Collaborative Discovery in a Scientific Domain

This study compares Pairs of subjects with Single subjects in a task of discovering scientific laws with the aid of experiments. Subjects solved a molecular genetics task in a computer micro-world (Dunbar, 1993). Pairs were more successful in discovery than Singles and participated more actively in explanatory activities (i.e., entertaining hypotheses and considering alternative ideas and justifications). Explanatory activities were effective for discovery only when the subjects also conducted crucial experiments. Explanatory activities were facilitated when paired subjects made requests of each other for explanation and focused on them. The study extends from individual to collaborative discovery activities the importance to the discovery process of setting goals to find hypotheses and evidence (Dunbar, 1993) and to construct explanations of phenomena and processes encountered in examples (Chi, Bassok, Lewis, & Glaser, 1989). Discovery through collaboration is a common and growing practice in science whose processes have not yet been extensively studied. We do not yet know whether discovery processes are different when people work together, what role discussion plays in collaboration, how researchers entertain hypotheses and conduct experiments when working together or how they handle alternative hypotheses and justifications that arise in discussion. These questions may be approached through historical case studies, field observation, interviews with researchers involved in collaboration, and laboratory experiments. Each approach has its advantages and limitations. This paper follows an experimental approach. We are aware that, although experiments are highly useful for detailed analyses of discovery processes, we need to be cautious in interpreting these data as reflecting actual scientists’ collaborative discovery processes. Over the long run, combining various approaches

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