Shared Epistemic Agency: An Empirical Study of an Emergent Construct

Crina I. Damşa, Paul A. Kirschner, Jerry E. B. Andriessen, Gijsbert Erkens, Patrick H. M. Sins
2010 The Journal of the Learning Sciences  
Learning through small-group collaboration that exposes students to open-ended and complex knowledge problems is becoming part of a pedagogical strategy to prepare higher education students for the knowledge-driven professional life. This dissertation examines learning, conceptualized as a process of knowledge co-construction, in the context of a university bachelor program in educational sciences, respectively, a teacher-education program in a university of applied sciences. Students were
more » ... red to address complex problems by engaging in collaborative construction of knowledge objects, such as research reports, instructional materials, analyses of assessment methods, etc. While collaborative activities that stimulate knowledge construction are considered beneficial for learning, they remain complex and challenging for students. The aim of this research was to gain a deeper understanding of how students engage in interaction and how constructing knowledge objects in collaborative projects groups contributes to their learning. The studies included in this dissertation employed a sociocultural approach and qualitative research methodology to examine in depth how students collaborate in semesterlong group projects. The analysis focused on groups' interaction and on how the knowledge objects were developed through joint efforts. The findings showed that knowledge objects developed by the groups are more elaborated and complex when students engage in productive interaction of epistemic nature as opposed to when they work individually or use division of labor. For the former, they first must create shared understanding of the existing knowledge, discuss information and ideas, then generate knowledge, which can be elaborated through discussions, iterative construction of and mutual feedback on object versions. The findings also showed that the knowledge objects can represent more than just a product the group had to deliver for a grade. They mediated the discussions, grounded the analysis and elaboration of ideas and concepts; and guided the collaboration as groups addressed difficulties throughout the process that spans sites and time. Finally, the findings indicated that in order to address complex problems students must be highly aware of the importance of a joint collaborative strategy, and engage actively with the knowledge objects both individually and as a group. These findings support the idea that stimulating and supporting collaboration that entails epistemic interaction and joint work on knowledge objects is a diligent strategy to entice students into engaging with knowledge. Acknowledgments The point of departure for this dissertation was that we learn and we build our knowledge together with others. It is a social process in which people, ideas, resources, and context all play a role. I believe the work that went into this dissertation is a very good illustration of this assertion. It builds upon a great collection of scientific ideas, resources and traditions, and it is the result of inspiring and enriching interactions with diverse individuals and communities. Without all of these, both the process and the final result would have been different. I would like to acknowledge and thank all those who were part of this process in various ways, and at different moments in time. I would like to express my gratitude especially to: My advisor, Sten Ludvigsen, for providing inspiration, thoughts and expert advice. Our interaction was exactly what I had hoped for. Our discussions of ideas and theoretical views, the continuous attempts to gain a new understanding thereof, and our intense collaborative writing sessions are, in my view, excellent examples of a productive interaction. Sten, I am very grateful for your support and guidance at moments when they were very much needed! The research group at Intermedia, for their critical reading and constructive feedback on my writing and ideas, and for the privilege of being part of a progressive research environment. My fellow PhD students at Intermedia and the Department of Education, for useful discussions, critical reading of my texts and enjoyable moments together. The members of the Engage lab, for their creative solutions and availability, and the administrative section, for their support. NATED and the academic and non-academic staff involved in it, for providing me with material support and access to an inspiring academic environment. My fellow Track 4 PhD students, for inspiration, discussions, and great moments spent together. Paul Kirschner, Jerry Andriessen and Gijsbert Erkens, who set me on my path in the research world while at Utrecht University, and taught me some valuable lessons in reasoning and writing. And to Patrick Sins, for being an inspiring colleague. The research group in Educational Sciences at Utrecht University, for providing me with context at the start of my scientific quest. The KP-Lab community, for the generous material support while part of the project, as well as the insightful experiences provided. Cindy-Hmelo Silver, for hosting me during my stay at Rutgers University, and for being a truly inspiring academic. Kai Hakkarainen for hosting me during a productive research visit, and the group of researchers at Helsinki University, for stimulating academic discussions, feedback and hospitality. Inspiring researchers and PhD students from the international community, with whom I shared the unique atmosphere of scientific conferences and from whom I have learned a lot. The participants in my research studies, those students and teachers who provided me with valuable data and so made this research possible. A special acknowledgement to Bert Reijnen, who demonstrated how an inspiring teacher can make the difference. My fantastic friends, spread all over the world, who have been part of this process at different moments in time, in different ways: editing drafts, discussing my thoughts, offering me a shoulder to cry on and reasons to laugh, and many memorable experiences. To Yvan especially, for relentless support and availability. My parents, Ioan and Clara, for their love and unconditional support throughout the years. Mama, tata, vă mulţumesc pentru dragostea and susţinerea voastră de lungul anilor! Lucrarea aceasta vă e dedicată vouă. Dorina, my sister, for tough love and advice, and for being there for me. To you, what you already know: "we can do anything good!" Blindern,
doi:10.1080/10508401003708381 fatcat:hzt7irhwxvefbcm6yu455o6jjm