Relationship between Beliefs about Collaboration and Epistemic Emotions in Collaborative Learning: An Explorative Study among Secondary School Students


There has been a “warming trend” in understanding cognition and learning performance since Pintrich’s discussion on the role of affect in conceptual change (Hofer & Sinatra. 2010; Pintrich. Marx. & Boyle. 1993). Pekrun and colleagues (2011) established a line of empirical work contributing to understanding emotions in the process of learning and their significance in the context of academic achievement; this ambit of study is now commonly known as academic emotions. This chapter is anchored on Pekrun’s control-value theory of academic emotions and aims to understand how students’ beliefs about collaboration in authentic classroom collaboration situations predict specific emotions.

One essential requirement of citizens in the 21st century is the capacity to collaborate effectively with others, both online and offline, in order to undertake tasks to attain mutually shared goals (Tran, 2014). Research on the use of collaborative learning is thus flourishing and shows pedagogical factors that facilitate or hinder the success of collaborative activities and hence the quality of learning (Jarvela, Volet, & Jarvenoja, 2010). One of these factors is students’ beliefs about collaboration. However, most empirical work conducted to examine beliefs about collaboration focuses on computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environments (Hakkarainen & Palonen, 2003; Hrastinski, 2009). Relatively less is known about its role in face-to-face, in-class environments. The major objective of the present study was to examine the relationship of secondary school students’ beliefs about collaboration and their emotions after completing collaborative learning activities in a Liberal Studies lesson.

Control-value theory of academic emotions

Owing to the “warming trend” advocated by motivational researchers investigating cognitive processes, such as conceptual change (Pintrich, Marx, & Boyle, 1993), the role of emotions and affect in the process and outcomes of learning has become a growing field of research. Pekrun (2006)

Epistemic emotions in collaborative learning 19 first conjectured the pervasiveness of emotions in the context of learning, specifically in achievement contexts, which later became known as academic emotions. Positive academic emotions include pride, curiosity and enjoyment, and negative ones include anxiety, frustration and boredom. Empirical findings have suggested that positive academic emotions are associated with better learning and engagement, whereas negative ones are counterproductive to learning (Pekrun, Vogl, Muis, & Sinatra, 2017).

Pekrun and colleagues elaborated that these academic emotions can be elicited either by students’ perceived control of a task at stake (e.g. “How likely is it that I can successfully pass the forthcoming examination?’’) or by the attached value students have toward the task (e.g. “How important is the task for my medical school application?”). Specifically, the values of tasks can be categorized further, where previously value was focused mostly on the task performance. Later findings suggest “the nature of the topic” to be learnt and the process associated with the learning (e.g. “How do I feel when I need to work with my peers?”) are also relevant value aspects and therefore will elicit academic emotions, just as other elicitors of the value component in the theory.

Epistemic emotions

In the past decade, educational psychologists have become interested in a new type of academic emotions - epistemic emotions (Vogl, Pekrun, Murayama, Loderer, & Schubert, 2019). Epistemic emotions are defined as those elicited by the knowledge-generating aspects of learning as a result of cognitive and epistemic processing (Chevrier, Muis, Trevors, Pekrun, & Sinatra, 2019). Often, these tasks involve conflicting information, processes of argumentation, ill-structured tasks and complex problem solving (Pekrun et al., 2017). Efforts have been made to examine the antecedents of epistemic emotions empirically. For example, Muis and colleagues (2015a) found that, in a mathematical problem-solving context, students’ perceived control and value of the task, as measured by their think-aloud protocols during the problem-solving process, predicted their epistemic emotions. In another study, the same authors also found that epistemic beliefs were important antecedents of epistemic emotions in a path analysis model (Muis, Psaradellis, Lajoie, Di Leo, & Chevrier, 2015b).

