Idea Thread Mapper

Idea Threads Mapper (ITM) is a research-based collaborative platform that supports student-directed, collaborative  knowledge building both within and across classrooms. It was created/upgraded by our team through two NSF Cyberlearning research grants (PI/Co-PI: Professors Jianwei Zhang (Education) and Mei-Hwa Chen (Computer Science).

Below is a brief introduction to the design and use of ITM. For detailed information and user guide, see our Idea Thread Mapper site.

Educational Goal

Inquiry-based, knowledge building pedagogy needs new classroom innovations and technology designs to enable sustained, connected, and long-term inquiry within each classroom and to further enable idea build-on across classrooms. We designed ITM to address these needs, drawing upon our theoretical and empirical research on collaborative learning and knowledge building.  Our innovations focus on two goals:

(a) Supporting student-driven, ever-deepening inquiry processes in a way that engages student responsibility for structuring the collective journey of inquiry;

(b) Making student creative progress accessible across classrooms for mutual learning and build-on.

New ITM Design

We have recently upgraded Idea Thread Mapper (ITM) to better support student-driven collaborative knowledge building within each classroom as well as idea interaction across classrooms. ITM interoperates with Knowledge Forum, a renowned platform for knowledge building used across the world.

With the support of ITM, students in each classroom community co-organize shared inquiry directions over time as they continually build and deepen their understandings in a domain area. ITM supports students’ co-structuring of their collective journey of inquiry and review of knowledge progress over time.

  • The inquiry directions are organized as “juicy” wondering areas (e.g. respiration system) and more specific threads of inquiry—“idea threads” (e.g. lungs, heart).

ITM wondering areas and idea threads

  • Students participate in sustained inquiry and discourse, which are organized as unfolding idea threads. Each idea thread represents a line of inquiry that investigates a core problem or challenging topic. Students post and build on one another’s ideas, which are display along a timeline. As the inquiry proceeds, students reflect on their collective progress by documenting the Journey of Thinking, including the progress made and deeper work needed.


  • As they make progress, students may propose new wondering areas or idea thread topics focusing on the problems/challenges identified.

For cross-community interaction, each classroom may connect with other classrooms that study the same or related domain areas as “buddy projects.”  ITM serves to make the journeys and progress of inquiry accessible across communities. Students can

  • see the inquiry directions pursued by the buddy classrooms,
  • access their “journey of thinking” syntheses and discuss the new ideas, connections, and deeper problems/issues.
  • engage in lively “super talk” with peers from the buddy classrooms to discuss challenging issues at the intersection of their knowledge.

To support student ongoing reflection on and co-structuring of their unfolding inquiry, ITM includes embedded analytics, which provide automated analyses and visualizations to reveal patterns of emergent inquiry directions, student collaboration, and idea progress.

The Classroom Process of Knowledge Building Supported by ITM

This short video provides an overview of our Reflective Structuration approach to co-organizing the journey of knowledge building  in classrooms:  Video created for the NSF 2018 STEM FOR ALL video showcase.

How to Login and Use ITM?

Users of any Knowledge Forum (KF6) database can access ITM from within KF.

Knowledge Forum server in Albany, NY: 

If you’d like to enable ITM in your KF database, please email Yizhen Chen (

To access ITM user guide, visit the Idea Thread Mapper site.

Research findings and publications

See our NSF Cyberlearning project page.



Need to use the previous version of ITM? Check out this page