Bodong Chen

Crisscross Landscapes

Notes: CSILE/Knowledge Forum



Citekey: @scardamalia2004

Scardamalia, M. (2004). CSILE/Knowledge Forum. In A. Kovalchick & K. Dawson (Eds.), Education and technology: An encyclopedia (pp. 183–192). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.


::The origins of CSILE (Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environments) are in research on knowledge building, on the nature of expertise, and on the socio-cultural dynamics of innovation. CSILE was designed to (a) make advanced knowledge processes accessible to all participants, including children, (b) foster the creation and continual improvement of public artifacts or community knowledge (Scardamalia, 2002), and ( c ) provide a community space for carrying out this knowledge building work collaboratives. ::

CSILE was first prototyped in a university course in 1983. By 1986 a fully-functioning networked version was in daily use in an elementary school. In 1995 it was reengineered, with its affordances for knowledge building substantially enhanced, and published as Knowledge Forum® ( by Learning in Motion.

CSILE was not management, planning, or productivity software retooled for children; it was technology specifically designed to support knowledge creation. It was not a collection of tools; ::it was an environment to support the kinds of inquiry, information search, and creative work with ideas that go on in knowledge-building organizations of all kinds. ::

Knowledge Forum is the only product continuously improved over the years based on research results arising from active and diverse user communities and reflecting knowledge building theory, principles, and practices. ::Knowledge Forum development is not driven by technology, but uses advances in technology to continually enhance and unfold the knowledge building agenda.::

Knowledge Building Affordances

::The heart of CSILE/Knowledge Forum is a multimedia community knowledge space. In the form of notes, participants contribute theories, working models, plans, evidence, reference material, and so forth to this shared space. The software provides knowledge building supports both in the creation of these notes and in the ways they are displayed, linked, and made objects of further work.:: Revisions, elaborations, and reorganizations over time provide a record of group advances, like the accumulation of research advances in a scholarly discipline.

Multiple Perspectives, Multiple Literacies, and Teamwork

• Notes and views support teamwork and collaborative design. Notes are multimedia objects that can be co-authored. View backgrounds are not simply white backdrops or static bulletin boards (although they can be used that way); they are collaborative design environments with a built in graphics program that makes it easy for users to design their own backgrounds.

• Views provide different perspectives on information. As the work of the biologist presented in the last pane of Figure 1 suggests, this networked technology is used to expand perspectives rather than solidify roles in which students ask questions and experts answer them.

• Multimedia and other supports provide a way in for all participants to a common discourse. Notes and views support a range of multimedia objects, from text to video. As an example, some of these Grade 1 students were not writers at the beginning of the year but did represent their ideas graphically. Easy assignment of keywords (touching a word in a note with a movable key icon is all it takes) made it possible for these young students to keyword their notes. These notes were then available, via keyword searches, for incorporation into new conceptual views.

• Notes and views can be individually or group authored. They can also be entered into private or public spaces; the default option is that they are contributed to a public forum. Accordingly, the environment encourages openness in knowledge work while enhancing both individual and group processes.

• Emergent ideas and goals are supported. Knowledge Forum represents an open environment, without predetermined boundaries or structures around ideas or activities. Through collective responsibility for public knowledge spaces, with input from varied sources of expertise, the environment favors the emergence of big ideas and deep principles.

Creating Connections and Public Knowledge

• Flexible build-ons. The first five panes show the varied forms that a build-on structure can take. The note complex has been rearranged a number of times to give greater meaning to the concepts of frequency and amplitude. This flexibility can be contrasted with the downward branching of these same notes in threaded discourse, as illustrated in the last pane of this figure. Linear discourse forms and isolated ‘conferences’ entrap ideas. Idea connectedness is further facilitated through the following means (see Figures 3-6).

• Annotation, citation, and reference links. Annotations and reference links can be added to any note. References include pointers back to source notes, so ideas can be viewed in both original and new contexts. Links to views and subviews can be embedded within either notes or views. Deep embedding of ideas facilitates deep processing of information.

• Interconnected views. Views can be interlinked: views reference other views, and different levels of access to views can be used to indicate the centrality or distance of particular views to the current work of the community.

• Multi-faceted indices. Author-assigned indices (keywords, scaffolds, problem fields, titles) and automatically assigned indices (author, date, semantic field) make notes available through a variety of search parameters; a note sorter allows the notes resulting from a search to be sorted for viewing or transported into another view (also see Figure 1). Citation, commentary, and notification enhance engagement through drawing all relevant authors back into the discourses that involve their ideas.

Advanced Knowledge Processes

Scaffolding Knowledge Processes. Scaffold supports are Knowledge Forum’s most imitated feature. They were originally designed to provide procedural facilitation (Scardamalia and Bereiter, 1983) for fostering expertise in writing, and were titled ‘thinking types.’

• Scaffolds give ideas defined roles in such processes as theory refinement (e.g., This theory cannot explain…) and constructive criticism. The opportunistic rather than mandated use of scaffold supports helps students embed these forms of discourse in their everyday work with ideas. As Pontecorvo (1993) states “forms of discourse become forms of thinking (p 191).”

• The supports contained within any particular scaffold can be used opportunistically and flexibly in any order.

• Scaffolds are customizable. They can be easily added or modified to support the discourse needs of a particular community.

Reference and Contribute. Knowledge Forum replaces the common ‘say it in your own words’ norm with the more mature ‘contribute-and-reference’ norm. As illustrated in the italicized text in Figure 3, cited material is automatically quoted (made visually distinct), with automatic links back to original sources, and automatic compilation of a bibliography. Users are especially drawn to this feature, because they see their work referenced rather than copied.

Problems of understanding. A problem field at the header of the note encourages a shift from topicto problem-based inquiry. Knowledge Forum’s ‘problem space’ encourages the identification of problems of understanding to guide inquiry. ‘Problem’ searches produce an overview of the problems that others are working on, so it is easy to contribute to those problem spaces or start a new field of inquiry.

Rise-Above and Improvable Ideas

“Rise-above” notes play a pivotal role in idea improvement. The idea, based on the philosophical concept of dialectic, is that the most constructive way of dealing with divergent or opposing ideas is not to decide on a winner or a compromise position but rather to create a new idea that preserves the value of the competing ideas while “rising above” their incompatibilities. In the simplest cases a rise-above may be simply a summary or distillation; in the most compelling cases, the rise-above presents a new idea that all the participants can recognize as an advance over their previous ideas.

Endless improvability of ideas is further supported by the following: • Ability to create increasingly high-order conceptual frameworks. It is always possible to reformulate problems at more complex levels, create a rise-above note that encompasses previous rise-above notes, or to create a more inclusive view-of-views. • Review and Revision. Notes and views can be revised at any time, unlike most discussion environments that disallow changes after a note is posted. • Published’ notes and views. Processes of peer review and new forms of publication engage students in group editorial processes. Published works appear in a different visual form and searches can be restricted to the published layer of a database.

Individual and Group Portfolios; Evolution of Ideas

Ideas and Artifacts as Objects of Discourse

Embedded and transformative assessment

Knowledge builders monitor their work, and engage in self-assessment rather than being totally dependent on external evaluations. Research tools work in the background of Knowledge Forum to automatically record activity patterns such as reading, building-on, referencing, and creating views. Results from these analytic tools can then be fed back into the work as it proceeds, rather than waiting until the end of a unit of work to provide feedback, when it is too late to make adjustments.

The Knowledge Society Network (KSN) and the Virtual Suite of Possibilities