Home           Publications        Research          Design ︎︎︎    


︎: Email
︎: Twitter
︎: Google Scholar

Updated on May 12, 2023

The Synthesis Lab

Learning through collaboration in digital spaces remains a challenge for learners – it requires them to grapple with often complex ideas that trigger wide-ranging perspectives from their peers. Meanwhile, they often need to navigate a large amount of fragmentary information across multiple sources to maintain effective conversations. Given the intricacies, knowledge synthesis is one of the key constructs that facilitates the transition from “knowledge sharing” to a higher-level learning in collaborative learning (Van Aalst, 2009; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2014).

What is knowledge synthesis?

In our ever-evolving world, where information flows incessantly amidst unprecedented technological advancements and the growth of artificial intelligence, the ability to synthesize information has emerged as a critical skill for success across various fields. Just as an artist skillfully blends colors on a canvas or a composer weaves melodies into a harmonious symphony, knowledge synthesis can be seen as both an art and a science, as it involves strategically weaving together diverse strands of information to foster conceptual innovation, generate novel knowledge, and design creative solutions (DeSchryver, 2014; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 2007; Qian et al., 2020; Robert et al., 2008; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2014).

Knowledge synthesis is one important form of cognition in collaborative learning. In contrast to other cognitive processes such as interpreting and evaluating new information, synthesis-making requires efforts to rise above current levels of explanation which results in understanding phenomena on a higher plane and the creation of new concepts (van Aalst, 2009; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2014). In collaborative discourse, knowledge synthesis helps students further distill, connect, organize, and analyze the information, and deepen their thinking. 

How can we support knowledge synthesis? 

As mentioned earlier, synthesizing knowledge in collaborative learning is a complex endeavor, and it needs supports. Therefore, we designed The Synthesis Lab - to provide an interactive space to spark collaboration and deep learning. 

The Synthesis Lab retrieves students’ discourse data from a web-annotation technology – Hypothes.is via its APIs. Drawing inspiration from previous designs (e.g., Chan, 2021; Hahn et al., 2016) and incorporating insights from interdisciplinary literature (e.g., Ackerman et al., 2013; Bloom et al., 1956; DeSchryver, 2014; Morabito & Chan, 2021; Robert et al., 2008), The Synthesis Lab offers a structural framework to helps deconstruct the complex synthesis-making process into smaller building blocks and guides students through the key steps, including distilling, connecting, analyzing, rising above, and aggregating ideas generated from the discourse. These steps guide students to discover the interrelationship between peers’ posts other than the simply reply relationships, which leads to further rising above previous ideas and constructing coherent knowledge out of fragmentary information. The production of the syntheses can be used to further connect with other learning events, such as writing assignments and in-class live discussions.

Try The Synthesis Lab at: https://h-synthesizer.web.app/.

Tutorial: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1DskypRQT-itHNTaYfOKusy2W7FibVxjB/view?usp=sharing

Recent Publication:
Zhu, X., Shui, H., & Chen, B. (2023). The Synthesis Lab: Empowering collaborative learning in higher education through knowledge synthesis. Proceedings of Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW’23 Companion) (pp. 245-248).

Ongong deisgn note: