Introduction: Gaines & Shaw (1995) discuss their research on the applications of computer-based collaborative systems to support individuals and groups in creative visualization; namely, concept mapping techniques, their using in collaborative learning over digital networks, and their integration with WWW servers and browsers.
KMap: A Concept-Mapping Tool: KMap is a grapher for nodes and arcs that can be programmed by the user to support different forms of a concept map. The user creates statements in the visual language, and interacts with the statements through popup menus whose content is specific to each node type. The action initiated is context-sensitive and allows complex activities to be initiated by natural user actions. Node types and content may be edited by users, as may a database of information attached to the nodes that provides links to other concept maps and files, either locally or across the Internet. KMap can be integrated with other applications, and user interaction with graphical structures in the visual language can be used to control any activity supported on the host computer or network. Actions can include the opening of other concept maps making it possible to index large bodies of material through layers of connected maps.
Collaborative Access to Concept Maps: This article builds and extends upon the ideas presented in Lambiotte, et als (1989) article about multirelational semantic maps, as well as the ideas presented in Wan & JohnsonÕs (1992-93) article on COREVIEW. Gaines & Shaw (1995) extend the research in previous literature, which discussed the use of concept mapping tools and collaborative scientific inquiry, with the objective of porting all of their interactive systems to operate effectively in the open, wide area networking of the Internet, and wherever possible, to integrate seamlessly with the WWW. Gaines & Shaw (1995) point to the current challenge of porting concept maps to WWW because of the lack of graphic primitives in HTML. However, KMap documents can be viewed with a browser such as NetScape on a Macintosh computer. Future developments will enable uses with a Windows or Motif interface to use KMap client helpers. Thus, KMap supports the use of concept maps on the WWW with client helpers and server gateways in an integrated manner.
Applications to Collaborative Learning: Gaines & Shaw (1995) have had individual students develop concept maps for their domain of interest and link them with associated materials. In this way, other students can critique the maps, modify them, and/or add to them to provide alternative versions. Students may also develop consensual maps by negotiation. Development situations that lack consensus are a major learning experience since it demonstrates the plurality of incompatible perspectives available. Using KMap with the WWW overcomes the problem of supporting concept mapping across distributed groups, and makes it possible to provide access to material to anyone using a WWW browser.
Conclusions: This article demonstrates how computer-based concept mapping tools may be used to support collaborative learning by sharing maps on personal computers, working together on linked maps on different workstations, and sharing maps across the WWW. A single tool, KMap, has the flexibility to operate in all these modes. The graphic capabilities necessary to support truly interactive concept mapping are currently missing in WWW protocols and browsers. Future directions would be to support the development of concept mapping techniques accessible through the WWW that will provide significant support for many forms of collaborative learning.