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This page originally authored by Kirk Deutschmann and Rafael Barrett (2007)
This page has been revised by Jennifer Chu (2008) and Michelle Rinker (2008).

Knowledge Forum® is a collaborative, asynchronous, educational software designed to assist and support knowledge building pedadogies, practices and communities. It is a social constructivist program whose intent is to foster student discourse patterns that build meaningful knowledge and form natural connections to the real world. It was created by Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiterin 1995 and is based on over 15 years of research at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

General Overview

Its original incarnation was titled CSILE (Computer Stimulated Intentional Learning Environment) and according to M. Scardamalia, it was designed to:

(a) make advanced knowledge processes accessible to all its participants

(b) support the creation and continual improvement of community knowledge

(c) provide a publicly accessed community space for carrying out knowledge building activities in a collaborative fashion

Learners asynchronously contribute to a community database with both text and graphic capabilities, which is located on a server and is accessible to everyone in that community. The contributions that the students make to the database are preserved and continually available for search, retrieval, comment, and revision. The software also allows all users including students, educators and other experts to collaborate and contribute to a database that hosts the knowledge of all participants. CSILE was the first system to provide curriculum support across all subjects for collaborative learning and inquiry. The purpose of the database is to demonstrate and certify the advancing knowledge of the participatory group (Scardamalia and Bereiter, 1994). In 1995, CSILE in collaboration with Learning in Motionwas reengineered and Knowledge Forum® was created. KF's affordances were substantially improved in order to increase its flexibility and to utilize the internet and accompanying technology more effectively.

To see Marlene Scardamalia's interview about the importance of knowledge building, click here. *On the website, scroll down and click on the appropriate video player format & speed to view the interview.


According to C. Bereiter, knowledge is CSILE's main focus. To see a videoclip of Bereiter sharing his views on how multiple intelligence affects the knowledge process, click here. *On the website scroll down and click on the appropriate videoplayer format & speed to view the interview.


Relationship to Constructivism and Knowledge Building

Hoover (1996) states that Constructivism's main premise is that human learning is constructed when learners build new knowledge upon the foundation of previous learning.

The idea of Knowledge Building springs forth from the social constructivist paradigm. Scardamalia and Bereiter (1994) state that Knowledge Building refers to the creation and improvement of ideas that are cogent to the real world, where they are subject to a collaborative process of evaluation, amendment, and application. Knowledge building is a realistic approach to education because children at an early age can engage in it. The same approach also stems as far as advance education and adult knowledge building.

More specifically, an effective Knowledge Building Community:

  1. Focuses on problems, not topics: knowledge is advanced through discourse in the effort to understand concepts and resolve discrepancies.
  2. Emphasizes decentralized, democratic and open knowledge building, with a focus on collective knowledge. This occurs through constructive social interactions with others involved in similar or related problems.
  3. Requires that more experienced and knowledgeable members of the community remain engaged in the knowledge-building process but must not place limits on the scope of the investigation.
  4. Values less knowledgeable members' participation as it determines the gaps, inadequacies, difficulties in the knowledge being created.
  5. Engages a broader knowledge community than that involved in the current local problem, bringing in views from worldwide community participants.
  6. Supports an environment where one's contributions can determine what contributions will follow, thus changing the direction of the discourse and the knowledge constructed.

As we can see, Knowledge Building Communities emphasize the construction of new ideas via collaborative, democratic discourse in a learning environment. The social culture of KBC's provides the opportunity and tools to its participants to create new knowledge that is constantly evolving and to which literally millions of learners can contribute.


  1. Notes and view support teamwork and collaborative design.
  2. Views provide different perspectives on information.
  3. Multimedia and other supports provide a way in for all participants to a common discourse.
  4. Emergent ideas and goals are supported --> Knowledge Forum represents an open environment for ideas / activities.

