University of Maryland Physics Education Research Group


UMD PERG PhD Dissertations:
Luke Conlin

PERG Info | PERG materials | PERG HOMEPAGE | PER on the web | Resources on the web

Building shared understandings in introductory physics tutorials through risk, repair, conflict & comedy

Luke Conlin, Doctor of Philosophy, 2012

Dissertation directed by: Prof. David Hammer, Departments of Physics and Curriculum & Instruction


Collaborative inquiry learning environments, such as The Tutorials in Physics Sensemaking, are designed to provide students with opportunities to partake in the authentic disciplinary practices of argumentation and sensemaking. Through these practices, groups of students in tutorial can build shared conceptual understandings of the mechanisms behind physical phenomena. In order to do so, they must also build a shared epistemological understanding of what they are doing together, such that their activity includes collaboratively making sense of mechanisms.

Previous work (Conlin, Gupta, Scherr, & Hammer, 2007; Scherr & Hammer, 2009) has demonstrated that tutorial students do not settle upon only one way of understanding their activity together, but instead build multiple shared ways of understanding, or framing (Scherr & Hammer, 2009; Tannen, 1993a), their activity. I build upon this work by substantiating a preliminary finding that one of these shared ways of framing corresponds with increased evidence of the students’ collaboratively making sense of physical mechanisms. What previous research has not yet addressed is how the students come to understand their activity as including collaborative sensemaking discussions in the first place, and how that understanding develops over the course of the semester. In this dissertation, I address both of these questions through an in-depth video analysis of three groups’ discussions throughout the semester.

To build shared understandings through scientific argumentation and collaborative sensemaking, the students need to continually make repairs of each other’s understanding, but this comes with the risk of affective damage that can shut down further sensemaking discussions. By analyzing the discourse of the three groups’ discussions throughout the semester, I show how each group is able to manage this essential tension as they each build and maintain a safe space to sensemake together. I find that the three groups differ in how soon, how frequently, and how deeply they engage in collaborative scientific sensemaking. This variability can be explained, in part, through differences in how the groups use hedging, irony, and other discourse moves that epistemically distance the speakers from their claims. This work highlights the connection between students’ epistemology and affect in face-to-face interaction.

Thesis in PDF format.

Table of Contents

Back to UMD PERG PhD Dissertations

Information about PERG Resource materials from PERG PERG Homepage PER elsewhere on the web Resource materials for teachers

Maintained by University of Maryland PERG
Com8ments and questions may be directed to E. F. Redish
Last modified 21 May 2013