The process of collaboration has similar ill-structured and conflicting qualities as the above discussed epistemic tasks. In the process of collaboration, students often encounter diverse if not conflicting views and information. Also, with all the stakes faced by the group, the shared goal in the group is problem solving. Students’ beliefs about collaboration were examined in a CSCL environment (Chan & Chan, 2011), and it was found that only those with more sophisticated beliefs about collaboration mobilized deep approaches and were more engaged in the collaborative process. Furthermore, a positive association was found between sophistication of beliefs about collaboration and academic performance. That said, relatively little is known about how beliefs about collaboration elicit relevant academic emotions and hence impact on students’ learning quality and level of engagement.

Beliefs about collaboration: Antecedent of epistemic emotions

Research on CSCL has now recognized that simply putting students together in collaborative situations will not necessarily translate into the desirable effects of engagement and learning (Bielaczyc, 2009). It has become fruitful to explore students’ beliefs and conceptions as antecedents of productive learning, similar to other strands of empirical findings about the use of pedagogies. Chan and Chan (2011) conceptualized sophisticated beliefs regarding collaboration with the use of Scardamalia’s (2004) Knowledge Building principles. The discussion of all the 12 principles may go beyond the scope of this chapter; hence, I highlight those that are the most relevant to the conceptualization of the construct in this chapter. For full review of all 12 principles, please refer to Scardamalia and Bereiter’s (1994) work. For instance, the principle of “improvable idea” suggests all ideas can be changed through effort, collaboration and other means. The principle of “diverse idea” pertains to the belief that diversity of ideas is the prerequisite for knowledge advancement. The principle of “community knowledge and collective idea” suggests collective advancement is a more important goal than individual achievement. We can imagine learners who subscribe to sophisticated beliefs about collaboration; they will manifest as group members ready to collaborate with peers, be receptive and respect peers’ diverse ideas, capable of incorporating new ideas to refine their existing knowledge and appreciate collective effort to solve the problem at stake.

In laymen terms, beliefs about collaboration pertain to two key questions: “why collaborate” and “how to collaborate”. Answers conceiving collaboration as a process of advancing knowledge through collective effort relying on diverse ideas seem to be conducive to eliciting constructive epistemic emotion for collaboration - one anticipates the process of collaboration will encounter diverse or even opposing ideas, with participants likely to feel curious during the process instead of being confused or anxious. In contrast, the shallow end of collaboration suggests one only takes it as a mere division of labor, where the products are summations of the parts but not qualitatively advanced by working on different members’ ideas. A person who endorses this view is likely to feel overwhelmed by diverse views and hence feel anxious and confused. One of the research gaps addressed by the present study was, therefore, to consider collaboration as a value component, a task of epistemic nature that triggers epistemic emotions.

Chan and Chan (2011) established the construct and predictive validity of beliefs about collaboration as a unidimensional construct via exploring

Epistemic emotions in collaborative learning 21 its nomological relationships with approaches to learning and students’ online engagement in Knowledge Forum. They found that a sophisticated set of conceptions of collaboration was positively associated with academic performance, with more able students yielding more sophisticated beliefs about collaboration. It was also positively associated with the use of deep approaches and impacted on both the quantity and quality of discussion, as demonstrated by the Knowledge Forum analytics (which measures notes written, notes read, headings used, metacognitive tags used, etc.). Yet, the role of beliefs about collaboration in students’ learning seems to have been studied more in online environments, and relatively less is known about face-to-face or in authentic classrooms (Koschmann, 1994; Zhao & Zheng, 2014).

Objective of the present study

With the latest understanding of epistemic emotions, so far there has been no known effort to examine beliefs about collaboration as an antecedent that elicits epistemic emotions. The objective of the present study was to examine the relationship between secondary school students’ beliefs about collaboration and their epistemic emotions experienced right after engaging in collaborative activities in a Liberal Studies lesson. Specifically, it was hypothesized that students’ beliefs about collaboration would impact their experiences of epistemic emotions, with a more sophisticated set of beliefs about collaboration associated positively with positive emotions (curiosity) and negatively with negative emotions (confusion and anxiety).

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