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Collaborative group engagement in a computer-supported inquiry learning environment


Computer-supported collaborative learning environments provide opportunities for students to collaborate in inquiry-based practices to solve authentic problems, using technological tools as a resource. However, we have limited understanding of the quality of engagement fostered in these contexts, in part due to the narrowness of engagement measures. To help judge the quality of engagement, we extend existing engagement frameworks, which have studied this construct as a stable and decontextualized individual difference. We conceptualize engagement as multi-faceted (including behavioral, social, cognitive and conceptual-to-consequential forms), dynamic, contextualized and collective. Using our newly developed observational measure, we examine the variation of engagement quality for ten groups. Subsequently, we differentiate low and high quality collaborative engagement through a close qualitative analysis of two groups. Here, we explore the interrelationships among engagement facets and how these relations unfolded over the course of group activity during a lesson. Our results suggest that the quality of behavioral and social engagement differentiated groups demonstrating low quality engagement, but cognitive and conceptual-to-consequential forms are required for explaining high quality engagement. Examination of interrelations indicate that behavioral and social engagement fostered high quality cognitive engagement, which then facilitated consequential engagement. Here, engagement is evidenced as highly interrelated and mutually influencing interactions among all four engagement facets. These findings indicate the benefits of studying engagement as a multi-faceted phenomenon and extending existing conceptions to include consequential engagement, with implications for designing technologies that scaffold high quality cognitive and conceptual-to-consequential engagement in a computer-supported collaborative learning environment.

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This research was funded by IES grant # R305A090210. Conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IES. We also thank the teachers and students who participated in this research.

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Correspondence to Suparna Sinha.

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1 Linnenbrink-Garcia et al. (2011) refer to social-behavioral engagement, integrating the facets of behavioral and social engagement into a single dimension. We separate behavioral and social engagement because we are interested in studying the influence of independent facets for engagement quality within collaborative groups, rather than have an implicit assumption that withdrawal of participation and disrespect necessarily co-occur.



Example Application of Scoring Criteria

To illustrate how the coding was applied to student drawings, we examine the pre and post-test drawings of a participating student (See example in figure below). We applied the Macro/Micro code as Level 1 in the pre-test example because all structures (e.g., fish, coral, seaweed) are macroscopic, whereas the posttest example is coded as Level 3 because the student identifies relations between macro and micro levels (e.g., fish and ammonia, algae and oxygen). We applied the Biotic/Abiotic code as Level 1 in the pre-test example because the student drew a largely biotic scene and included only one abiotic structure (ocean floor).

In the posttest example, we coded this as Level 3 because the student included examples of biotic and abiotic structure relations (e.g., algae and sunlight; bacteria and nitrate). In both drawings, no structures were deemed irrelevant so Extraneous Structures was coded as Level 1 for each. For SBF, the pre-test example was coded as Level 2 because the student related components and mechanism relations (e.g., starfish eats the clams; fish lives in the coral). In the posttest example, the student reached Level 3 of the SBF code (e.g., sunlight causes algae to grow links to algae makes oxygen for fish).


* Note: Student’s drawing at pretest (left) and posttest (right) with student’s explanatory labels in red.

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Sinha, S., Rogat, T.K., Adams-Wiggins, K.R. et al. Collaborative group engagement in a computer-supported inquiry learning environment. Intern. J. Comput.-Support. Collab. Learn 10, 273–307 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11412-015-9218-y

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  • Engagement
  • Computer-supported collaborative learning
  • Social interactions
  • Technological affordances