Research in Science Education

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 1177-1196

First online:

Characterising Learning Interactions: A Study of University Students Solving Physics Problems in Groups

  • Maria BergeAffiliated withDepartment of Science and Mathematics Education, Umeå University Email author 
  • , Anna T. DanielssonAffiliated withDepartment of Education and Centre for Gender Research, Uppsala University

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The purpose of this article is to explore how a group of four university physics students addressed mechanics problems, in terms of student direction of attention, problem solving strategies and their establishment of and ways of interacting. Adapted from positioning theory, the concepts ‘positioning’ and ‘storyline’ are used to describe and to analyse student interaction. Focused on how the students position the physics problems, themselves, and each other, the analyses produced five different storylines. The dominant storyline deals with how the students handled the problem solving, whilst two other storylines characterise alternative ways of handling the physics problems, whereas the two remaining storylines are concerned with how students positioned themselves and others—as either funny and/or knowledgeable physics students—and constitute different aspects of the physics community. Finally, the storylines are discussed in relation to the pedagogical situation, with recommendations made for teaching practice and future research.


Group work Problem solving Physics Positioning theory