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Research introduction: experts

Broad introduction

Definitions of collaborative learning have differed widely although definitions of collaborative knowledge construction within an online setting has not been properly or fully defined as so far found within existing literature. Additionally, whilst existing models of knowledge construction are used to explore “what” collaborative knowledge construction activities occur, they essentially reduce exploration to frequency counts of activities and levels, or phases, of collaborative knowledge construction. They cannot explain “how” and “why” these events and activities occur, their sequences, or the conditions that encourage or facilitate the occurrence of events and activities within particular sequences, within particular conditions. Additionally, the models lack data regarding participant perspectives of collaborative knowledge construction processes, which is believed to be able to further develop knowledge and understanding of collaborative knowledge construction processes.

Research needs to begin exploring more the “how” and “why” questions: how does collaborative knowledge construction activities and sequences occur? As an example, how does an argument form? How does this argument proceed? What activities and sequences of activities are involved in an argument? Under what conditions do these activities and sequences occur? How does the identified argumentative process affect collaborative knowledge construction? And, why does, for example, argumentation occur and why are there various activities and sequences associated with different types of argumentation? Why should this affect collaborative knowledge construction?

Research approach

This research shall approach the exploration of collaborative knowledge construction processes using an adapted version of the theory development variation of Creswell’s sequential exploratory mixed methods methodology with a questionnaire and Strauss and Corbin’s version of grounded theory used as methods, underpinned by critical realism. During the first phase, a theory of collaborative knowledge construction shall form; during the second phase, aspects of the theory shall be converted into a format appropriate for development of a questionnaire and then trialled. During the third phase, questionnaire shall be distributed among a wider set of participants in order to test the theory and then in the fourth phase the findings of the questionnaire shall be used to amend the theory as necessary. The research additionally plans to explore participant perspectives of the knowledge construction process as they can lead to a further understanding of why collaborative knowledge construction activities, events, and sequences occurred within identified patterns and conditions.

The key aim of the research is to understand not only what activities occur, but to explain and explore how and why collaborative knowledge construction occurs. Understanding how and why is believed to contribute further understanding and knowledge of the phenomenon of interest beyond frequency counts of activities and phases of knowledge construction.

Potential impact

The major contributions are expected to take place within theory and practice. The theory or theorising that occurs during the research is expected to contribute towards the further understanding of collaborative knowledge construction processes within a discussion forum.

Practice could benefit through an increased understanding of participant behaviour such as the way in which arguments are formed and proceed, the way in which arguments are evidenced, and the way in which logic and reason are used to form arguments and to use evidence appropriately. This understanding shall equip tutors with an insight into the way in which discussions proceed, observe the way in which participants use evidence to argue their arguments, and the way in which forums can assist with online group debates.