The role of discourse in group knowledge construction: A case study of engineering students



This qualitative study examined the role of discourse (verbal elements of language) and Discourse (nonverbal elements related to the use of language, such as ways of thinking, valuing, and using tools and technologies) in the process of group knowledge construction of mechanical engineering students. Data included interviews, participant observations, and transcripts from lab sessions of a group of students working on their senior design project. These data were analyzed using discourse analysis focusing on instances of concept negotiation, interaction in which multiple people contribute to the evolving conceptual conversation. In this context, despite instructors' attempts to enhance the collaboration of group members, concept negotiation was rare. In an effort to understand this rarity, we identified themes related to an engineering Discourse, which included participants' assumptions about the purpose of group work, the views about effective groups, and their epistemologies and ontologies. We explore how the themes associated with the engineering Discourse played a role in how and when the group engaged in concept negotiation. We found that underlying ideologies and assumptions related to the engineering Discourse played both facilitating and inhibitory roles related to the group's conceptually based interactions. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 41: 267–293, 2004