Dialogue as a tool for meaning making
In order to empower citizens to analyze the effects, risk, and value of science, a knowledge of scientific concepts is necessary (Mejlgaard, 2009). The formal educational system plays a role in this endeavor (Gil-Perez & Vilches, 2005). One proposed constructivist practice is the use of social learning activities using verbalized, shared cognition among learners. In an effort to investigate the effects of verbally shared cognition, this project sought to determine if social learning opportunities affect the mastery of content in gateway biology courses and to identify the types of dialogue students engage in during cognitive collaboration. Fifty-seven students enrolled in a small southern community college were randomly assigned into treatment groups for each of nine units of instruction. The treatment variable was participation in verbalized social learning activities. Treatment differences based on a pretest/posttest design were analyzed using various statistical methods and recorded student discussions were analyzed for characteristics of talk based on a model developed by Mercer. Findings support the use of social learning activities as a way to improve content knowledge. Students in the treatment group had higher posttest and gain scores than those in the control group, with statistical significance reached in some cases. Types of talk were examined to support the constructivist method of learning. Findings support the use of non-confrontational talk as the vector of meaning making within the classroom.