Outcomes of collaborative group work

By Suzanne Perin - August 2011


Sampson, V., & Clark, D. (2009). The impact of collaboration on the outcomes of scientific argumentation. Science Education, 93(3), 448–484.


In this study, researchers investigated the commonly held view that collaboration improves scientific argumentation. The study tested the perspective that in collaborative investigations individuals build off each others' ideas, taking advantage of different cognitive and monitoring resources in the group, in order to develop more compelling and accurate scientific arguments than they would have if they had been working alone. The study results showed a mix of outcomes for the students.

The authors investigated three questions: (1) Do groups of students craft higher quality arguments than students working alone? (2) To what extent do students who work in groups adopt the arguments generated by their group? (3) Do students who work in groups generate better arguments on mastery and transfer questions than individuals who are working alone?

To answer these questions, the authors set up 168 high-school chemistry students in an experimental design so that they worked in collaborative or individual conditions. The students were introduced to a framework intended to help them understand and evaluate a high-quality argument, which included explanation, evidence, and reasoning. The students worked on a task that required them to produce an argument articulating and justifying an explanation for a discrepant event. They then completed mastery and transfer problems individually.

Although they had worked in small groups in their classes to complete laboratory exercises, the students did not have prior experience with the collaboration and argumentation expected of them here. This was a purposeful strategy by the authors to see what students would do and learn when first asked to engage in a foreign practice in their classroom.

Results for each of the research questions and implications for practice are given below:

For more on the impact of group work on learning outcomes, also see the research brief:

Perin, S. M. (2011). Maintaining social relationships more important than scientific discourse during group work. An ISE research brief discussing Anderson et al.’s Social barriers to meaningful engagement in biology field trip group work. Seattle: University of Washington. http://www.relatingresearchtopractice.org/article/106