Verbal Data Analysis for Understanding Interactions

Authored by: Heisawn Jeong

The International Handbook of Collaborative Learning

Print publication date:  February  2013
Online publication date:  March  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415805735
eBook ISBN: 9780203837290
Adobe ISBN: 9781136869556


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From the beginning of scientific investigation of the mind, researchers have used verbal data. When the first psychological laboratory was established in Germany, introspection was the dominant research method. In introspection, researchers asked participants to report their conscious experiences during exposure to various sensory stimuli, such as colors or tones. The researchers believed that introspection could reveal the elements of basic consciousness, which could then be combined to describe all human experiences. It soon became clear, however, that the verbal data produced by introspection was too subjective and unreliable, which led to its abandonment as a scientific method. Psychologists started using verbal data again with the cognitive revolution. The prevailing data collected for psychological research, especially in human memory studies, were response time and error data. However, as researchers began to examine more complex processes such as problem solving, they needed a method that could provide more direct access to the contents and processes of problem solving and reasoning. Newell and Simon (1972) established the use of “think-aloud” protocol, in which participants speak their thoughts while engaging in various problem-solving tasks. This process differed from the earlier introspection method in that it did not force participants to reflect and comment on their thinking. Still, questions were raised about the method’s validity, since verbalization can influence the very cognitive process that it aims to investigate (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977; Schooler & Engstler-Schooler, 1990). Distinctions were made between concurrent and retrospective verbalizations. It was argued that while retrospective verbalization influences cognitive performance, the concurrent verbalization of the think-aloud method does not, since it only gives voice to already-ongoing inner speech (Ericsson & Simon, 1993). As the field began studying complex forms of knowledge development, researchers were again in need of a method that allows the examination of complex representational changes accompanying learning and development. Verbal data analysis, often abbreviated to “verbal analysis,” was initially developed in the process of meeting these challenges (Chi, 1997, 2006). As the field expands its research focus to collaborative interactions, verbal analysis is being used widely to address research questions that arise in the studies of collaborative learning. This chapter will examine verbal analysis and its use in addressing various questions about human learning and cognition.

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