Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Group goals: Their influence on interaction patterns and learning
by Mercier, Emma M., Ph.D., Stanford University, 2008, 249; 3313824
Abstract (Summary)

The use of collaborative projects has increased across college campuses, and there are continued calls for a further increase in this type of instruction (NSF, 1996). However, there is a growing recognition that while there is a rich research history on collaboration, there is not sufficient knowledge about how to construct tasks, support interactions and assess outcomes in a meaningful way (NAE, 2005). This problem is echoed in the collaboration literature, which recently has moved towards suggesting the need for more complex understandings of the relationships between the context and task, collaborative interactions and outcomes (e.g. Akkerman et al., 2007).

This dissertation begins to address this problem by examining how the framing of a task influenced interaction patterns and outcomes. The task was framed using either a learning or performance goal, drawing on many years of research that indicate that achievement goals influence the learning behavior and outcomes of individuals (e.g. Dweck, 1999). The task was adapted from Azmitia and Crowley (2001) who designed a task in which participants built structures on a shake table and determined the principles that are necessary for the structure to stand. Dyads in the learning condition were told that their task was to understand and define the principles; dyads in the performance condition were told that they were to build the tallest structure that stood for the longest time.

Ninety undergraduate students participated in the study, in 45 gender matched dyads. It was hypothesized that there would be difference in performance and learning outcomes, and that dyads in the learning condition would test more structures, would reflect more on their tests, would use more resources, create more representations and engage in more social conversation than dyads in the performance condition.

Quantitative results indicated that there were no differences between conditions on performance on a building task. Differences between conditions were found on dyad-level scores on the stability judgment task—a task where participants saw photographs of structures, judged whether they thought the structure would withstand an earthquake and explained their reasoning. On both the judgment and explanation part of this task, average scores from dyads in the learning condition were higher than scores for dyads in the performance condition, indicating that framing the task with a learning goal improved the learning outcomes of participants.

Analysis of knowledge convergence—the amount of knowledge dyads had in common—also showed evidence of an advantage for dyads in the learning condition. This can be explained by evidence for more teaching and creation of new knowledge within the learning condition. Dyads in the learning condition also tested more structures, created slightly more representations and were more likely to engage in social conversation than dyads in the performance condition; engaging in social conversation was the only behavior that correlated positively with knowledge convergence. These findings again indicate that framing the task with a learning goal improved the learning outcomes, and also changed how dyads interacted.

Case study analysis showed that the interactions between dyads in the learning and performance conditions were different in terms of amount of reflecting on trials, explanations and summarizing ideas. Dyads in the learning condition also showed a much more explicit pattern of engagement with the task than dyads in the performance condition. These results provide evidence for how the different goals resulted in different outcomes.

This study suggests that the framing of a task is an important factor in determining the quality of interactions, and the outcomes that dyads experience. This is important in light of standard assessment procedures at the college level, which frequently use the quality of the product as the measure of success—a performance measure. This study suggests that assessing a project's quality can influence whether dyads engage in the types of behaviors that lead to learning, affecting the amount that they learn from the process.

The study also indicates that making efforts to understand how the context and task effect interaction patterns, and how that leads to different outcomes is a productive and necessary direction for the field to pursue. Additionally, understanding why social conversation and high knowledge convergence were found to correlate in this study needs further examination, to explain how the relational side of interactions influences learning.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Barron, Brigid
Commitee:
School: Stanford University
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 69/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Educational psychology
Keywords: Achievement goals, Collaboration, Cooperative learning, Group goals, Interaction patterns, Learning, Mixed methods, Motivation
Publication Number: 3313824
ISBN: 978-0-549-62996-2
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