Three generalized affordances are described:

Multiple Perspectives

Users within Knowledge Forum® have the opportunity to view notes in multiple ways allowing differences in conceptualizing the same group of represented ideas. These landscapes afford a new way of looking at the information and highlight areas not yet understood or explored. Those notes can be displayed through a variety of mediums including text, graphics, movie or audio files. Figure 1 illustrates how a set of notes can be viewed in different formats, the left showing a graphical organization while the right shows a threaded format. The notes and views can be individually or partner/group authored, providing opportunities for collaborative thinking. This expands perspectives, often resulting in advanced knowledge building.

Figure 1 Figure 1 Different perspectives of notes can be viewed

Creating Connections

The design of Knowledge Forum® allows notes to be connected via links in a multiple of meaningful and modifiable ways. A particular note complex can be arranged and viewed in numerous ways, including text only, threaded discussion, graphical representations, or any combination thereof. Notes, for example in figure 2 can be arranged so lines are drawn between those that build on or refer to each other, creating a visible topography of conversation, akin to concept mapping. Ideas can show connectedness by their hierarchical structure, distance, or location. Knowledge Forum’s® multi–faceted indices (keywords, scaffolds, problem fields, titles) and powerful search tools allow for related ideas to be connected in meaningful ways. The multiplicity of views and representations is a tremendous affordance as a constructivist design model. It permits a flexible differentiation for the varied educational needs of its participants creating a learning environment that is powerfully inclusive.

Knowledge Forum Database Figure 2 Notes can be connected to show relationships

Advanced Knowledge Processes

Knowledge Forum® affords the ability to facilitate higher level thinking to support knowledge building. This is done by the use of “scaffolds” and “rise-above” notes. A scaffold is a design structure of a set of cognitive operations learners use to help improve their understanding, allowing specific contributions to the knowledge building database. Scaffolds are customizable meaning they can be added or modified to support the discourse of learning. An example of scaffolding is shown in figure 3 which illustrates several choices for scaffolding:

  1. My theory
  2. I need to understand
  3. New information
  4. A better theory
  5. Putting our knowledge together

Scaffolding Figure 3 Scaffolds provide opportunities for generative, spurring conversations

Rise-above notes are another higher-level affordance in Knowledge Forum® that is pivotal in idea improvement within the knowledge building community. A rise-above is simply a note that “rises-above” a collection of other notes, providing some synthesis or reflection that unites them. These notes can be utilized within an individual’s own learning, the knowledge building community, at a specific time or over an extended period of time. Improvements of ideas through rise-aboves can be supported by increasingly higher-order conceptual frameworks, reviews and revisions, or published notes or views.

Assessing Student Learning in the Knowledge Forum: Assessment Applets

In addition to the basic functionality of the Knowledge Forum software, a series of applets have been created specifically for the Knowledge Forum to assist students and instructors in assessing progress in the Knowledge Building process. Following the basic tenets of Knowledge Building, the tools enable the learning community to monitor progress towards their collective knowledge building goals and provide a means of internally assessing the contributions of individual community members.

Applet image.jpg

Lexical Analysis by Marc Lalancette This applet allows the students and instructor to track the specific terms and the frequency in which they appear in the Knowledge Forum. It allows the user to determine the number of occurrences of various words in different sections of the Forum so that connections might be made between notes and areas in the KF. The applet is also available in French language.

Contribution by Paul Johnson This applet provides information regarding the number of contributions each member of the knowledge building community has made to the forum. The instructor is able to see overall contributions as well as weekly contributions. Data is presented in bar graph form.

Semantic Overlap by Chris Teplovs Using the Yahoo! Term Extraction Service, this applet allows instructors to compare two separate areas of the Knowledge Forum and find terms that are common to both views. Similar to the Lexcial Analysis tool, this allows users to make connections between notes and views.

Social Network by Paul Johnson This applet allows instructors and students to determine connections that were made between members of the knowledge building community. Users are able to see which members they interacted with the most and whether or not the connections were reciprocated.

Vocabulary Growth by Jud Burtis Intended for individual users and instructors, this applet is particularly helpful for second language students to monitor their own vocabulary development over the course of the Knowledge Building experience. The tool enables them to see which basic vocabulary they used, which advanced terms were used and which were misspelled in the discussion forum. Can be used both for student self-assessment as well as teacher assessment of students.

