This project aims to serve the national interest by advancing understanding about how students manage confusion during collaborative learning. Nationwide, many research-based student-centered undergraduate physics courses use an instructional framework of elicit, confront, resolve (ECR). In this framework, students are presented with scenarios known to elicit confusion and are expected to work together to resolve it. Some student groups successfully manage confusion and sustain productive learning. However, other groups often become derailed by the emotions that can accompany persistent confusion. To understand how to better support students during collaborative learning, this study will investigate how students work together to resolve confusion that arises while engaging in ECR-based activities. This project will center on a physics course for K-8 preservice teachers at two primarily undergraduate institutions, a Predominantly White Institution and a Hispanic Serving Institution. Preservice K-8 teachers are mostly female and have been overlooked and are underrepresented in physics education research. Indeed, the dominant culture of physics is rooted in whiteness and masculinity. This project will explore how the dominant culture of a discipline, physics in this case, is perceived and negotiated when the majority of the student population does not identify as the dominant group. By linking socio-metacognition (planning, monitoring, and regulating to optimize collaboration), emotions, and power dynamics, the project intends to identify pathways by which students are either excluded or included in physics learning communities. Knowledge developed through this project has the potential to improve the efficacy and equity of collaborative, student-centered teaching practices across STEM disciplines. The focus on future educators will increase the potential impact, as these students will become teachers and shape the early science experiences of young students.

The project will adopt a theoretical framework in socio-metacognition developed by Borge and colleagues. This framework will be refined by this project through incorporation of power dynamics and emotions, noncognitive factors that play subsidiary roles in the Borge framework. The specific research objectives of this project are to: 1) identify the socio-metacognitive patterns that emerge when students work together on explicitly confusing physics learning tasks; 2) investigate how students enact and negotiate power dynamics in such learning environments; and 3) assess the extent to which emotions impact student engagement in the presence of persistent confusion. This project uses a mixed-methods approach to generate rich case studies based on classroom observations, students’ reported subjective experiences, written reflections, and interviews. The case studies will link socio-metacognition, emotions, and power dynamics to illuminate various pathways through which students are either excluded or included in physics learning communities. The project seeks to advance understanding of the social-emotional processes that accompany collaborative activities that purposely elicit specific learning difficulties. Project findings have the potential to inform the design of instruction that supports maintained engagement in group-learning activities in the presence of persistent confusion. The NSF IUSE: EHR Program supports research and development projects to improve the effectiveness of STEM education for all students. Through the Engaged Student Learning track, the program supports the creation, exploration, and implementation of promising practices and tools.

For more information contact Thanh Le, PI,