Effects of Structured and Unstructured Collaboration on Collaborative Inquiry-Based Learning in Early Elementary Students.

  • Maria Geurts

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    Effects of Structured and Unstructured Collaboration on Collaborative Inquiry Based Learning in Early Elementary Students Maria C.J.H. Geurts Young children’s curiosity makes them natural inquirers, yet little research on inquiry-based learning (IBL) has been performed on early elementary students. IBL is an educational strategy in which students acquire knowledge by asking questions, observing and/or conducting experiments, like real scientists. Young children need guidance and scaffolding when engaging in IBL. Collaborating with peers is an effective way to provide scaffolding. Felder & Brent (2007) stress the importance of individual accountability and positive interdependence when students collaborate, in order to avoid social loafing, meaning that not all students participate equally. This can be achieved by structuring the collaboration process by means of a collaboration script (Dillenbourg, 1999). The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of structured and unstructured collaboration on collaborative IBL in early elementary students. The overarching research question and a review of the literature in this field culminated in the hypotheses that structured collaboration leads to a better recall of declarative knowledge, a better procedural knowledge of scientific inquiry processes and a higher quality of group discourse than unstructured collaboration. This study examined a sample of (n = 40) early elementary students of the European School Mol participating in two 45-minute IBL lessons on gravity and air resistance. A mixed method study was conducted to test the hypotheses. Using a quasi-experimental study, the students were randomly put into two experimental conditions: structured- and unstructured collaboration. The collaboration process in the intervention group was scripted using turn taking cards with sentence starters, and interaction rules. Students in the control group received the sentence starters, but no instructions on turn-taking or interaction rules. The effects of structured and unstructured collaboration on collaborative inquiry-based learning were measured using both quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data, pre- and post-test scores on the lesson content and the Science Learning Assessment (Samarapungavan, Mantzicopoulos, Patrick, & French, 2009) were collected to measure the effect on declarative and procedural knowledge. The effect on the quality of group discourse was measured with a qualitative analysis and was compared through the level of transactivity, which refers to how peers build on each other’s reasoning. The results of this study showed no significant effect of the condition on declarative or procedural knowledge. Regarding the effect on the quality of group discourse, the control group outperformed the intervention group, as findings indicated a higher level of transactivity in the control group. The results of this study are not consistent with most studies on structured and unstructured collaboration found in the research literature. A possible explanation for the outcome of this study could be the young age of the participants. Most studies found in the research literature are performed with older students. Younger students might benefit from another approach to collaborative learning than older students. Another explanation could be over-scripting (Dillenbourg, 2002), which can influence the richness of group discourse as the natural collaboration processes between students are affected owing to the structuredness of the script that leads to decreased student motivation. A different degree of structuredness might be more effective for young students.
    Date of Award19 Apr 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorEsther Tan (Supervisor) & Marcus Specht (Supervisor)


    • inquiry-based learning
    • collaborative learning
    • structured collaboration
    • collaboration scripts
    • science learning
    • early elementary students

    Master's Degree

    • Master Onderwijswetenschappen

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