Writing by Ben Smith Lea The Writing applet generates assessment information about the students and instructors’ writing habits in the Knowledge Forum by tracking the number of notes posted. The Writing Activity component refers to the number of words used in sentences. By tracking the number of different words used in the text, the Word Diversity tool gives a measure of the richness of words used by the author.


Upon reviewing the academic literature, there seems to be a limited number of concerns regarding the constraints of Knowledge Forum® and its use in learning environments. However, O'Neill (2001) states that some challenges arose when:

  1. Learners and teachers participated in a Knowledge Forum® database under the influence of cultural stereotypes
  2. Some students operated under the belief that learning discourse with mentors made discourse with fellow students unnecessary
  3. Limited or even eliminated their contributions to the collective knowledge building effort
  4. Teachers that should have been undertaking a mentoring role in a knowledge building database sometimes chose to limit their contributions
  5. Teachers felt unsure about their ability to contribute to the KF discourse effectively.

Ultimately, teachers and students can both benefit from appropriate scaffolds that can assist them in surmounting the constraints of KF. The most obvious strategy would be to provide both populations with the necessary workshops that would allow them to explore and familiarize themselves with the KF environment in a supportive, non-threatening environment. Another strategy for a scaffold would be to have experienced KF users serve as mentors to the less experienced users and to provide formative feedback.

Finally, the requisite amount of networked computers and appropriate software must be available for the full potential of this knowledge building program to be realized. Many provinces might find that the cost of properly equipping their schools with the required hardware and purchasing the Knowledge Forum® license prohibitive.

Educational Applications

Knowledge Forum has been successfully utilized by elementary, high school, and college students as well as adults in the business and medical professions. With its goal of continual improvement of ideas through a knowledge building community, Knowledge Forum not only enhances learning both individually and collaborativey, but helps set learners on a course of knowledge creation, one that drives lifelong learning and innovation.

Here are a few examples of CSILE/Knowledge Forum & Knowledge Building in practice:

This is an introductory tour of Knowledge Forum (slide show with audio - uses Quicktime or without audio).

Knowledge Forum Tour (with audio)

Knowledge Forum Tour (without audio)

CSILE is at work in an elementary school in Oakland, California.

DIG Project

There is a teacher who utilized CSILE in his classroom for the past 10 years as a grade 6 teacher at Huron Public Schoool in Toronto. He found four effective approaches to using CSILE in the classroom.

Four Effective Approaches to CSILE

Here are examples of how the actual CSILE software / program can be used (from the Knowledge Forum website). The examples range from grade 5 to high school. (You will need to enter one of the following to access the examples -- Username: guest5, guest6, guest7 / Password: guest5, guest6, guest7)

Demo: K-12 Examples

Fle3 is an example of an open source online tool for knowledge building.

Fle3 *There are plenty of other screenshots on their website

Collaborative KB1.jpg

External Links

See Also

Constructivism (Learning Theory)

Instructional Design


Hoover, W.A. (1996). The Practice Implications of Constructivism. SEDLetter, 9 (3). Retrieved February 25, 2007 from

Jay, Jason. (2003). Knowledge Forum Experiences and Reflections. Retrieved February 28, 2007 from

Knowledge Forum. Retrieved February 28, 2007 from

Lutz, S., & Huitt, W. (2004). Connecting cognitive development and constructivism: Implications from theory for instruction and assessment. Constructivism in the Human Sciences,9(1), 67-90.

O’Neill, Kevin D. (2001). Building social capital in a knowledge-building community: Telementoring as a catalyst, Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Retrieved February 27, 2007 from

Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1999). Schools as knowledge building organizations. In D. Keating & C. Hertzman (Eds.), Today’s children, tomorrow’s society: The developmental health and wealth of nations (pp. 274-289).

Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C.(1994). Computer Support for Knowledge-Building Communities. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, ,3(3), 265-283.

Scardamalia, M. (2001). CSILE/Knowledge Forum. In Educational Technology: An Encyclopedia. 183-192. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.