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For many students, learning can be accomplished most effectively through social interaction with peers, and there have been many successes in using a group environment to improve learning in a variety of classroom settings. What is not well understood, however, are the dynamics of student groups, specifically how the students collectively apprehend the subject matter and share the mental workload. This research examines recent developments of theoretical tools for describing the cognitive states of individual students: associational patterns such as epistemic games and cultural structures such as epistemological framing. Observing small group interaction in authentic classroom situations (labs, tutorials, problem solving) suggests that these tools could be effective in describing these interactions. There are many reasons why group work may run into difficulties, such as a lack or imbalance of knowledge, an inappropriate mix of learning styles, or a destructive power arrangement. This research explores whether or not inconsistent epistemological framing among group members can also be a cause of group failure. Case studies of group interaction in the laboratory reveal evidence of successful groups employing common framing, and unsuccessful groups failing from lack of a shared frame.
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