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Death of Metaphors in Life Science?: A study of upper secondary and tertiary students' use of metaphors and help-words in their meaning-making of scientific content.
Linköping University, Department of Social and Welfare Studies, Learning, Aesthetics, Natural science. Linköping University, Faculty of Educational Sciences.
Linköping University, Department of Culture and Communication. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Linköping University, Department of Science and Technology, Visual Information Technology and Applications (VITA). Linköping University, The Institute of Technology.
2009 (English)In: Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, ISSN 1609-4913, Vol. 10, no 3, Article 3- p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The study reported in this article investigated the use of metaphors by upper secondary and tertiary students while learning a specific content area in molecular life science, protein function. Terms and expressions in science can be used in such precise and general senses that they are totally dissociated from their metaphoric origins. Beginners in a scientific field, however, lack the experience of using a term of metaphorical origin in its domain-specific precise and general sense, and may therefore be more cognitively affected than the expert by the underlying metaphor. The study shows that beginners in the field of molecular life science use spontaneous metaphors and metaphors used in teaching in a way that demonstrates that they have difficulty using the proper scientific terminology. The results of this study indicate, among other things, that difficulties in science education may, to a large degree, be connected with problems of communicating the generality and precision of scientific terms and metaphors used in science. The article ends with a suggestion as how to enable students to move from general and vague metaphoric uses of scientific terms toward a more general and precise usage.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2009. Vol. 10, no 3, Article 3- p.
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-19733OAI: diva2:228045
Available from: 2009-07-23 Created: 2009-07-23 Last updated: 2009-12-11Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Visual thinking, visual speech: a semiotic perspective on meaning-making in molecular life science
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Visual thinking, visual speech: a semiotic perspective on meaning-making in molecular life science
2008 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Molecular life science has become one of the fastest-growing fields of scientific and technical innovation. An important issue for tomorrow’s education is to meet the challenge posed by various facets of molecular life science. Images, diagrams and other forms of visualization are playing increasingly important roles in molecular life science teaching and research, both for conveying information and as conceptual tools, transforming the way we think about the events and processes the subject covers.

This thesis highlights different aspects of molecular life science education: the rapid production and flow of information, its multi- and interdisciplinary character, the complexity of life phenomena and our knowledge of them, and the high level of abstraction of the knowledge produced. This study also examines how upper secondary and tertiary students interpret visualizations of proteins. The participating upper secondary students were taking different variants of the natural science program in the second (grade 11) or third (grade 12) year. A set of 20 upper secondary students, and four third-year biochemistry students were interviewed in semistructured, revised clinical interviews. Furthermore, 31 university students participated in a group discussion and answered a questionnaire. The interviews, group discussions and questionnaires were structured around 2D illustrations of proteins and an animated representation of water molecules being transported through a channel in the cell membrane.

Three critical features of the ability to visualize molecular processes were identified: the complexity of biomolecular processes, the dynamic and stochastic nature of biomolecular interaction, and extrapolation between 2D and 3D. The results also indicate that the students may possess an understanding of a process which they cannot express in words.

Furthermore, the results indicate that beginner students use a kind of intermediate language when learning a new content area, frequently making use of metaphors, some that they have obtained from their teaching and some that they create themselves, i.e. spontaneous metaphors. They also make use of words that seemingly have no meaning, such as “plupp” and “flopp”. These words are here referred to as help-words. The results from this study indicate that spontaneous metaphors and helpwords do take on a meaning in learning situations and that they play a role in the meaning-making of the students. Moreover, the results indicate that difficulties in science education may to a large degree be connected to the problems of communicating the precise and general nature of scientific terms.

Abstract [sv]

De molekylära livsvetenskaperna framstår som ett av de mest snabbväxande fälten inom naturvetenskap och teknik. En viktig fråga för framtida utbildning är därför hur vi kan bemästra de olika aspekterna av denna utveckling. Bilder, diagram och andra former av visualiseringar spelar en allt viktigare roll i de molekylära livsvetenskaperna, såväl för undervisning som för forskning. De kan användas för att förmedla information och som tankeredskap, med förmåga att bygga upp och transformera vår förståelse av de fenomen och processer som studeras.

Denna avhandling fokuserar olika aspekter av utbildning i molekylär livsvetenskap, bl.a. det snabba flödet av, och produktionen av information, områdets multi- och interdisciplinära karaktär, komplexiteten hos biologiska och biokemiska system och vår kunskap om dessa, samt den abstrakta karaktären av denna kunskap. Speciellt fokuserar avhandlingen frågan hur gymnasieelever och universitetsstudenter tolkar visualiseringar av proteiner. De deltagande gymnasieeleverna studerade olika varianter av det naturvetenskapliga programmet och gick i andra och tredje årskursen i gymnasiet, och de deltagande universitetsstudenterna studerade biokemi inom ramen för kemisk biologi programmet. Semistrukturerade, reviderade kliniska intervjuer genomfördes med tjugo gymnasieelever och fyra universitetsstudenter. Trettioen (31) förstaårsstudenter på universitetsprogrammet kemisk biologi besvarade en enkät och deltog i en videofilmad gruppdiskussion. Intervjuerna, gruppdiskussionerna och enkäten strukturerades kring illustrationer av proteiner och en animation av hur vattenmolekyler passerar genom ett kanalprotein (aquaporin) i cellmembranet.

Tre kritiska aspekter av förmågan att visualisera molekylära processer identifierades: biomolekylära processers komplexitet, den dynamiska och stokastiska karaktären hos dessa, samt extrapolering mellan 2D och 3D. Resultaten indikerar även att det är möjligt att ha en förståelse som inte kan uttryckas i ord.

Resultaten visar dessutom att nybörjare inom ett område använder ett slags intermediärt språk, vilket innehåller en stor andel metaforer, av vilka en del har inhämtats från undervisningen medan andra är spontana, d.v.s. uppfinns av den lärande själv. Till yttermera visso använder nybörjarstudenter ord som skenbart kan sakna betydelse, sådana ord som “plupp” och “flopp”. Dessa ord benämns här hjälpord. Resultaten från denna undersökning visar att spontana metaforer och hjälpord tilldelas specifika meningar i lärsituationer och att de spelar en roll i elevernas meningsskapande. Ytterligare en aspekt av resultaten som presenteras i denna avhandling är att en stor del av problemen i naturvetenskaplig undervisning kan kopplas till svårigheter med att förmedla den precisa och generella innebörden av vetenskapliga termer.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2008. 51 p.
Studies in Science and Technology Education, ISSN 1652-5051 ; 20
Molecular life science, visualizations, metaphors, help-words
National Category
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-21103 (URN)978-91-7393-859-4 (ISBN)
Public defence
2008-09-12, DeGeergymnasiet, Nygatan 68, Norrköping, 13:00 (English)
Available from: 2009-12-11 Created: 2009-09-29 Last updated: 2013-02-28Bibliographically approved

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Rundgren, Carl-JohanHirsch, RichardTibell, Lena A.E.
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Learning, Aesthetics, Natural scienceFaculty of Educational SciencesDepartment of Culture and CommunicationFaculty of Arts and SciencesVisual Information Technology and Applications (VITA)The Institute of Technology

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