Author Archives: tcclzhang

Teacher workshop spreads knowledge building inquiry with ITM

Our collaborating teachers from Guilderland Elementary School delivered a professional development workshop to share their knowledge-building inquiry in science with teachers and school leaders in the Greater Capital Region of New York State. The workshop was hosted by at the Teacher Center in Albany on February 7, 2019. The Guilderland teacher team has been collaborating with our research team since 2013 to restructure their Grade 5 science program using a Knowledge Building approach with Knowledge Forum and Idea Thread Mapper (ITM). At this workshop, they shared their innovative work to approach the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) through  inquiry with the technology support.

Workshop at the Teacher Center

Workshop at the Teacher Center


Journal of Learning Sciences Webinar Discussing Our New Research Article

A Journal of Learning Sciences (JLS) Webinar was held to discuss our new JLS article: Co-Organizing the Collective Journey of Inquiry with Idea Thread Mapper. Four leading learning scientists offered valuable insights and comments. Dr. Katherine Bielaczyc (Clark University), Dr. Carol Chan (University of Hong Kong), Dr. Keith Sawyer (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Dr. Chewlee Teo (National Institute of Education, Singapore). See the recording on Youtube:

Keynote at GCCCE 2018: It takes a social system to raise creativity


Dr. Jianwei Zhang gave a keynote at the Global Chinese Conference on Computers in Education (GCCCE) hosted by South China Normal University (May 2018, Guangzhou, China).

Abstract: Education needs to prepare students for creative careers and productive lives in the 21st century. Research on creativity depicts it as a sustained social process for continual idea advancement, which goes beyond individual sparks of “Aha” insights. The sustained process is supported by creative social systems, in which ideas are continually contributed and built upon by interactive peers, leading to collective advances as well as progressive uncovering of deeper problems and higher goals. The sustained inquiry in each team is further supported by interactions across teams that work as a larger interconnected field.  In this talk, I will review the components of real-world creative social systems and stimulate conversations about how we may develop a system of this kind in education with technology support. Using our Idea Thread Mapper (ITM) project as an example, I will discuss new technology and pedagogical designs to support sustained creative inquiry in interconnected classroom communities, which build on one another’s knowledge to investigate challenging problems.

This keynote was reviewed/highlighted by a number of articles:

New Idea Thread Mapper (ITM) supports cross-classroom inquiry and knowledge building

We have recently upgraded Idea Thread Mapper (ITM) as a new generation collaborative platform to better organize and support student-driven knowledge building within each classroom as well as idea interaction across classrooms. ITM includes (a) spaces and tools for online discourse interaction through which students generate deepening questions and ideas; (b) features for inquiry structure creation and visualization to capture emerging inquiry directions and co-organize the online discourse accordingly; and (c) a cross-community space for students from different classrooms to view one another’s inquiry directions and progress and engage in “super talks” to discuss challenging issues across classrooms.  The new ITM is being used by a network of Grade 5 classrooms to investigate core scientific issues and build deep knowledge. See more info here.




Dr. Jianwei Zhang gave an invited speech at ICCE 2013 about principle-based design for creative knowledge practices


Inquiry-based learning practices to cultivate creative knowledge work currently rely on prescriptive designs that pre-specify a set of procedures to generate preset outcomes, with limited creative engagement of teachers and students in the design process. In his invited speech at the 21st International Conference on Computers in Education (ICCE) held in Bali Indonesia, Dr. Jianwei Zhang presented an adaptive, principle-based approach to learning design to support dynamic group flow that is essential to creative knowledge work. The teacher engages in opportunistic planning of inquiry processes and co-improvise with students as their idea-centered work unfolds in light of a set of primary principles. Structures of activities are not pre-set, but emerge from and  are “materialized” in practice. This principle-based approach sheds light on new designs of technology to leverage idea-centered group flow, feedback on progress, and inform deeper opportunities for sustained knowledge building. 

Idea Thread Mapper (ITM) Released in Both English and Chinese

Funded by a NSF Cyberlearning research grant,  Drs. Jianwei Zhang, Mei-Hwa Chen, and their team recently created a timeline-based collective knowledge mapping tool– Idea Thread Mapper (ITM). It can help members of knowledge building communities to engage in formative  reflection on idea progress in extended online discourse. Each line of inquiry focusing on a shared principal theme is represented as an idea thread, extending from the first to the last discourse entry. Reflecting on the diverse, unfolding idea threads  helps students to understand the conceptual landscape of their collaborative work and envision opportunities for deeper contribution and collaboration. We have been testing ITM-aided collaborative reflection in Grade 3 and 5/6 classrooms in Canada, China, and Albany, NY,  with positive impact on sustained knowledge building.

Users of any Knowledge Forum (KF) database can access ITM from within KF or through the following ITM portal, using their KF username and password.

English version

Chinese version

For more info, see: ITM: Idea Thread Mapper