The overall vision
The Garden Of Knowledge - in the following referred to as the GOK - is an interactive learning environment for keeping track of the interrelated structure of ideas, designed to support the expression of their relations to other ideas as well as their evolution over time and culture.
The GOK aims to supports its visitors in developing an interdisciplinary understanding of the world of phenomena by supporting their conceptualization, exploration and explanation in an experimentally oriented way. Its aim is to help the visitors to "Ask every question and question every answer" within the chosen field of his or her own interest.
The purpose of the GOK is to expose and illuminate the concepts which form the basis of the science-oriented worldview which characterizes our modern industrial society. The GOK aims to work as a sort of philosophy s(t)imulator, contributing towards providing a net-based structure for the ongoing philosophical debate which is collectively knows as the educational process.
The GOK can be regarded as a knowledge-management tool, which consists of a collection of interlinked knowledge patches, each with its own knowledge gardened who is responsible for the content of the patch. This makes the GOK especially well suited for an interactive, communicative and customizable learning experience in a networked environment.
The Concept of a Knowledge Manifold
An important idea that underlies the GOK is the concept of an idea as a representation of a subjective experience. This represents a totally anti-Platonian definition of an idea. Plato's ideas were objective and eternally true' - although they were only available to us by contemplation of the mathematical mysteries. The definition of idea used here is totally subjective and represents each individual's own 'mental space'. The collection of such ideas - within each individual - is called a knowledge-patch.
Such subjective knowledge-patches do not grow in isolation. Although each person is the gardener of his or her own personal knowledge-patch, these patches are constantly calibrated with their surroundings in a multitude of different ways.
Working with the GOK led to the introduction of the term Knowledge Manifold for the collection of calibrated knowledge patches. This concept is inspired by differential geometry, where the equivalent of a knowledge-patch is called a local-coordinate-patch - and represents a way to describe (= parametrize) the local neighborhood of some point. The famous mathematician David Hilbert has commented that "most people's thoughts move around in a circle with radius zero, which they call their stand-point". In the context of a Knowledge Manifold, one can expand on Hilbert's observation and say: People's thoughts move around in a space of personal ideas, which could be called their knowledge-patch or their own subjective mental reality.
Over the past three years, the GoK project has evolved into exploring principles or the design of interactive learning environments that provide ways to separate and modularize both teaching and learning. A fundamental idea in this context is the modularization of the conceptual content into what we call knowledge components [see (10)], as well as the description of such components in internationally standardized ways. The design of mechanisms for the cooperation of the components as well as the description of their content is carried out in accordance with the evolving international standards for net-based learning environments that is being developed and coordinated by the IMS project.
Knowledge components can take the form of digital files that can be downloaded to a knowledge patch from different digital archives, that have been assembled using portable information formats such as HTML, SGML, XML, VRML, MIDI, QuickTime or Java. In the GoK project, we are exploring the possibilities to make use of such portable formats in order to create the separation between content and context, which enables the creation of modularized electronic learning tools with a higher potential for individualized learning.
A knowledge component can be likened to a skiing area, with several different slopes down the same mountain - each one with its own level of difficulty marked off by a color code which constitutes the internationally standardized meta-data classification scheme for skiing slopes. Nothing prevents a skier with green prerequisite knowledge to choose a red or a black slope, but the skier knows pretty well what to expect in these cases.
From a conceptual point of view, a learning environment can be regarded as a kind of protocol for the description of content and context. When designing a traditional course, one tries to connect the content with the context, identifying the target group, the prerequisite knowledge, the presentation schedule, etc. In contrast, when designing a knowledge component, one instead tries to separate the content from the context. This fundamental difference is discussed in detail in [(10), pp. 89-93]. The aim in this case is to describe the content in many different ways (= multiple resolution) at the same time. The modern hypertext techniques then makes it possible for the learner to regulate which resolution of the story that he or she wants to interact with - just like in a computer game, which offers individually adjustable preferences and levels of difficulty.
The GoK project makes use of conceptual modeling in UML [www.omg.org] as a foundation for the construction of electronic archives of knowledge components as well as for the composition of such components into individualized and personalized forms of learning experiences that let the learner take control of his or her own learning strategy. The long term aim of the GoK project is to construct a testbed for modularized and distributed learning environments where different principles for description, search and composition of knowledge components can be developed and tested from a user-oriented perspective.
Knowledge Portal - man to man via machine
It is a fundamental assumption of the GoK project that automated presentation systems can raise questions but not give answers in any deeper sense. In fact, it is precisely when the questions break the frames of the pre-structured presentations that the real learning process begins. When a learner gets stuck with such a question, he or she must therefore be given a chance to communicate with a living person that has knowledge within the relevant field.
Hence, an important task of the GoK project is to develop a knowledge portal, i.e. a help service system that enables learners to get personal contact with resource persons (knowledge sources) that have declared competence that matches the domain within which the corresponding question occurred.
Such knowledge sources will be able to offer their services through a catalogue system that makes it possible to localize and contact them on line. There is simply no substitute for a personal contact with a live an knowledgable teacher. The problem is that there just isn't enough of them to cover the need through interactions in real (= physical) space. But we can make use of virtual (= digital) space in order to spread quality explanations and create a closer match between teacher knowledge and learner interest than what we have today. In the learning environments of the future it is of vital importance to support the interest of the learners in every possible way, in order that this interest can be sustained and developed throughout the learning process.
By using conceptual modeling (context-maps) we can make sure that the questions that arise are concerned with the concepts within well defined knowledge domains, and therefore they can be matched with appropriate human "discussion capacity". Hence, instead of discussing questions of a general nature from students that happen to be physically close - but often mentally distant - a teacher-preacher should be able to serve on-line and discuss questions concerning his or her own speciality - questions that come from all over the world. In this way we aim to achieve a better match between teacher knowledge and learner interest.