Paper – ThinkSpace: the collaborative process of designing new technologies for the classroom


ThinkSpace – a specific educational tool and a wiki – facilitating the learning of higher order skills & construction of coherent understanding of complex concepts – a mash-up of existing resources – not the direct product of the understandings and practice of the teacher who is to use it

This paper investigates the processes of conceptualisation and experimentation that must be carried out in order to achieve a product that meets the developer’s aspirations and the teacher’s needs

Cognitive tools (…) are the area of interest in this paper because question whether an educational tool developed to impact mental processes can prove effective in classroom settings despite the beliefs about teaching and learning that are associated with the institution, the curriculum, and particular classes

Collaboration with teachers when building a tech tool – developed to achieve existing goals in line with existing practices – often involves the deployment or redeployment of an existing tool, e.g. PowerPoint may be used as a means of getting students to organise and present information in the form of a presentation

The ThinkSpace Tool

A tool used for structuring and clarifying thoughts about complex material

The tool is used by a group of students for creating an interlinked online mini encyclopaedia in a wiki with a corresponding concept map

Each concept bubble on the map represents a wiki article about that concept; clicking on any concept on the map takes the learner directly to the article on the relevant concept.

The learning lies in constructing the complex interlinked web of knowledge, negotiating which concepts are important in the material and discovering underlying links between details of seemingly unrelated material.

The tool provides a visual (concept map) and collaborative (wiki) platform & facilitates easy movement between the two levels. The structuring and keeping track of the knowledge is the hard part and it is up to the students.

If the tool proves its potential for promoting deep thinking and coherent understanding in students, then it will need technological development to ensure it is usable in a classroom without researcher support.

Concept mapping – means of representing the learner’s cognitive structures and for making clear the keys ideas and concepts that are important to a specific learning task. Concept mapping provides a way of obtaining a student’s prior understanding of a knowledge domain and breaking down the domain into its main concepts and their interrelationships on a single page.

Concept Map – bubble or boxes representing concepts and lines or arrows representing the relationships between he concepts

Concept maps are generally constructed in a hierarchy fashion – more general concept at the top and the more specialised or refined concepts at the bottom. This is not strictly enforced because concept maps encourage cross-links between different branches of concepts and the number of “cross-links” is sometimes used for evaluating the quality of concept maps

Wikis – collaborative knowledge building – open asynchronous editing of content, all users are encouraged to become designers of the hypertext. Writing and designing hypertext is not straightforward but concept mapping helps students to analyse their own knowledge structures. They can reduce the amount of problems students face when planning the hypertext for a wiki

Using the Tool

Design-based research approach – developing a tool in close collaboration with an experienced practitioner

Learning itself is a matter of active participation and production within a social community of practice. Teaching must enable students to think more like “insiders” in the community or experts in the field.

Expert’s knowledge and problem solving is that they try to solve problems on the basis of “big ideas” or underlying conceptual principles of the domain

Novice’s approach materials and problems based on their surface characteristics, e.g. solve a physics problem based on the equation that would be used to solve it rather than categorising problems based on the underlying physical laws

Monitoring own knowledge is an important characteristic of expert knowledge and skill

Goals of the investigation:

  • Helping students getting to grips with the conceptual structure of the field and seeing detailed, factual, information in light of the field. (concept mapping and wikis)
  • Allowing the students to practice communicating their knowledge (wikis)
  • Allowing students to practice building communal understandings (wikis)
  • Helping the students to monitor their learning progress and to identify gaps in their knowledge (concept mapping)

Obstacles encountered:

  • A free version of the wiki was chosen but it proved to be too restrictive for the needs of the project and the pricing plan changed which meant that some features were no longer available to the non-paying user
  • The concept mapping was very difficult to use on the school system although the researcher worked closely with the IT school staff
  • Time constraints in schools was the biggest problem because there wasn’t enough time to test the system in between classes or during free periods. Problems were sometimes only discovered during the lessons
  • To minimise the risk of breakdowns the concept mapping software moved to an online version and the change in technology during the project lost the trust of the students

Teacher/Researcher Relationship:

Researcher – initiated the project, developed preliminary ideas and in charge of the technological implementation

Teacher – pedagogical and subject expert, an insider, a ‘shaper’ of the school environment

As the project progressed the roles shifted a little as the teacher learned more about the technology and the researcher learned more about the curriculum and the classroom practices.

Barrier in the project – differences between the institutions goals and the underlying principles of the tool – differing perspectives of the researcher and the teacher – hard to make it a collaborative tool because each student is concerned with their own individual assessment

Question that arose – why the teacher was open to the concept element of the tool but not the scaffolding of collaborative knowledge building?


A degree of tension between the researcher and the teacher will occur no matter how strong the partnership is committed to the cause

That tension is necessary and desirable to make technology meet the pressing agenda of the modern classroom and for teachers to abandon a practice that works well to explore possibilities that might work even better

This is something that should be discussed more openly at the start of a project so that it is clear to both parties.


(Shuyska & Davies, 2008)

Shuyska, J. a, & Davies, C. (2008). ThinkSpace: The collaborative process of designing new technologies for the classroom. WikiSym 2008 – The 4th International Symposium on Wikis, Proceedings.



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