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From an ecological perspective on learning (Damşa et al., 2019), my research program recognizes the rich, dynamic, and interconnected system where knowledge emerges from interactions between learners, resources, and digital technologies, as well as their interdependencies. Guided by the vision, my dissertation investigates the integration of computer-mediated communication technologies within collaborative learning contexts, aiming to support and evaluate productive interaction and knowledge creation in college classrooms. I led a multi-year, multi-phase design-based research project that seeks to nurture social reading (i.e., discussion of course readings with peers) and collaborative knowledge building through ongoing pedagogical, technological, and analytical innovations. 

I leverage a state-of-the-art web annotation technology named Hypothesis, which enables students to annotate course readings and reply to each other’s annotations. Furthermore, I’ve developed my own tool, The Synthesis Lab, to provide a novel framework for knowledge synthesis that shifts learners from surface-level knowledge sharing to sophisticated knowledge creation. In addition to these efforts, I’ve designed an analytical framework that depicts the complex and multifaceted nature of collaborative discourse, providing actionable insights into the dynamics of collaborative learning. 


Pedagogical Design for Social Annotation

We designed a generic scaffolding framework for the integration of web annotation technology. This addressed an urgent need in higher education classrooms by supporting web-based online discussion of course materials during the pandemic. To scaffold students’ collaboration, the framework specifies three participation roles—namely, facilitator, synthesizer, and summarizer—that have distinct responsibilities in each week's social reading activities. The design was grounded in computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) literature and our systematic literature review, which investigates existing social annotation activity designs (Zhu et al., 2020).


Technological Innovation for Collaborative Discourse

Our team developed The Synthesis Lab, a web application designed to facilitate students’ knowledge synthesis processes in collaborative learning (Zhu, Shui, & Chen, 2023). This project led me to reckon with a key challenge in CSCL: within computer-mediated communication platforms, such as web annotation tools, students' ideas fail to progress into novel knowledge due to a lack of avenues for ongoing refinement. As a result, ideas are often “trapped” within a particular tool or platform, limiting their potential to enhance the overall learning experience. One way to navigate this challenge involves supporting knowledge synthesis, which could lead to a deeper understanding of phenomena and the creation of novel knowledge (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2014). While the concept of knowledge synthesis has received attention across multiple disciplines, there is a clear need for explicit support and systematic understanding of its mechanisms within the collaborative learning context. To fill this gap, I designed The Synthesis Lab to help students deconstruct the complex synthesis-making process into smaller building blocks and guide students through the key steps, such as distilling, connecting, analyzing, and rising above ideas generated from the discourse. This approach recognizes the mediational role that digital artifacts, such as annotations, play in computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL). Through an empirical study implementing this tool in classrooms, I aim to examine how students perceive knowledge synthesis as a part of their collaborative learning, how they synthesize knowledge, and how knowledge synthesis facilitates ongoing interaction and knowledge building throughout the learning experience. My goal is to derive design principles to guide future learning designs that recognize knowledge syntheses as pivotal objects for deepening collaborative discourse.


Methodological Advancements - Analytical Frameworks for Collaborative Discourse

Digital technologies provides learners with extensive opportunities to share and improve their ideas through collaborative discourse. There are emerging interests in the CSCL community to measure idea creation as both learning processes and outcomes. Rooted in the social constructivism perspective, we see idea creation as a product of emergent and interactive socio-cognitive endeavors, rather than a standalone and static text message. This means that it is critical to not only analyze the texts themselves but also to capture the contextual information, including both social, cognitive, and cultural aspects. Therefore, our team is dedicated to developing comprehensive analytic frameworks that depict the emergent and interactive nature of idea creation in collaborative discourse, by leveraging the natural language processing (NLP) techniques and networked methods.

Design Partners: 

︎ Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvinia
︎ College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota
︎ College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota
︎ School of Public Health, Duke University