Haozhi Xu, Vicente Talanquer (University of Arizona, USA)
The central goal of our study was to investigate differences in college chemistry students’ interactions during lab experiments with different levels of inquiry. This analysis was approached from three major analytic dimensions: Functional analysis, to characterize the communicative strategies used by the study participants; cognitive processing, to examine the ways in which students processed the experimental tasks; and social processing, to determine the nature of the social relationships developed through participation in peer groups. According to our results, which were based on the analysis of direct observations of different groups of students working in general chemistry labs, higher levels of inquiry were associated with an increase in the relative frequency of episodes where students engaged in proposing ideas versus asking and answering each others’ questions. Higher levels of inquiry also favored episodes in which experimental work was approached in a more exploratory (versus procedural) manner. However, no major changes were observed in the extent to which students engaged in either interpretive modes of cognitive processing or discussions of central scientific concepts and ideas. Increased levels of inquiry were also associated with more frequent episodes of domination in which a few students in a group made most decisions and directed the actions of others. In general, our results elicit trends and highlight issues that can help instructors identify strategies to better support and scaffold productive engagement in the laboratory.