Trans-dimensional Knowledge Forum!

I’ve spoken before about the two archetypes of Internet-based distance education: asynchronous (typically using message boards, email, etc., and allowing participants to contribute at times of their convenience) and synchronous (text or video chat, immersive environments, etc., which permit instantaneous communication and feedback, but require participants to adhere to a common meeting schedule like a traditional classroom).  My interest is mainly in the latter, but there are awfully neat asynchronous environments being designed at OISE and elsewhere to plumb the affordances of time-independent communication, such as deep organization, refinement, and archival of ideas while the communities involved collaborate to build knowledge.  We’ll be talking with Stian and Marlene Scardamalia at my research meeting in an hour or so about Knowledge Forum, which you can learn about quickly with Stian’s video, below.

A Demonstration of Knowledge Forum (v2) from Stian Haklev on Vimeo.

Stian mentions a common problem with information overload when approaching a typical threaded conversation on a forum; this is something I experienced acutely during my two online courses, and it’s exciting to see the idea-map style of Knowledge Forum work to address this.  However, when a space in KF is mature, it can seem at least as impenetrable as the index for a huge threaded conversation.  I hope to raise the following point today to address this:

KF is limited by what appears to be its bounded, 2-dimensional space, when, with extant technology, it could exist in an unbounded, 4-dimensional space.  Consider ThinkMap’s 3D visualization software, used in the famous (if limited) Visual Thesaurus.  Posts clustered in 3-dimensional dpace, linked by different kinds of lines to indicate the scaffolding elements at work (the way Visual Thesaurus distinguishes between synonyms and antonyms, for example) would be tremendously more approachable for me than the visual spaghetti code of the well-used spaces pictured in the video.  Shape- and image-overlays/underlays could still be used fruitfully to identify clusters of ideas, and could even grow automatically to encompass them, like a living Venn Diagram.

Adding a time-slider to allow viewers to see when and where contributions spring up would be (I think) much more valuable than time-stamped messages viewable only in their most recent iterations and configurations, and would serve greatly to diminish the intimidation of stumbling in on a mature conversation (with the concomitant fear that you’re repeating something someone else has already said because you haven’t read the discussion in its entirety first).  How handy to be able to play back the conversation in your own time, first, and then contribute comfortably?  This seems like a natural extension of asynchronicity.

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