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Title: Using a cognitive model to study and design collaborative learning with cases
Author: Tscholl, Michael
ISNI:       0000 0004 2673 861X
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2008
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The thesis investigates learning in small-group case-centred discussions, and develops and validates guidelines for its improvement (including guidelines for educational technology). The thesis is the only in-depth study on case-centred discussions in a current educational practice from the perspective of cognitive learning theory. Notably, the approach it takes is to adapt theories of learning from cognitive science to a group setting. The significance of the contribution is in improving our understanding of the relationship between dialogue and learning, and the particular mechanisms involved in the co-construction of abstract representations leading to learning. The thesis approached the study of the relationship by developing frameworks and analysis techniques for eliciting processes of interpretation, conceptualisation and explanation. Dialogues are analysed in terms of how interpretations for cases are jointly constructed, what knowledge is used by learners to construct them and what knowledge is acquired as a result of this activity. It hence analyses distinctly the content of utterances and describes how this content is appropriated and transformed by the learners. Through this analysis, the thesis showed, for example, the correspondence between individual and collective views about a situation. One set of data was collected in a field study: 12 case-centred discussions of 1st year undergraduates on medical ethics and medical law at UCL medical school were videotaped and transcribed. From the analyses I was able to show that the learning design is ineffective in promoting the development of new explanations that would reflect a deeper understanding of the domains of ethics and law. However, students construct relational knowledge (e.g. relations between similar cases) and acquire knowledge about when to apply known lay concepts. On the basis of these findings, a new design for collaborative learning with cases is proposed. It specifies the learning material (a set of structurally similar cases the inclusion of an expert opinion and explanation) and the learning task (a justification task). The design is validated in a study (12 discussions): the analysis shows that the discussions are more effective than in the field studies because students are able to overcome initial lay explanations and develop more expert explanations. More specifically, the students are able to structure their explanations for the cases around the intended core concepts. The thesis' originality lies in using concepts of classical cognitive science to describe the co-construction of knowledge in small groups. By relying strongly on a theoretical framework, the thesis shows that the theory/practice dichotomy can be effectively overcome, and that a deep theoretical reflexion on educational practice can be very relevant for the understanding and enhancement of that practice.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available