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Learning the physics of electricity: A qualitative analysis of collaborative processes involved in productive failure

Abstract

Earlier quantitative studies in computer-supported collaborative learning identified ‘Productive Failure’ (Kapur, Cognition and Instruction 26(3):379–424, 2008) as a phenomenon in which students experiencing relative failures in their initial problem-solving efforts subsequently performed better than others who were in a condition not involving an initial failure. In this qualitative study, we examine the problem-solving dynamics of two dyads: a Productive Failure (PF) dyad who initially received a low-structured activity and a Non-Productive Failure (N-PF) dyad who initially received a high-structured activity. Both dyads then received an identical high-structured problem-solving activity. This process was repeated using multiple sets of problems, and this paper will discuss two sets. Interactions of the two dyads were logged. Data for this study included video conversations of the dyads, screen captures of their use of a computer model, and their submitted answers. Results indicated that initial struggle and failed attempts provided an opportunity to the PF dyad to expand their observation space and thus engage deeply with the computer model. Over-scripting proved to be detrimental in creation of a mutual meaning-making space for the N-PF dyad. This paper suggests that the relative success of the PF dyad might be viewed in terms of induction of reflective reasoning practices.

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Acknowledgement

This research was supported by the Learning Science Laboratory, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (Grant # LSL 16/06 ZBH). The authors thank Pratim Sengupta and Uri Wilensky for supporting the use of the NIELS agent-based models in this research. We also thank the teachers who were involved in the design and enactment of this research and the students who participated in the study.

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Correspondence to Suneeta A. Pathak.

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Pathak, S.A., Kim, B., Jacobson, M.J. et al. Learning the physics of electricity: A qualitative analysis of collaborative processes involved in productive failure. Computer Supported Learning 6, 57–73 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11412-010-9099-z

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Keywords

  • Collaboration
  • Electricity
  • Physics education
  • Problem solving
  • Productive failure
  • Scientific inquiry