Computer-Supported Intentional Learning Environments (CSILE)

General Project Description:
CSILE or Computer-Supported Intentional Learning represents a "family of developing systems intended to support the collaborative construction of knowledge in and beyond the classroom" (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1992a, p.41). The large-scale project involves restructuring of the classroom and of patterning schools after scientific research communities. An important goal of the project is to provide places for sustained, collaborative inquiry in a "knowledge-building community". Students' work in various academic subjects is entered into a common hypermedia, student-generated database accessible to all students so that computer activities are used in all areas of the curriculum. The environment is based on the philosophy that knowledge is a human construction that takes place as a sociocultural activity and that it is through apprenticeship with a mature scientist that young scientist's skills are acquired.

Multiple perspectives X
Student-directed goals X
Teachers as coaches X
Metacognition X
Learner control X
Authentic activities & contexts X
Knowledge construction X
Knowledge collaboration X
Previous knowledge constructions X
Problem solvingX
Consideration of errorsX
Exploration X
Apprenticeship learningX
Conceptual interrelatedness X
Alternative viewpointsX
Scaffolding X
Authentic assessment X
Primary sources of dataX

The following list indicates the way in which the characteristics were accommodated or supported:

  1. Multiple perspectives:
    Different perspectives are shared as students collaboratively build the database.

  2. Student-directed goals:
    Students plan investigations and assign subtopics and tasks. (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1992b, p.231).

  3. Teachers as coaches:
    "Through the student's search for answers, the teacher acts as an "independent study", helping students recognize connections between previous knowledge, facts, and questions. They discuss inconsistencies, and they suggest information sources that students may have overlooked. The teacher does not try to be the "expert" in the classroom, but more of a model of how to be an expert learner" 1.

  4. Metacognition:
    The interface features a set of "thinking type" icons which "are intended to encourage deliberate attention to knowledge processes" (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1992b, p.232).

  5. Learner control:
    The students determine the problems they want to study and develop a plan and timeline for exploring the problem.

  6. Authentic activities & contexts:
    Through their knowledge building, students experience the complexities of scientific inquiry as it would be conducted by a scientist.

  7. Knowledge construction:
    The prime focus of the project is to build up a knowledge database. Students actively focus on accumulating knowledge. Students focus on knowledge building rather than knowledge reproduction 1.

  8. Knowledge collaboration:
    Central to CSILE is the practice of knowledge collaboration. Through a communal database, students respond to each others' work, share findings and make comments and suggestions.

  9. Previous knowledge constructions:
    Students' questions are used to guide planning and research by teachers. Students must first record 'what I think I know' about a topic 1.

  10. Problem solving:
    Problem-solving is fostered through students' participating in questioning and commenting on each others' work. Higher-order thinking skills are developed through the scientific process and deep understanding is developed through the inquiry cycle.

  11. Consideration of errors:
    Students' work is commented and questioned by other students in the database thus allowing insight into their previous knowledge constructions as well as the opportunity to refine concepts.

  12. Exploration:
    Students participate in a form of exploratory learning as they conduct research: "they learn the skills of finding, ordering, and using materials from a variety of sources. Students often make phone calls, write letters, and query experts in their pursuit of information" 1.

  13. Apprenticeship learning:
    The cycle of inquiry by which students plan and implement their inquiry involves an increasing complexity of skills, tasks and knowledge acquisition.

  14. Conceptual interrelatedness:
    Students can see the interrelatedness of concepts through reading and commenting on each others' notes (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1992b, p.236). The principle of "cross fertilization" maximizes opportunities for knowledge integration. Notes are not organized according to subjects (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1992a, p.47).

  15. Alternative viewpoints:
    Students are provided with the opportinuty to view the varying viewpoints of other students as they build the knowledge database together.

  16. Scaffolding:
    Through the 'cycle of inquiry' students have the opportunity to move beyond what they already know. Students move from what they already know about a topic, decide what they want to study, outline a theory of what they expect to find, and, write a statement called "I need to understand...'.

  17. Authentic assessment:
    Not observed

  18. Primary sources of data:
    Students can question experts and conduct interviews in order to conduct their inquiry.


Computer-Supported Intentional Learning Environments CSILE
Available at:

Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1992a). An architecture for collaborative knowledge building. In E. De Corte, M. Linn, H. Mandl, & L. Verschaffel (Eds.) . Computer-based learning environments and problem-solving (pp. 41-66). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1992b). Two models of classroom learning using a communal database. In S. Dijkstra, M. Krammer, & J. Merriënboer, (Eds.). Instructional models in computer-based learning environments. (pp.229-241). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

(1) CSILE Program At Taft Middle School
Available at:

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This site was created by Elizabeth Murphy, Summer, 1997.