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Engaging with a group’s space of meaning: The tutor’s role in small-group didactics

Chapter in book
Authors Åke Ingerman
Shirley Booth
Published in In C. Osbeck, Å. Ingerman, S. Claesson (Eds), Didactic classroom studies - A potential research direction
Pages 66-85
ISBN 978-91-88661-45-6
ISSN 2002-2131
Publisher Kriterium/ Nordic Academic Press
Place of publication Lund
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies
Pages 66-85
Language en
Keywords Didactics, classroom studies, physics education research, phenomenography and variation theory, group learning
Subject categories Educational Sciences, Didactics


This essay describes part of a study intended to develop an analytical understanding of learning in small groups within the research paradigm of phenomenography and the variation theory of learning, here paying specific attention to the role of the tutor in a small-group tutorial situation. The empirical study we are drawing on concerns small groups of first-year university physics students working on a problem in Newtonian mechanics on the behaviour of relevant forces when an ox pulls a box along the ground. We characterise the role of the tutor who intervenes at intervals as engaging with the space of meaning that is forming and reforming as the group discussion progresses. What is discussed is characterised using the identification of five objects of discussion, and in turn a number of dimensions of variation for each object of discussion. These are used to investigate how a space of meaning is constituted in the students’ conversation, which can have different qualities, depending on the patterns in which dimensions of variation are handled in discussion. From this analysis, in terms of these patterns and objects of discussion, we posit a proto-model for tutor intervention: preparation, interaction, and exit.

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