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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VAN DER WESTHUIZEN, G J  and  VAN DER MERWE, M P. Student teachers' interpretation and use of learning theory concepts. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2010, vol.50, n.1, pp.87-103. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article focuses on how students in one specific undergraduate training module in an undergraduate teacher education qualification present their conceptual understanding of and learning in textual format. This investigation is grounded in the cognitive flexibility theory of Spiro and co-workers. This theory is regarded as meaningful in analyses of student learning and extends the more traditional views of constructivist learning such as Piaget's explication of the processes of assimilation and accommodation, as well as the theories on conceptual change to the challenges of learning in complex and weakly structured knowledge domains requiring problem solving. Construction of knowledge in real life is thus more than the act of merely recalling previous knowledge and its applications. Flexibility in the use of knowledge is therefore encouraged as every learning situation differs and, for that reason, requires the flexible use of previous knowledge. Socio-cultural perspectives on student learning are also valuable for the purpose of this investigation as they postulate that learning and meaning occur anew within each knowledge domain and situation context. Student learning is also considered from eco-social and semiotic perspectives. Semiotics is the study of signs and sign systems and what they contribute to the process of constructing knowledge and meaning. Semiotic tools investigated in this article include all aspects of human sign creation and usage. Learning texts developed by learners are also regarded as the reality of meaning for them and are influenced by social and cultural activities. Furthermore, the manner and pattern in which signs are created and creatively used by learners are related to the underlying social rules, meanings and contexts accompanying the use of signs as internalised and used by learners. The conventions of tertiary academic studies as semiotic field, which especially includes the custom of expecting from students to communicate their knowledge of concepts in writing, is also regarded as part of social events and as such, part of an interactive process of knowledge and meaning creation. Student learning is therefore considered as a process where students make use of certain semiotic instruments and sign systems to present their knowledge and interpretation. These knowledge constructions are co-determined by the semiotic domain as well as by the textual formats in which students present their knowledge. A purposive selection of four undergraduate education students according to gender, vernacular and area of specialisation was made from an initial group of students who had voluntarily taken part in a study on study team learning in a second study year undergraduate module in Teacher Education. A comparative case study of these students was undertaken. Data were collected by way of an open-ended concept clarification questionnaire as well as an assessed module assignment, answers to a module test, and module learning journals. Analyses focused on students' content interpretation of specific concepts studied in the module, how students' understanding and knowledge of these concepts were formed, as well as the semiotic instruments they employed to construct their knowledge, and how these were presented in textual formats. In addition, the data were analysed in terms of the conventions of the discourse in the particular academic domain. The findings of the investigation indicated that students' textual presentation of their knowledge and interpretation of specific learning theory concepts largely agree with the module material; that students differed in their use of semiotic instruments to construct knowledge of learning theory concepts; that discourse practices used by students to communicate their knowledge textually differed; and that the textual communication of concept knowledge in the context of students' area of specialisation was largely co-determined by the social conventions of the academic domain. Noticeable differences between selected students related to content profundity; extension and expansion of interpretations; the unique images and metaphors that illustrated the concepts; integration and application to specific situations of practice in specialisations; variation in language codes ranging from personal agency to a more objective code; the degree to which conceptual learning is presented as self-identification and relational identity; and the social conventions of the domain Education in higher education.

Keywords : Teacher education; conceptual learning; cognitive complexity; conceptual interpretations; professional learning; socio-semiotic analysis; discourse domain; semiotic instruments; learning equity; equity pedagogy.

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