Successful pedagogies for inquiry and knowledge building


Sociotechnical design for KB

An online environment that supports collaborative knowledge building should have designs and functions putting ideas into the spotlight for collaborating participants to continually improve. More importantly, it should provide functions that enable participants to carry out various kinds and stages of knowledge works, as well as generating insights that make reflections on idea progression easier.

Knowledge Forum (KF) ( was created by the Institute for Knowledge Innovation and Technology (IKIT) University of Toronto for people to build knowledge together. It is an asynchronous online discussion environment that not only acts as a repository of ideas and theories contributed by participants, but also allows participants to see how ideas grow progressively and collaboratively. In order to support the collaborative nature of knowledge building, the KF implements a number of tools that assist online discussion and help demonstrate the four groups of a dozen total knowledge building principles.

Open exploration and sharing of ideas

KB principles:

  • Community knowledge, collective responsibility
  • Democratizing knowledge
  • Idea diversity
Characteristics of Social Interactions IT Tools Design Consideration Knowledge Forum Features Illustrative Videos
Building a sense of community and maintaining group identity Provide discussion space for both team members and the entire community to comment on different topics Different space layouts can be easily set up for the purpose of inter-group discussion, and these layouts can be merged if necessary
Allowing clearly stated goals and functions of the community Provide visual-spatial organization of the discussion space Built-in graphic tools to organize and decorate views

Co-authorship function to allow a single message ("note") to be posted by multiple users

Understanding participation of and interaction between different members, making appropriate adjustments to entire community discussion if necessary Provide easy access to information on user participation and group interaction data Built-in Analysis Tool Kit (ATK) to generate user participation statistics and social interaction patterns

Progressive inquiry

KB principles:

  • Epistemic agency
  • Knowledge building discourse
  • Improvable ideas
  • Constructive use of authoritative sources
Characteristics of Social Interactions IT Tools Design Consideration Knowledge Forum Features Illustrative Videos
Identifying key issues to be investigated

Allowing members to clearly express aims and intentions behind every opinion

Monitoring discussion progress

Communicating changes within the community

Highlight the foci of discussion for clarity

Assist easy organization and management of diverse ideas

Allow members to communicate progress and direct the development of discourse

Graphical tools and display function

Different discussion ‘views’ can be linked to each other

Views can be linked in a hierarchical and tree format

Scaffolds, keywords, annotation and reference functions

Powerful search function

Treating ideas and theories as improvable conceptual artifacts Allow records of natural development of discussion content Users can re-open a posted ‘note’ and make changes

Referencing and annotation functions to quote other’s ideas

System records in detail all activities including posts, edits, and notes read along with time and author details

Making references and sharing information from sources outside of the community Share bookmarks, annotations and comments linked to the reference sources Automatic generation of bibliography of references

Multimedia function for marking movie/audio clips for sharing


KB principles:

  • Real ideas, authentic problems
  • Rise above
  • Embedded and transformative assessment
Characteristics of Social Interactions IT Tools Design Consideration Knowledge Forum Features Illustrative Videos
Exploring significant problems and seek deep understanding

Synthesizing different ideas and building theories

Creating historical accounts

Supporting the creation of archives for discussion contents

Allowing discussion content to be reorganized, conveniently archiving unimportant items so that members can focus on new/deeper KF threads

Rise above note archives existing notes

Views can be constructed as higher-order views

Evaluating the knowledge building progress

Sharing findings with the wider community

Mechanism to support such evaluation and community Publishing function to release notes and views to be seen by the general public

Creation of reflecting/learning portfolios to be shared with others

A communal "habit of mind"

KB principles:

  • Pervasive knowledge building
  • Symmetric knowledge building
Characteristics of Social Interactions IT Tools Design Consideration Knowledge Forum Features Illustrative Videos
Extending knowledge building outside one’s own group Allow easy search and participation of discussion with other groups on diverse problems Publish notes and views for access by other groups/general public

Multiple indices for content searches

Transferring knowledge building into other situations Simple and well-structured interface (for theory building, dialectical exchange supported with authoritative sources, and rise-above for deductive synthesis) enabling the formation of ‘habits of thinking’ Core features (highlighted above) perform as ‘thorough and systematic thinking tools’ enabling repeated exercise in KB learning