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Learning as construction of actionable concepts: A multimodal blending perspective


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In mainstream cognitive research, ‘formal concepts’ usually serve as the main unit of analysis for investigating students’ conceptual learning. Accordingly, conceptual understanding is often seen as a capacity to take an already acquired formal concept and transfer it intact to a new situation, by recognising structural commonalities and using analogy. We use our research into how pre-service (student) teachers design lessons to show that their capacity to use concepts in real world professional work cannot be understood as a simple transfer of formal concepts to new situations. Rather, actionable conceptual understanding, or concepts that are used in action, involve a capacity to construct situated conceptualisations dynamically: by selecting, projecting, mapping and blending relevant conceptual features with material and symbolic affordances of the encountered situation into one emerging multimodal construct that becomes a part of an embodied action. Extending conceptual and material blending (Fauconnier & Turner, 1998; Hutchins, 2005), we show that construction of multimodal blends serves as a productive unit of analysis for investigating conceptual learning for professional action.

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Learning as construction of actionable concepts: A multimodal blending perspective

  1. 1. The University of Sydney Page 1 Learning as construction of actionable concepts: A multimodal blending perspective Lina Markauskaite and Peter Goodyear Acknowledgements: ARC Grant DP0988307 Dr Agnieszka Bachfischer Centre for Research on Learning and Innovation The University of Sydney Earli Tampere, 2017
  2. 2. The University of Sydney Page 2 Context 1. Practical & intellectual context 2. Theoretical approach 3. Analytical approach 4. Empirical context 5. Few examples 6. Final notes Link to eBook
  3. 3. The University of Sydney Page 3 Formal concepts, actionable knowledge, innovation Actionable knowledge – “knowledge that is particularly useful to get things accomplished in practical activities” (After Yinger & Lee, 1993, 100) Upper image
  4. 4. The University of Sydney Page 4 Purpose How do university students enact formal concepts in practical tasks when learning to solve innovative professional problems?
  5. 5. The University of Sydney Page 5 Formal and functional (use of) concepts A formal concept – “a cognitive entity that has a reference class that is determined by an explicit definition and that is used in a system of formal deductive reasoning” A functional concept – “a cognitive entity that has meaning in a kind of activity, in which it contributes to the way participants organize their understanding of what they are doing” (After Greeno, 2012)
  6. 6. The University of Sydney Page 6 Grounded cognition: Symbolic vs. situated view of the conceptual system Situated conceptual system – brain utilises modality specific systems when it simulates conceptual categories (Barsalou, 1999, 2009) Situated information that is stored together with a conceptual category: 1. selected properties 2. background settings 3. possible actions 4. internal states: affects, motivations, AND cognitive states and operations Actionable conceptual understanding is “the ability to construct a wide variety of situated conceptualizations that support goal achievement in diverse situations” (Barsalou, 2009, 244) Aspirin
  7. 7. The University of Sydney Page 8 Analytical approach: Blending Mental (conceptual) spaces – mental arrays of already familiar ideas Blending – a routine part of human cognition during which selected elements and connections between several mental spaces are projected into a new composite space that is used to perform further mental work (After Fauconnier, 1994; Turner 2001, 2014)
  8. 8. The University of Sydney Page 9 Conceptual blending (After Turner, 2008) “This surgeon is a butcher” Surgeon Butcher Incompetent Cutting living tissue, etc Healing - Killing
  9. 9. The University of Sydney Page 10 Material (multimodal) blending (After Hutchins, 2005) Where-s-the-priority-patron-queue 05/16/content_29363100.htm Line People Queue
  10. 10. The University of Sydney Page 11 Empirical context: Teaching to “work scientifically” Students: pre-service primary teachers Context: Learning to teach science through inquiry Activity: Developing 3 lesson plans & resources, teaching, reflecting/improving & packing all into a shoe box Topic: material properties Selected object: nappy Concept: “scientific experiment”
  11. 11. The University of Sydney Page 12 Blending 1: A worksheet, tests and nappy 01a Agi: So that’s gonna be a (worksheet). The second one – don’t inquire now how it works ((draws a big rectangle representing a blank worksheet)) – there’s the second worksheet, 01b and they’ve got three tests ((writes ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’ in the rectangle)). 02 Nat: Yeah. 03a Agi: And so they’ve got four – I don’t know how many layers in a nappy. This is layer A, B, C, D ((writes ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘d’ letters near 1)). 01a Worksheet: Inscriptional scaffold 01b Scientific experiment “proper”: Number of tests 03a Nappy: Number of layers
  12. 12. The University of Sydney Page 13 Blending 2: + social-pedagogical arrangements 03b So then they test A, B, C, D, for… [4 seconds] 03c I don’t know what it is, like hard err waterproof I think. 03d Maybe we can divide them into groups. 03e Maybe so, group 1 // test = ((writes ‘waterproof’ near test 1)) 04 Nat: = Do this layer. 03b Tests + Nappy’s layers 03c Tests/Nappy 03d Social-pedagogical organisation: work in groups 03e Groups + Tests 04 Nappy’s layers
  13. 13. The University of Sydney Page 14 Blending 3: + material + own bodies + curriculum +… 07a Jill: // And then we also need less stuff, we don’t need to like have… [4 seconds] and 07b if there’s three, are there three things that are being tested then one of us can be in each of these groups. 08 Agi: Yeah. Waterproof, what was the other one? But then umm ((thinks)). 09a Nat: It will be interesting to look at how they might vary their results though if they’re all in one group (…) 09b not like we’re gonna talk about it, but anyway. 07a Nappy: Materiality 07b Tests + Grouping + Own bodies: Number of teachers 08 Tests/Nappy 09a Scientific experiment: Variability of results + Grouping 09b Pedagogical- curriculum design: Lesson focus
  14. 14. The University of Sydney Page 15 Summary: Main spaces and elements brought into the blend
  15. 15. The University of Sydney Page 17 Main insights 1. The pre-service teachers’ capacity to enact concepts in practical activities cannot be understood solely by investigating how they define or reason with isolated formal concepts. 2. It necessitates tracing how they blend selected elements of the concept with: a) other concepts that operate in the same activity space, b) features of the current and projected social and material context, including their own bodies, and c) current and simulated action. 3. Construction of multimodal blends involves emergence and serves as a productive unit of analysis for investigating conceptual learning for innovative professional action.
  16. 16. The University of Sydney Page 18 If you are interested... Email: Follow our website: au