Computer-Supported Collaborative Scientific Conceptual Change: Effects of Collaborative Processes on Student Learning

Computer-Supported Collaborative Scientific Conceptual Change: Effects of Collaborative Processes on Student Learning

Lei Liu (University of Pennsylvania, USA) and Cindy E. Hmelo-Silver (Rutgers University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-729-9.ch007

Abstract

One problem in science education is that students neither construct in-depth conceptual understanding nor are they able to apply scientific thinking processes. A myriad of studies on conceptual change have investigated the nature and process of conceptual change, and pedagogical strategies to foster conceptual change and improve higher-level thinking. We propose a new framework - the collaborative scientific conceptual change model – to stresses the importance of high quality collaborative discourse and scientific epistemic practices in the process of conceptual change. To investigate how group interactions influence individual students’ learning gains, multilevel analysis was used to analyze the hierarchically nested data and qualitative analyses were presented to compare high and low-achievement groups’ discourse and their application of epistemic practices. The results found that predicting and coordinating theory and evidence were key practices that predicted students’ individual posttest performance and the group interactions were related to the group understanding.
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Collaborative Scientific Conceptual Change Model

This model proposes that conceptual change occurs when learners co-construct new knowledge and make a shift from naive ways of thinking towards the ways of thinking that scientists use to explain phenomena. The CSCC framework echoes with Sinatra’s urges to use multiple theoretical spotlights to understand conceptual change. Sinatra (2002) suggested the pursuit of both internal (cognitive and motivational) and external (social and contextual) aspects of conceptual change. Thus, this framework integrates three major perspectives (i.e., cognitive, social, epistemic) to explore the conceptual change process with a particular stress on social and epistemic aspects. We explore how collaborative discourse and epistemic practices mediate conceptual change in the context of using computer simulations to learn about aquarium ecosystems.

Conceptual change is not easy to achieve because students tend to use their intuition to explain science concepts, which can lead to superficial understanding that may be resistant to instruction (Chi, 2005). Posner, Hewson, and Gertzop (1982) believe that conceptual change is a rational process “by which people's central, organizing concepts change from one set of concepts to another set, incompatible with the first” (p. 211). On the practical level, they presented four conditions that foster conceptual change. First, learners should be dissatisfied with their existing conceptions and such dissatisfaction leads to cognitive conflict. Secondly, the new conception must be understandable to learners so that they can make accommodation in their thinking. Additionally, the new conception should appear initially plausible so that learners may use that to solve problems or construct explanations of phenomena in current context. Finally, the new conception must be fruitful so that learners can transfer the understanding to other different contexts.

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