Group work and physics : characteristics, learning possibilities and patterns of interaction


This thesis explores group work in physics at university level. The guiding researchinterest is what happens in the students’ interactions during such (instructional)activities, focusing both on the physics content and group dynamics. The four collatedpapers are based on empirical data consisting of video and audio-recordings of sevengroups of students solving physics problems concerning force and friction in Newtonianmechanics. The students belonged to the Engineering Physics and Bioengineeringprogrammes at Chalmers University of Technology.In line with the guiding research interest, different facets of group work data wereanalysed using a multi-theoretic perspective at three levels with focus on the content,the context and the components. The three distinct approaches were based on differenttheoretical frameworks: phenomenography combined with variation theory, positioningtheory, and conversation analysis. The results presented in this thesis relate topedagogical characteristics of the learning situation, learning possibilities and patternsof interaction and all the analytical approaches contribute to all the aspects of theresults. The purpose of this design was to achieve a deeper understanding of a complexempirical situation by offering several accounts that are analytically and theoreticallydifferently grounded. The theoretical frameworks have been interpreted, and sometimesadapted, in order to offer analytical strength in reflecting essential facets of theempirical data with respect to the research interest. Each level of analysis uncoverednew dimensions of the learning situation, potentially enabling a synthesis of differentunderstandings of group work. This synthesis will inform and support instructionaladvice for the learning of physics.The results show that learning physics in small groups is a complex and nonlinearprocess where the students’ learning possibilities differ and have many levels. Theselearning possibilities take place simultaneously in group sessions and areinterconnected, for example, developing through discussion the way of experiencingphysics concepts, becoming and being part of a physics or an engineering communityand interactively producing answers, as well as communicative and representationaltools for learning.