Knowledge Forum (a product): My Review

Knowledge Forum is a product that its makers bill as a solution for academic classes' lack of participation in online discussion and provides the tools to organize and synthesize knowledge building ideas. I found it unintuitive and hampering in such efforts.

Strangely, the link to their live Demo Database is broken...

I would like to point out that Knowledge Forum, in its current version, is reminiscent of 15 year old forum technologies, and completely not conducive to online discussions or collaborations of any kind. It is unlike any current forum system, and that is not saying that it is superior to these other systems in any way.

In order for a user to follow through a discussion, each individual post needs to be clicked on, which opens up a new window on the user's system. Rather than having all posts regarding one topic on the same webpage, a student must traverse a mess of open windows, as they go up and down the tree, each time opening up a new window. It does not appear possible to open every part of a thread/topic at one time. This not only affects a user's ability to discuss/observe, but increases the load on a system that is does not appear to be designed for scalability.

Knowledge Forum Threaded Discussion

In my experience, WebCT has a better discussion system than this. I couldn't believe it, there were worse systems than WebCT out there.

The makers did implement this webbing feature, which somehow link discussions together in the "enhanced" viewer, which uses Java (system resource usage!!!). In theory, this could be practical, but the following screenshot shows how little use it actually is. Good luck being able to follow anything there. And that is only a fraction of the "web" image, you'd have to scroll in all directions to see more of it, and most of it is as bad as you can see below.

Knowledge Forum Webbing

The Knowledge Forum software has each frame in a fixed width/height, so that screen space is inoptimally used, making usage even more difficult. Users would be much better at grouping similar concepts together themselves, either by tagging messages with keywords, or by creating topics and groups of topics.

In my experience, the system does not scale well at all. Most likely this is due to the aforementioned excessive user requests required to just read about one idea, and poor implementation (either of the software, or on insufficient hardware). A piece of forum software should not buckle for a ~250 user system (ie: not all will be on at the same time, it probably buckles around 40 consecutive users), all it needs to really do is read text from a database and send it over, it is not something complicated.

The special elements that the makers speak of, such as Scaffolding, and the entire "Knowledge Building" idea seems to be learning theory (that may very well be valid, but...) that can be implemented on many other platforms, not only with Knowledge Forum.

A sample of a few .html files from Knowledge Forum failed the University of Toronto's Web Accessibility Checker , created by their Adaptive Technology Resource Center. This could create difficulties for users that read using braille or by text-to-speech engines. Accessibility problems seem to be frequent for proprietary learning management systems, including WebCT .

Knowledge Forum Inaccessibility That Potentially Leads to Major Hassles/Lawsuits

If you are looking at implementing online discussions with a knowledge building pedagogy and minor course management features for your university/college course or company, I, from a student's and user's perspective, would not recommend this piece of software. The supposed benefits definitely do not outweigh the implementational issues that make it difficult to use. I could only imagine what the administator's side of all this looks like. I would recommend any of many free, scalable, well updated, well maintained systems that are out there, such as phpBB .