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Challenging students' intuitive expectations - an analysis of students reasoning around a tangible model of virus assembly
Linköping University, Department of Social and Welfare Studies, Learning, Aesthetics, Natural science. Linköping University, Faculty of Educational Sciences.
Linköping University, Department of Science and Technology, Media and Information Technology. Linköping University, The Institute of Technology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-4694-5611
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

How can a well-ordered biological complex be formed by the random motion of its components, i.e. self-assemble? This is a concept that is counter to human intuitive expectations derived from prior knowledge and experience. In previous studies we have shown that a tangible model of virus selfassembly, used as a thinking-tool in a group-exercise, helps students to grasp the process of selfassembly, particularly the facet random molecular collision. The present study investigates how and why the model facilitates students’ acceptance of new concepts and learning. The data analysed consist of audio-recordings of six group exercises and five individual semi-structured interviews, in which 35 university students from Sweden and South Africa participated. Qualitative analysis indicates that the students’ prior knowledge, prior conceptual understanding and intuitive ideas, influenced their meaning-making of the molecular process of self-assembly. Moreover, the counterintuitive aspects of the process created a conceptual conflict within the learners, and both the tangible model and group exercises facilitated a conceptual change in their understanding of the process. Lastly, the data indicate that students’ emotional state is significant for their successful accommodation of the counter-intuitive aspects of self-assembly. The analysis is based on a combination of constructivist perspectives of learning, conceptual change theory, and learning with external representations.

Keyword [en]
Conceptual conflict, counter-intuitive, tangible model, hands-on model, conceptual change, self-assembly
National Category
Didactics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-91367OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-91367DiVA: diva2:617381
Note

Del av avhandling

Available from: 2013-04-23 Created: 2013-04-23 Last updated: 2016-05-04Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Experiencing Molecular Processes: The Role of Representations for Students' Conceptual Understanding
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Experiencing Molecular Processes: The Role of Representations for Students' Conceptual Understanding
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Knowledge of molecular processes is crucial for fundamental understanding of the world and diverse technological applications. However, they cannot be clearly related to any directly experienced phenomena and may be very different from our intuitive expectations. Thus, representations are essential conceptual tools for making molecular processes understandable, but to be truly useful educational tools it is essential to ensure that students grasp the connections between what they represent and the represented phenomena. This challenge and associated personal and social aspects of learning were key themes of my doctoral research.

This thesis evaluates whether (and if so how) representations can support students’ conceptual understanding of molecular processes and thus successfully substitute the missing experience of these processes. The subject matter used to explore these issues included two crucial molecular processes in biochemical systems: self-assembly and adenosine triphosphate synthesis. The discussion is based on results presented in four appended papers. Both qualitative and quantitative research strategies have been applied, using instruments such as pre- and post-tests, group discussions and interviews. The samples consisted of Swedish and South African university students, who in the group discussions interacted with peers and external representations, including an image, a tangible model and an animation.

The findings indicate that students’ ability to discern relevant model features is critical for their ability to transfer prior conceptual knowledge from related situations. They also show that students’ use of metaphors and conceptual understanding depend on how an external representation conveys relevant aspects of the learning content (its design). Thus, students must manage two complex interpretation processes (interpreting the external representations and metaphors used), which may create challenges for their learning. Furthermore, the self-assembly process was shown to incorporate counter-intuitive aspects, and both group discussion and the tangible model proved to be important facilitators for changing students’ conceptual understanding of the process. Providing students with experiences of phenomena associated with molecular concepts that incorporate counter-intuitive aspects through representations is a key factor for their understanding of the concepts. In addition, providing students with a conflict-based task, problem or representation is not enough, they also have to be willing (emotionally motivated) to solve the conflict.

The challenge for educators lies in choosing representations that convey aspects of the learning content they are intended to teach and assist students in their meaning-making of the representations by remaining informed of students’ background knowledge and interpretations. Results presented in this thesis show that it could be advantageous to interpret learning in a broader sense.

Abstract [sv]

Kunskap om molekylära processer är avgörande för att skapa en grundläggande förståelse av världen och olika tekniska tillämpningar. Däremot kan molekylära processer inte alltid relateras till direkt erfarna fenomen och de kan skilja sig mycket från våra intuitiva förväntningar. Således blir representationer viktiga konceptuella verktyg för att göra molekylära processer begripliga. För att representationer skall vara användbara pedagogiska verktyg är det viktigt att eleverna förstår sambanden mellan vad de representerar och de representerade fenomenen. Denna utmaning och tillhörande personliga och sociala aspekter av lärande var centrala teman i mitt doktorsarbete.

Denna avhandling undersöker om (och i så fall hur) representationer kan stödja elevernas konceptuella förståelse av molekylära processer och därmed utgöra deras erfarenhet av dessa processer. Det ämnesinnehåll som används för att utforska dessa frågor är två viktiga molekylära processer i biokemiska system: självorganisering (self-assembly) och adenosintrifosfat syntes. Diskussionen bygger på resultat som presenteras i fyra bifogade artiklar. Både kvalitativa och kvantitativa forskningsstrategier har tillämpats, med instrument som före- och efter-tester, gruppdiskussioner och intervjuer. Urvalet bestod av svenska och sydafrikanska universitetsstudenter som i gruppdiskussioner interagerat med varandra och med olika externa representationer, såsom en bild, en konkret modell och en animation.

Resultaten tyder på att studenternas förmåga att urskilja relevanta aspekter hos en representation är avgörande för deras förmåga att överföra tidigare kunskaper från likartade situationer. Resultaten visar också att studenterna metaforiska språk och konceptuella förståelse beror på hur den externa representationen förmedlar relevanta aspekter av lärandeinnehållet (dess design). Därmed måste studenterna hantera två komplexa tolkningsprocesser (tolka de externa representationer och de metaforer som används), vilket kan skapa utmaningar för lärandet. Dessutom innehöll den molekylära processen self-assembly kontra-intuitiva aspekter och både gruppdiskussionerna och den konkreta modellen visade sig spela en viktig roll för att förändra elevernas konceptuella förståelse av processen. Att erbjuda studenter en direkt upplevelse av kontraintuitiva molekylära processer genom externa representationer är en avgörande faktor för deras förståelse av dessa fenomen. Att ge studenter en konflikt-baserad uppgift och en representation räcker dock inte, de måste också vara villiga (känslomässigt motiverad) att lösa konflikten.

Utmaningen för lärare ligger i att välja representationer som förmedlar delar av ämnesinnehållet som de är avser att undervisa och hjälpa elevernas meningsskapande av representationerna genom att hålla sig uppdaterade kring elevernas förkunskaper och tolkningar. Det resultat som presenteras i den här avhandlingen visar att det kan vara fördelaktigt att tolka lärande i naturvetenskap i en vidare bemärkelse.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2013. 137 p.
Series
Studies in Science and Technology Education, ISSN 1652-5051 ; 66
National Category
Didactics
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-91371 (URN)978-91-7519-607-7 (ISBN)
Public defence
2013-06-05, K2, Kåkenhus, Campus Norrköping, Linköpings universitet, Norrköping, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2013-04-30 Created: 2013-04-23 Last updated: 2016-05-04Bibliographically approved

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Larsson, CarolineTibell, Lena

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