Bodong Chen

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Notes: The CSILE Project



Citekey: @scardamalia1994a

Scardamalia, M., Bereiter, C., & Lamon, M. (1994). The CSILE Project: Trying to Bring the Classroom into World 3. In Classroom lessons: Integrating cognitive theory and classroom practice (pp. 201–228).



Marlene recommended this article when discussing my thesis work on (personal) epistemology. This article’s emphasis on World 3 and collective epistemology prompts me to rethink my research design. Combining with my thoughts from reading [[ref:forrester2006|Forrester’s thesis]] about epistemology, I am thinking about research of epistemology related to promisingness in two important directions. I am putting them as two independent dimensions:

design mode vs. belief mode epistemology individual vs. collective epistemology

If epistemology is framed this way, our thinking about knowledge building and other instructional approaches can be framed this way:

Of course, this article is not really about epistemology. Its discussions about theoretical background of CSILE, cases, empirical evidence showing its effectiveness, and ineffectivenss of applying ‘current’ cognitive science on thinking of World 3 are all very interesting.



“Intentional learning” is not just a synonym for “motivation.” There are students who are motivated to do well in school and who apply themselves seriously to school tasks, but who are not in fact pursuing cognitive goals. Instead, their goals are formed around doing well on the tasks themselves or on looking good in comparison to others (Ng and Bereiter 1991; Nicholis 1984).

To bring knowledge to the forefront , we wanted a medium in which knowledge would be objectified, represented in an overt form so that it could be evaluated, examined for gaps and inadequacies, added to, revised, and reformulated .

The subsequent history of the CSILE project has been a history of increasing emphasis on this social dimension of knowledge construction. Cooperative learning is, of course, a popular notion ; but typically, it refers to students either cooperating in a group task or else helping one another achieve individually realized cognitive objectives. Can a school class, as a collective, have the goal of understanding gravity or electricity? Can it sustain progress toward this goal even though individual members of the class may flag in their efforts or go off on tangents? Can one speak of the classagain, considered as a community, not as a mere collection of individuals - achieving an understanding that is not merely a tabulation of what the individual students understand? These questions have on the one hand led us into issues of educational epistemology, but on the other hand have led into what we believe are promising new avenues of educational design.

Theoretical and Research Background

While these efforts have been moderately successful, it is noteworthy that some cognitive researchers originally involved in cognitive strategy instruction have since moved to a more broadly social orientation , in which the emphasis is on building a classroom culture supportive of active knowledge construction rather than relying on strategy instruction aimed at the individual student.

The version of Vygotsky’ s sociocognitive theory that is gaining popularity among educators takes us halfway to another view of knowledge, with its proposal that cognitive structures are first formed socially and then reconstructed internally. However, as this idea has been taken up by North American educators, the emphasis is on the internal part, with social activity treated as a means of advancing the child ’s personal knowledge . That emphasis is problematic insofar as it has dictated a corresponding neglect of how cognitive structures are supported by social structures and hence fails to account for the internalization process itself .

The idea of knowledge having a primarily social existence thus does not enjoy a natural fit with educational thought . This idea has proved significant in the philosophy and sociology of science, however (Harre 1984; Latour 1987; Popper 1972).

The question is always to what extent do children think and act like scientists, not to what extent does a school class function like a scientific community.

The individualistic focus has tended to distort the knowledge-building process. the scientific enterprise is reduced to the exercise of a variety of skills, such as observation, measurement, and experimentation .

The goal is to get students involved in improving the knowledge itself rather than with but it represents the normal arrangement of priorities in the “real” improving their own minds. This is a radical turnabout for schooling, world of knowledge building .

CSILE as a Medium for Working in World 3

To be sure, it cannot do much by itself, but it has turned out that CSILE is not nearly so neutral a medium as one might suppose. It introduces certain blases and enables cetain kinds of information flow that are at least conducive to educational change. First, the physical conditions especially the fact that not all children can be working on CSILE at the same time militate against the traditional schoolwork model, where all the students are doing the same thing at the same time. Second, CSILE opens up a significant channel for communication in the classroom that is not mediated through the teacher

What made this one memorable was a one-line note which stated simply, “Mendel worked on Karen’s question.” it was a problem that had a history , a problem that had mattered to other people , and that by working on it they became a part of something larger . All we really want to claim , however , is that the remark is suggestive of how working in World 3 might come to have a much deeper and richer significance for students than working in World 2, the world of their personal interests and puzzlements .

Evidence of Effects

Our objectives for CSILE have moved from promoting intentional learning in individual students to supporting the collective construction of public ( World 3) knowledge.

Two sources of data then are relevant for testing the idea that construction of knowledge is a social and not just an individual activity : World 3 effects (e.g., improved knowledge quality and evidence of constructive activity in students’ collective work ) and World 2 effects (e.g., a shift toward mastery goals and away from performance goals, and evidence of deeper understanding ).

Where’s the Cognitive Science

As the focus of our work has shifted from World 2 to World 3 from goings on within the individual mind to knowledge as a public construction we of course have moved farther away from cognitive science as it has generally been conceived. But cognitive science itself is in a considerable state of flux , and many of its changes are in the same direction as our research and have had an important influence on how we think about what we are doing.

The effective teacher or instructional designer, according to this which the class’s knowledge is regarded as a public , objective entity conception, must be able to move flexibly between a World 3 view, in that the teacher must help develop optimally, and a World 2 view, in which the teacher works with hypothetical mental structures attributed to individual students.

Standard -brand cognitive science is helpful in working at the World 2 level , but it is essentially mute with respect to World 3.