On solving science problems in a discursive space of learning

Abstract: The aim of this licentiate thesis is to analyze the interactive processes in group work, and, in particular, group work in higher education. The guiding research interest is to explore both 'what' and 'how' students learn when discussing physics in group work, with a focus on both the social and physics content of the students' practice. The two studies presented in this licentiate thesis are mainly based on data that consists of four video-recordings of groups of students solving physics problems. The students came from two different engineering programs at Chalmers University of Technology. The first study is written from a situated learning perspective and uses positioning theory to analyze how practice and identity are negotiated by the students in their moment-to-moment interactions. One group session was, with the help of positioning theory, described in terms of five storylines. The storylines describe both the alternative ways in which the students seek solutions to the physics problem and how they position themselves and each other as 'knowledgeable physics student(s)' or as 'humorous person(s)'. Both discursive barriers and possibilities are distinguishable within these five storylines. The second study is written from a phenomenographic perspective where variation is taken as the basic mechanism of learning. From three group works five different partial learning objects were found and categorized. However, the five partial learning objects were not discussed separately or in any set order. Further, an analysis of the space of learning showed that the students created variation together and thereby expanded the space of learning – the learning possibilities offered in the situation. The study also exemplifies that although the students experience variation this is not sufficient for their learning – the presence of an experience of relevance is also necessary.

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