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The analysis of school-age children engaged in engineering projects has proceeded by examining the conversations that take place among those children. The analysis of classroom discourse often considers a conversational turn to be the unit of analysis. In this study, small-group conversations among students engaged in a robotics project are analyzed by forming a dynamic network with the students as nodes and the utterances of each turn as edges. The data collected for this project contained more than 1000 turns for each group, with each group consisting of 4 students (and the occasional inclusion of a teacher or other interloper). The conversational turns were coded according to their content to form edges that vary qualitatively, with the content codes taken from prior literature on small group discourse during engineering design projects, resulting in approximately 10 possible codes for each edge. Analyzed as a time sequence of networks, clusters across turns were created that allow for a larger unit of analysis than is usually used. These larger units of analysis are more fruitfully connected to the stages of engineering design. Furthermore, the patterns uncovered allow for hypotheses to be made about the dynamics of transition between these stages, and also allow for these hypotheses to be compared to expert consideration of the group’s stage at various times. Although limited by noise and inter-group variation, the larger units allowed for greater insight into group processes during the engineering design cycle.


Presented at the Conference on Complex Systems in Amsterdam, Netherlands on September 22, 2016.

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