Gesture in Collaborative Physics Learning Study

A group of undergraduate physics students communicating via gesture to problem-solve.

Can non-verbal communication impact group work success in STEM?

Project description

Active, collaborative learning approaches are widely seen as effective ways for students to learn undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). However, learning outcomes are highly contingent on the quality of the interactional processes in which students engage. There is a great deal of research on successful verbal communicational practices in group work, but little is known about how nonverbal communicational practices like gesture contribute to successful collaboration. Previous research shows that when groups are responsive to, take up, and discuss one another’s spoken ideas, they are more successful at collaborative problem solving in STEM. In this project, researchers will investigate (1) how students are responsive to, take up, exchange, or interact with each other’s gestures while working together, and (2) how this behavior shapes or constrains groups’ problem solving and sense making in introductory undergraduate physics.

See also our UBNow article: and the EISLab webpage: for more information.

Project outcome

This project will improve our understanding of the role nonverbal communication plays in collaborative learning, and it will contribute to the development of broader, more expansive, and inclusive definitions of the competencies and practices involved in learning and doing STEM.

There will be opportunities for the undergraduate researcher to present research findings in the form of a poster or presentation at an education research conference (with travel funding), as well as opportunities to co-author education research publications.

Project details

Timing, eligibility and other details
Length of commitment About a semester; 3-5 months
Start time Fall (August/September)
In-person, remote, or hybrid? In-person
Level of collaboration Small group project (2-3 students)
Benefits Academic credit
Research Experience
Who is eligible

Sophomores, juniors and seniors who have taken an introductory physics course (HS or college); have interest in STEM education, interest in nonverbal communication, attention to detail, self-directed learner. 

Project mentor

Virginia Flood

Assistant Professor

Learning and Instruction

Phone: (716) 645-2455


Start the project

  1. Email the project mentor using the contact information above to express your interest and get approval to work on the project. (Here are helpful tips on how to contact a project mentor.)
  2. After you receive approval from the mentor to start this project, click the button to start the digital badge. (Learn more about ELN's digital badge options.) 

Preparation activities

Once you begin the digital badge series, you will have access to all the necessary activities and instructions. Your mentor has indicated they would like you to also complete the specific preparation activities below. Please reference this when you get to Step 2 of the Preparation Phase. 

Research Compliance Training (see

Required CITI courses are (1) the Human Research Curriculum, Social & Behavioral Research Investigators Basic Course and (2) the Social and Behavioral Responsible Conduct of Research Basic Course.


Education, psychology, physics, communication, STEM education, engineering education, science education, gesture, collaboration, group work, social interaction, diversity, learning