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  1. Gardner, Grant Ean (Ed.)
    Past research on group work has primarily focused on promoting change through implementation of interventions designed to increase performance. Recently, however, education researchers have called for more descriptive analyses of group interactions. Through detailed qualitative analysis of recorded discussions, we studied the natural interactions of students during group work in the context of a biology laboratory course. We analyzed multiple interactions of 30 different groups as well as data from each of the 91 individual participants to characterize the ways students engage in discussion and how group dynamics promote or prevent meaningful discussion. Using a set of codes describing 15 unique behaviors, we determined that the most common behavior seen in student dialogue was analyzing data, followed by recalling information and repeating ideas. We also classified students into one of 10 different roles for each discussion, determined by their most common behaviors. We found that, although students cooperated with one another by exchanging information, they less frequently fully collaborated to explain their conclusions through the exchange of reasoning. Within this context, these findings show that students working in groups generally choose specific roles during discussions and focus on data analysis rather than constructing logical reasoning chains to explain their conclusions.
  2. Problem solving is an integral part of doing science, yet it is challenging for students in many disciplines to learn. We explored student success in solving genetics problems in several genetics content areas using sets of three consecutive questions for each content area. To promote improvement, we provided students the choice to take a content-focused prompt, termed a “content hint,” during either the second or third question within each content area. Overall, for students who answered the first question in a content area incorrectly, the content hints helped them solve additional content-matched problems. We also examined students’ descriptions of their problem solving and found that students who improved following a hint typically used the hint content to accurately solve a problem. Students who did not improve upon receipt of the content hint demonstrated a variety of content-specific errors and omissions. Overall, ultimate success in the practice assignment (on the final question of each topic) predicted success on content-matched final exam questions, regardless of initial practice performance or initial genetics knowledge. Our findings suggest that some struggling students may have deficits in specific genetics content knowledge, which when addressed, allow the students to successfully solve challenging genetics problems.