert-like learner who processes progressive problem solving skills. It is believed that problem solving skills can be achieved through meaningful learning that metacognitive knowledge is obtained by means of self-regulating processes . Richard and Wittrock put forward seven instructional methods that stimulate problem solving: load-reducing, structure-based, schema-activation, generative, guided discovery, modeling and teaching thinking. The first six methods train students to be domain problem solvers while the last one enhances their general problem solving capabilities. There are four features of successful teaching thinking skills programs: focus on the most well-defined skills, contextualize the skills within authentic tasks, personalize the skills through social interaction and language-based discussion of problem solving processes, and accelerate the skills that students can learn with lower-level skills. Simply expressed, Richard and Wittrock suggest that general expertise or problem solving skills can be transferred from teachers to students based on tenets similar to those twelve knowledge building principles advocated by Scardamalia and Bereiter. However, traditional schooling offers no mechanisms for teachers to transfer their expertise to students, so most students cannot progress into expert-like learners through reinvestment of mental resources released from adopting progressive problem solving methods such as pattern learning and automaticity.
Scardamalia and Bereiter urge that, with the impetus of technology, schools should be transformed into knowledge building communities. The discourse framed by this kind of sociocognitive process transcends the barriers of didactic teaching and child/activity-centred knowledge development. The progress of the learning accomplished through knowledge building discourse should be able to be orchestrated and mediated instead of the unpredictable learning progress in traditional schooling. In addition, all members in a school community, including both teachers and students, should take up collective cognitive responsibility which "refers to the condition in which responsibility for the success of a group effort is distributed across all the members rather than being concentrated in the leader" (p. 68). Every community member should understand the knowledge required by the community and make sure others know what they are supposed to know.
In a knowledge building discourse, a student reviewer can have their knowledge advanced from comprehending the contributions made by other students in the community, so it is one of the incentives for students to participate in the discourse. Once a student makes a quality contribution, he/she gets recognition and respect from other community members. The desire of being recognized and respected, together with the craving for making prominent impact on the community, may be two of the other motivations. A fully well-designed peer review system is indispensably required and the discourse should be close to students' personal lives: "students work together to make sense of the world around them and work
towards advancing their own state of knowledge and that of the class" .
The characteristics of a successful knowledge building discourse are "focus on problems and depth of understanding", "decentralized, open knowledge environments for collective understanding" and "productive interaction within broadly conceived knowledge-building communities" (p.274). Technology plays a vital role in fulfilling a successful knowledge building discourse. Knowledge Forum and its former version, Computer-Supported Intentional Learning Environment (CSILE), have a community database at the centre of a classroom discourse. Students' ideas can be extended to a broader knowledge building community if necessary. In the discourse environment, students act as both authors and reviewers who can contribute their ideas by creating text or graphical notes, search existing notes, and organize notes into more complex informational structures. Auto-notification through emails will be sent to authors when others comment on their notes. The note-writing environments are specially designed for participants to define inquiries as problems instead of topics. Discourses are carried out through stating theories and information for advancing theories. The scaffold function provides participants with phrases concerning cognitive processes, such as "I need to understand", "My theory", "A better theory", "This theory cannot explain", "Put our knowledge together", to name a few, that help participants contour discourses . The frequent use of these theory-building terms can help learners harness expert-like learning skills that can be employed in their daily lives . Knowledge Forum and CSILE also pinpoint intentionality as learners intentionally submit problems of what they require to understand and assert justifications for linked attached. The intentional learners can learn how to make decisions and deploy diagnostic processes.
Knowledge Forum and CSILE render a decentralised and open discourse environment that reverses "the teacher initiates, student responds, teacher evaluates pattern for oral and written discourse". By utilising a distributed model, information flowing between participants is not audited by a central authority. Since different students possess different kinds of knowledge, the knowledge exchanges can be very productive. Students of different ages and abilities can take part in the same discourse. Students with better oral or written language skills cannot dominate the discourse as the other students can frame their idea by drawing diagrams or building on information in others' notes or external resources. Those who are not familiar with the topic can contribute to the community by asking questions and writing reflections. The inefficient turn-tasking problem in normal classroom discussions is automatically eliminated as discourses in Knowledge Forum are held asynchronously over a computer network or the Internet. Students can write their statements at any desired time and have all the time they want to formulate the statements, without pressure like that happened in an oral discussion. This encourages students to publish independent thought and refines their own ideas and those in the community, resulting in progressive self-regulating learning and problem solving training.
Information / Knowledge Visualisation
Some users reported that the current design of Knowledge Forum is not very intuitive to use, especially for complex tasks and ill-structured subject matters. The new generation of knowledge/information visualisation technology seems to be an effective solution. The aim of information visualisation is to provide knowledge-based access to information resources and help users in making sense of the resources they are looking for during information retrieval. On the other hand, the goal of knowledge visualization is to assist students in learning and problem solving by providing tools to foster externalised cognition.
There are many well practised information visualisation techniques available, such as landscape metaphors, cartograms, tag clouds, etc.. Some educators claim that these techniques can help users understand the information better. In the context of knowledge construction, understanding of information is not sufficient, students need to be exposed to the information in different ways and be able to elaborate a personal experience from it.
Some other similar tools employing visualization techniques have also been developed in recent years, like Topic Maps Strand Map , VisIT (Visualization of Information Tool), Model-It, Microworlds, etc.. Some web search engines even implement exploratory searches with the assistance of information visualisation techniques to refine user search queries. Users can now carry out exploratory searches on the WWW through successive iterations on the visual interfaces of these tools. Examples are KartOO, UJIKO, Crokker, Simploos, Quintura, oSkope, News Map, etc..
It is apparent that educational tools employing knowledge visualisation technology can assist students in tackling subjects like liberal studies to a great extent as this kind of subjects require students to learn from resources in various disciplines and develop capacities to structure and organise their knowledge and learning materials for effective learning management , not to mention that knowledge from different subjects and domains is complex, interrelated and ill-structured in a complex manner.