MSc Crina Damsa's dissertation for the degree of PhD
The title of the dissertation is:
Knowledge Co-construction and Object-oriented Collaboration. A Study of learning through Collaborative Construction of Kowledge Objects in Higher Education.
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 required 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 semester-long group projects. The analysis focused on groupsʼ 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.