The ThinkerTools Inquiry Island system advises users as they design and carry out research projects, such as science fair projects. It also enables users to modify the system so that it expresses their own theories of how to do inquiry and how best to coach and scaffold the process. Inquiry Island represents a new genre of software that allows users to express their ideas and practices as they undertake complex tasks. Such tasks include engaging in scientific inquiry by formulating research questions, generating hypotheses, designing investigations, analyzing evidence, constructing theories, and so forth. Such tasks also include higher-order activities like reflecting on and modifying ones inquiry processes for the purpose of "learning how to learn" via inquiry. Inquiry Island is a system that, on the one hand, provides scaffolding and coaching to students as they undertake these inquiry activities, while, on the other hand, it provides a composing environment that enables students to represent their own ideas about how best to model and support inquiry.
There are three different types of advisors within the Inquiry Island system:
Task Advisors, like the Hypothesizer and Investigator, are specialized to help students achieve the goals and subgoals associated with a given task. They help students think about the purposes and methods associated with each subgoal.
General Purpose Advisors, including Cognitive, Social, and Metacognitive advisors like the Inventor, Collaborator, and Planner, help students develop general cognitive, social, and metacognitive expertise needed for a wide range of tasks.
System Development Advisors, like the Modifier and Improver, enable students to construct new and improved Inquiry Island advisors, which may also help students understand that their own social and cognitive systems can be modified and improved.
This community of advisors attempts to make explicit the goals and purposes of various activities, along with plans and strategies for carrying them out. Our hypothesis is that complex cognitive and social activities, such as those involved in scientific inquiry, can be made understandable and accessible to students by working with a community of interacting agents, who each have particular areas of expertise. These advisory agents, such as the Inventor and Collaborator, have beliefs that they form about the users and the context and advice that they can give, such as strategic advice. They also have ways of communicating these beliefs and advice to other agents and to users. This community of advisors, working together, guides and counsels students as they engage in research and as they reflect on and revise their inquiry processes.