Interoperability among Knowledge-Building Environments

Sponsored by the Center for Innovative Learning Technologies (CILT)

September 1999 - August 2000


A number of software environments have been developed to support collaborative knowledge building, typically incorporating a persistent discussion forum. Despite striking similarities and interesting differences among these community learning tools, there has been little direct interchange of ideas, designs, experiences and data among the developers. A first step toward increasing collaboration in this research community is to define a mark-up language to represent, archive and translate the data captured in these systems. This will help us to understand the design space of such knowledge building environments, to share software tools and to archive data for analysis. This project brings together representatives of research groups building related tools and evaluating the learning supported by those tools.

Principle Investigators:

PI: Gerry Stahl,, University of Colorado (WebGuide)

Co-PI: Matthew Realff,, Georgia Tech (CoWeb)

Co-PI: Charles Kerns,, Stanford University (Learning Lab)

Co-PI: Christopher Hoadley,, SRI (Knowledge Network

Other Executive Committee Members:

Jay Scott,, Swarthmore College (Math Forum)

Patricia Schank,, SRI (Tapped In)

Alex Cuthbert,, UC Berkeley (KIE/Wise)

Janet Blatter,, McGill University (LearningSpace)

Other Project Members:

Richard Wenn,, WestEd (educational r&d)

George Toye,, Stanford U.

Chris Teplovs,, U. Toronto (CSILE/Knowledge Forum)

Dan Suthers,, University of Hawaii (Belvedere)

Jim Slotta,, UC Berkeley (KIE/Wise)

Ken Schweller,, Buena Vista University (standards)

Marlene Scardamalia,, U. Toronto (CSILE/Knowledge Forum)

Bob McLean,, U. Toronto (CSILE/Knowledge Forum)

Ian McKay,, University of Hawaii (Maile)

John Maxwell,, University of British Columbia (WebConstellations)

Charlie Hendricksen,, University of Washington (DocReview)

Mark Guzdial,, Georgia Institute of Technology (CoWeb)

Simon Buckingham Shum,, Open University (CSCA)

Aaron Bond,, University of British Columbia (WebConstellations)


Objectives and Significance:

The goal is to start a collaboration among research groups and individuals who are designing, implementing, testing and evaluating innovative learning technologies that support collaborative knowledge building. A number of similar software knowledge-building environments (KBEs) have been created, generally including a discussion facility that renders student argumentation persistent. This project will define a common data mark-up format that these KBE systems can export their discussions to. This will allow interchange of data and the display of data in shared formats to facilitate comparison and research. For instance, it will facilitate the archiving of discussions from different systems in CILT's Knowledge Network.


Project and Partners:

This project will bring together researchers working within a genre of collaborative learning technology that is prominent in the larger field, but has not been identified or conceptualized as such. The effort to make the data in these KBE systems exchangeable will raise issues of software design that will lead to sharing of expertise and technical advances. This is similar to the Dexter conference that defined a software model of the major hypertext systems in 1988 and clarified directions for their future development [CACM, 37, 2]. We hope to start with KBE researchers at Toronto, Georgia Tech, Colorado, Swarthmore, Berkeley, Stanford, SRI and elsewhere. The time they contribute to this project is likely to total in excess of 400 hours during the year: drafting documents, corresponding and attending workshops. The partner groups include several people with XML experience who are willing to share knowledge of this important new technology within the KBE community. A number of groups are already working on XML representations specific to their systems, and others will soon begin to do so as a result of this project. The PI (Stahl) will be leading an interdisciplinary graduate seminar on KBEs in the Fall, with students doing research directly supportive of the proposed project. As a direct consequence of the planning of this project at CILT '99, a parallel project has been launched for research groups in the cognate field of CSCA (computer supported collaborative argumentation / design rationale), with an initial draft XML DTD already (within a week of the CILT conference) posted to a KBE for discussion. All of these activities will be represented and coordinated in the proposed project.


Expected Outcomes:

KBEs are considered important learning technologies, yet their widespread adoption remains problematic. This project will begin to bring together a community of people deeply involved in the KBE sub-field to share data, designs and experiences. Data interoperability will facilitate the development of shared tools for analyzing, visualizing and comparing student learning within various KBEs. When data is stored in an XML file, it can be interchanged between different KBE systems or different versions of the same system, archived for flexible future use and displayed on the Web with metadata search capabilities. The definition of an XML DTD for threaded discussion and related information in KBEs is explicitly viewed as just a first outcome. The KBE-ML will include a minimal model of KBE storage, a full-featured ideal model and extensions for specific systems. If accepted, workshops proposed for CSCL '99 and elsewhere will relate this work to the broader educational issues surrounding KBEs. This project will lead to a clearer understanding of future stages of collaboration for subsequent funded projects.



A number of participating groups have already started to work with XML representations of their own systems, so development is likely to proceed through iterations punctuated by communication and consolidation, with "standards" being repeatedly revised to support new concerns. The following milestones are targets for reaching consensus and producing semi-stable documents:

bulletRequirements specification for an XML DTD based on several specific KBE systems. (Month 2)
bulletDraft of a full-featured KBE-ML Document Type Definition for KBEs and a minimal subset to define compatibility. (Month 4)
bulletDevelopment of export/import procedures between XML data and specific KBE systems. (Month 6)
bulletOrganization of a workshop at CSCL '99 (assuming acceptance) on issues related to this project and the learning goals of KBEs. (Month 7)
bulletDevelopment of Web display style sheets for the KBE-ML formatted data. (Month 9)
bulletDevelopment of simple data analysis tools for the KBE-ML formatted data. (Month 11)
bulletSubmission of funding proposals for future work. (Month 12)
bulletPreparation of project status updates and summary report. (Month 12)

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This page last modified on August 01, 2003