Group work and physics – characteristics, learning possibilities and patterns of interaction
Abstract: This thesis explores group work in physics at university level. The guiding research interest is what happens in the students’ interactions during such (instructional) activities, focusing both on the physics content and group dynamics. The four collated papers are based on empirical data consisting of video and audio-recordings of seven groups of students solving physics problems concerning force and friction in Newtonian mechanics. The students belonged to the Engineering Physics and Bioengineering programmes at Chalmers University of Technology. In line with the guiding research interest, different facets of group work data were analysed 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 different theoretical frameworks: phenomenography combined with variation theory, positioning theory, and conversation analysis. The results presented in this thesis relate to pedagogical characteristics of the learning situation, learning possibilities and patterns of interaction and all the analytical approaches contribute to all the aspects of the results. The purpose of this design was to achieve a deeper understanding of a complex empirical situation by offering several accounts that are analytically and theoretically differently grounded. The theoretical frameworks have been interpreted, and sometimes adapted, in order to offer analytical strength in reflecting essential facets of the empirical data with respect to the research interest. Each level of analysis uncovered new dimensions of the learning situation, potentially enabling a synthesis of different understandings of group work. This synthesis will inform and support instructional advice for the learning of physics. The results show that learning physics in small groups is a complex and nonlinear process where the students’ learning possibilities differ and have many levels. These learning possibilities take place simultaneously in group sessions and are interconnected, for example, developing through discussion the way of experiencing physics concepts, becoming and being part of a physics or an engineering community and interactively producing answers, as well as communicative and representational tools for learning.
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