The aim of this paper is to analyze relational uncertainty (i.e., the subjective feeling of being unsure with regard to social interactions) and epistemological uncertainty (i.e., the subjective feeling of being unsure about the content, process or outcome of a task) as well as their interrelations and development over time in collaborative learning processes. To pursue that aim, we examined students’ diary entries that were made during a university course on knowledge creation, innovation, and philosophy of science. The sample consisted of N = 30 university student participants grouped into six teams who were asked to collaboratively create novel knowledge, and, ultimately, a prototype. Data was complemented by instructors’ observations and students’ ratings of the prototype and analyzed using a grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2006).
Our findings reveal that relational uncertainty is predominantly salient at the beginning of the knowledge creation process, and that overcoming it unleashes a motivating function. Experiencing the overcoming of relational uncertainty enables deeper engagement in epistemological uncertainty, which turned out to have a positive impact on the outcome of the knowledge creation process. Both forms, relational and epistemological uncertainty, are relevant for the knowledge creation process and act as driving forces in collaborative knowledge creation situations. Therefore, triggering uncertainty should be used in a well-directed manner to foster learning in higher education. However, when relational uncertainty is not properly managed at the beginning of the process, the positive effect of epistemological uncertainty does not arise.