University students learning of scientific concepts can be described as a process of semiosis at three different levels: Ontogenetic, whereby students over time actively acquire signs that represent new meaning to themselves; mesogenetic, whereby a teacher through teaching an dialogue activities together with students build conceptual understanding; sociogenetic, whereby the scientific achievements of a science disseminate into the classroom. Semiotic processes have been investigated in educational semiotics (Cunningham, 1992), sociocultural psychology (Valsiner, 2007) and research on math and science students diagrammatic reasoning (Hoffmann et al, 2005; Radford, 2000). This study builds on these traditions in order to explain students learning of biochemical concepts and specifically the mediating role of threshold concepts in students learning over time. Threshold concepts are concepts that are central to a subject and subsequently to persons grasping of a scientific subject (Meyer et al, 2006). Because threshold concepts are thought (metaphorically speaking) to form a portal through which the student steps once these concepts are mastered, they have begun to be used in planning university teaching including biochemistry teaching (Loertscher, 2011). The study seeks an answer to the problem of emergence in science students acquisition of concepts, not only how students form new sign hierarchies over time, but how say easy concepts suddenly change into a hard concepts(or vice versa) as new signs are appropriated by students? Why are biochemical structures easier to grasp than processes? Illustrations are provided from a case deriving from a mixed-methods longitudinal study of odontology university students (N=50) biochemical conceptual understanding. Students ratings (on visual analogue scales) of biochemical concepts were collected every week during a university semester. Archival data (e.g. biochemistry textbooks), diaries and a qualitative interview were collected with a biochemistry teacher. Methodological challenges are identified in studying conceptual change and the applicability of semiotics is discussed.
Sign Evolution on Multiple Time Scales: Book of Abstracts, 2013
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The Eighth Conference of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies (NASS): “Sign evolution on multiple time scales”, 2013