Knowledge disagreement formulations in problem-based learning tutorials : balancing pedagogical demands with 'saving face'

McQuade, Robert and Wiggins, Sally and Ventura-Medina, Esther and Anderson, Tony (2018) Knowledge disagreement formulations in problem-based learning tutorials : balancing pedagogical demands with 'saving face'. Classroom Discourse, 9 (3). pp. 227-243. ISSN 1946-3022 (

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As a pedagogical approach that aims to develop students' group-working skills and to challenge their current knowledge, problem-based learning (PBL) provides a unique setting in which to examine disagreements in interaction. Previous research on disagreements in classrooms have typically examined tutor-student interaction or student-student interaction in which a tutor is present. The current paper, however, examines tutorless PBL tutorials and focuses specifically on those moments in which knowledge claims are challenged by other students. The data comprise of 30 hours of video recordings from 24 chemical engineering PBL tutorials in a Scottish university. Conversation analysis was used to identify 101 disagreement formulations, many of which follow the format seen in other classroom settings (e.g. agreement-prefaced disagreements). A subset of disagreement formulations manage epistemic responsibility through invoking expert sources (e.g. tutor-provided worksheets and academically superior out-group members). Through invoking an expert source in this way, students attend to the pedagogical activities - without tutor assistance - while minimising the conversational trouble associated with the act of 'doing' disagreement (i.e. indirectly enacting disagreements whilst maintaining a neutral stance). This paper thus contributes to CA literature on disagreements, while providing a unique insight into PBL tutorial interaction. Directions for future research are suggested.


McQuade, Robert ORCID logoORCID:, Wiggins, Sally, Ventura-Medina, Esther ORCID logoORCID: and Anderson, Tony ORCID logoORCID:;