Exploring social and cognitive engagement in small groups through a community of learners (CoL) lens

Hannah T. Nennig, Nicole E. States, Michael Macrie-Shuck, Shaghayegh Fateh, Zubeyde Demet Kirbulut Gunes, Renee Cole, Gregory T. Rushton, Lisa Shah, Vicente Talanquer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


A variety of research studies reveal the advantages of actively engaging students in the learning process through collaborative work in the classroom. However, the complex nature of the learning environment in large college general chemistry courses makes it challenging to identify the different factors that affect students’ cognitive and social engagement while working on in-class tasks. To provide insights into this area, we took a closer look at students’ conversations during in-class activities to characterize typical discourse patterns and expressed chemical thinking in representative student groups in samples collected in five different learning environments across four universities. For this purpose, we adapted and applied a ‘Community of Learners’ (CoL) theoretical perspective to characterize group activity through the analysis of student discourse. Within a CoL perspective, the extent to which a group functions as a community of learners is analyzed along five dimensions including Community of Discourse (CoD), Legitimization of Differences (LoD), Building on Ideas (BoI), Reflective Learning (RL), and Community of Practice (CoP). Our findings make explicit the complexity of analyzing student engagement in large active learning environments where a multitude of variables can affect group work. These include, among others, group size and composition, the cognitive level of the tasks, the types of cognitive processes used to complete tasks, and the motivation and willingness of students to substantively engage in disciplinary reasoning. Our results point to important considerations in the design and implementation of active learning environments that engage more students with chemical ideas at higher levels of reasoning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1077-1099
Number of pages23
JournalChemistry Education Research and Practice
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 12 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (miscellaneous)
  • Education


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