University of Oulu

How children construct a common ground during collaborative learning tasks : quality of social interactions and verbal exchange

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Author: Conte, Antonella1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Education, Department of Educational Sciences and Teacher Education, Educational Sciences
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.9 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Oulu : A. Conte, 2014
Publish Date: 2014-06-23
Physical Description: 84 p.
Thesis type: Master's thesis
Tutor: Järvelä, Sanna
Reviewer: Järvelä, Sanna
Järvenoja, Hanna
Scientific evidence has proved that social situations are an enriching context for learning, because the acquisition of new knowledge implies active participation of the learner. Structuring an efficient collaborative situation is challenging and different factors can affect the quality of outcomes. The social context itself is not a guarantee of learning. Experts have deeply explored the collaborative learning approach and they have identified a concept crucial for effective collaboration, namely the process of grounding. When members of a group attempt to perform a task together, a shared understanding of concepts needs to be established and maintained. This has been recognized as a key process on which, consequently, new knowledge can be constructed. Exploring the dynamics that shape collaboration in an authentic classroom setting and investigating the process of common ground construction among children is fundamental to improve classrooms practices. The aim of the research is to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of collaborative learning, through the lenses of interactions and grounding. The theoretical part of this study explores the fundaments of collaborative learning and the phenomenon of common ground. The empirical part aims at exploring an authentic classroom situation, in which students were asked to perform tasks of different nature jointly. The study was conducted in an elementary school located in the Northern Finland and the participants were eleven 4th graders. The investigation was held during 6 English language lessons that were entirely video recorded. Video observations are the main source of information of this study. The data analysis is conducted qualitatively and a coding frame for interactions is constructed according to the directions of qualitative content analysis. The results are presented in the form of descriptive summaries of the collaborative dynamics, tables of frequencies of interactions and examples of verbal exchanges occurred. Interpretation of group mechanisms is presented through theoretical concepts. The results of this study give evidence that collaborative learning is influenced by many factors, both personal and contextual. The composition of the group resulted to be important to children and in some situation was a critical trigger for effective interactions. Students silently agreed on determined dynamics, such as the symmetry of participants and their role within the group, and tended to perform the task individually. The frequencies of interactions support such evidence, where the most common behavior occurred was performing the task alone. Process of grounding occurred during the episodes under investigation. Clues of shared understanding were given through behavioral actions, such as shared focus, continued attention to the peer and indicative gestures. Verbal exchanges aimed to construct common ground occurred of highest quality mostly in asymmetrical group dynamics, where one of the children held (or were believed to hold) more knowledge or took the role of leader. The results of the research are in line with previous research findings and it confirms the potential benefits of collaborative learning. However, the construction of a shared understanding is not an automatic phenomenon among children and resulted highly related to their goal structure. The small scale of the research does not allow the results to be generalized, but the transparency of empirical process, the detailed explanation of data analysis and interpretation through the theoretical concepts make the investigation reliable. The study is also considered valuable because it provides an insight of the collaborative learning and grounding dynamics in an authentic context.
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Copyright information: © Antonella Conte, 2014. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.