Comparing the effects of representational tools in collaborative and individual inquiry learning

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Constructing a representation in which students express their domain understanding can help them improve their knowledge. Many different representational formats can be used to express one’s domain understanding (e.g., concept maps, textual summaries, mathematical equations). The format can direct students’ attention to specific aspects of the subject matter. For example, creating a concept map can emphasize domain concepts and forming equations can stress arithmetical aspects. The focus of the current study was to examine the role of tools for constructing domain representations in collaborative inquiry learning. The study was driven by three questions. First, what are the effects of collaborative inquiry learning with representational tools on learning outcomes? Second, does format have differential effects on domain understanding? And third, does format have differential effects on students’ inclination to construct a representation? A pre-test post-test design was applied with 61 dyads in a (face-to-face) collaborative learning setting and 95 students in an individual setting. The participants worked on a learning task in a simulation-based learning environment equipped with a representational tool. The format of the tool was either conceptual or arithmetical or textual. Our results show that collaborative learners outperform individuals, in particular with regard to intuitive knowledge and situational knowledge. In the case of individuals a positive relation was observed between constructing a representation and learning outcomes, in particular situational knowledge. In general, the effects of format could not be linked directly to learning outcomes, but marked differences were found regarding students’ inclination to use or not use specific formats.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-251
JournalInternational journal of computer-supported collaborative learning
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Representational tools
  • METIS-281687
  • IR-82926
  • Mathematics
  • Inquiry learning
  • External representations
  • Simulations


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