Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Education Theory and Practice

Content Description

1 online resource (xiv, 211 pages) : illustrations (some color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Jianwei Zhang

Committee Members

Jan Elen, Carol Rodgers


Collaborative Emergence, Collaborative Inquiry Learning, Discourse Analysis, Knowledge Building, Shared Inquiry Focus, Shared Regulation, Inquiry (Theory of knowledge), Team learning approach in education, Light, Learning, Psychology of, Learner autonomy

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction | Elementary Education | Science and Mathematics Education


Essential to a flourishing society in a changing environment, knowledge creation has become pervasive across social sectors. Creative work with knowledge and ideas requires dynamic forms of collaboration in which individuals adapt goals as new advances and problems emerge. To prepare students for creative knowledge work, new classroom designs using knowledge building pedagogy engage learners in a process of open-ended inquiry as a community. This type of inquiry involves students taking the responsibility for identifying and pursuing ever-evolving knowledge goals that lead to deeper conceptual understanding through a path not known in advance. However, a major challenge is to understand how student-driven, ever-deepening knowledge building work can be organized and sustained over multiple weeks and months.In light of the outlined problem, I explore student regulation of collaborative inquiry in a knowledge building classroom of fourth-graders studying light over a period of three months supported by Knowledge Forum. The purpose is to understand how the classroom community co-constructs shared inquiry foci and structures without predetermined goals and procedures. As more specific research questions, I try to gain an understanding of how shared inquiry foci are sustained in short moments of interaction and how they continue and deepen over the longer time scale of the classroom activity. Analysis of group conversations, online artifacts and the teacher’s reflection journal was carried out utilizing qualitative methods and integrating multiple time scales. Using content and discourse analysis, I first developed a storyline of the inquiry journey that presents a trajectory of the community-level inquiry foci. I analyzed how these shared inquiry foci emerged and became settled; how they were materially framed and socially accomplished. Then, at a fine grain, I examined classroom episodes that emerged from the storyline as breakthrough points in the deepening of the inquiry. Combining interaction analysis and thick description, I analyzed how a shared inquiry focus was sustained, deepened or expanded in the moment-to-moment interactions. Based on the results of the first two analyses and applying an ethnographic perspective to discourse analysis, I followed through the continuation and transformation of some inquiry foci on the longer time scale of the collective inquiry journey. Over the course of three months, students and their teacher co-constructed and deepened shared inquiry foci by identifying concrete objects that revealed new problems of understanding and expanded the space of conceptual search. In moment-to-moment interactions, a shared inquiry focus was sustained through the indefinite and nonlinear unfolding of these three elements – concrete objects, wantings of knowledge, and disciplinary concepts – that led to new emerging directions and inquiry practices. Over time, components of a shared inquiry focus accumulated in a rich substrate of prior knowledge that students selectively and competently invoked and reinvested to continue their inquiry work into new and coherently connected directions. Thus, the dynamic interplay of objects, wantings and concepts, anchored in students’ ongoing discourse, provided an analytical lens for understanding the co-construction and deepening of shared inquiry foci when looking both at the shorter and the longer timescale of the inquiry process. The research extends current understanding of how knowledge co-construction is regulated in more open-ended and long trajectories of collaborative inquiry. As a first contribution, it highlights that regulation of a shared inquiry focus involves formulating and adapting goals that may not necessarily be known upfront or common but that evolve and connect in such a way as to allow the collective work to progress coherently. Second, it suggests that shared regulation can be described for the most part as an emergent process rather than purely goal-directed. Goals and directions of work may emerge and continuously adjust as a result of being in relation with objects, wantings and conceptual ideas and of deeply immersing in moment-to-moment interactions. Finally, findings illustrate the cross-temporal dimension of shared regulation of open-ended inquiry. Sustaining the continuation and deepening of open-ended collaborative inquiry relies not only on monitoring and adapting strategies and actions in the here-and-now, but also on the generative use of prior knowledge in the undergoing work and projection of emerging interests and ideas onto future inquiry directions and trajectories. The findings elaborate an analytical framework that captures the dynamic interplay of key constituents of an inquiry focus as they appear in discourse interactions among students. This framework, coming alive in the thick description of the light inquiry, may help teachers and designers create open-ended inquiry environments that engage students’ responsibility for building long trajectories of collaborative inquiry.