Author Chue, Shien
Title Multimodality: lecturing and learning organic chemistry
Institute Thesis (Ph.D.) National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University
Year 2009
Supervisor Tan, Daniel Kim-Chwee
Call no. QD256 Chu
 
Summary

Chemistry education involves more than language use for representation of abstract knowledge. It requires an understanding of the use of chemical representations in order to articulate and learn chemistry concepts. The aim of this research was to examine lecturers' functional use of visual inscriptions, gestures and actions upon physical models during organic chemistry lectures and to investigate students' functional use of these similar meaning making resources during problem solving.

The primary theme of this study is the multimodality of scientific communication. Within the context of a teacher education institution in Singapore, this study examined the routine teaching activities of chemistry lecturers. and problem solving activities of their students. Committed to grounding theories of knowledge and action in empirical evidence, the method of interaction analysis was used to build generalizations from video recordings of lecturers' and students' engagement with semiotic resources in daily events.

The results of this study revealed that lecturers used visual inscriptions to objectify scientific knowledge and organized physical direction of visual elements from left to right, top to bottom, as well as using central and non-linear positioning of visual images (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006). This provided students with views of how organic chemistry knowledge can be classified and understood. Analysis of lecturers' gestures revealed deictic, iconic and metaphoric gestures functioning as material carriers of information about chemical entities while beat gestures served to emphasize important information for students during lectures. In addition, action of lecturers upon physical models demonstrated for students the way in which physical models could be manipulated for the practical activities of chemists.

Semiotic resources employed for meaning making by students during the problem solving sessions were analyzed as the "means and practices by which we represent ourselves to ourselves and others" (Kress, 1996, p. 18). Through the use of at least three semiotic resources: speech, visual inscriptions and gestures, students revealed components of chemistry knowledge which generated a sum of knowledge greater than their own. Students were also found to engage with three main types of gesture: iconic, deictic and metaphoric to explain addition reactions. As active agents, students activate semiotic resource in order to put forth their views.

This study is of value for science education in at least three ways. Firstly, a micro-analysis of video transcripts of tertiary level organic chemistry lecturers and students during lectures and problem solving sessions, offers insights into how typically taken for granted meaning making resources such as visual inscriptions and gestures are used for scientific communication. The results of this thesis can be further exemplified for subsequent application in the professional development of science teachers by providing them with training opportunities in areas of visual design as well as raising awareness about the functions of gestures for articulation of abstract concepts. Secondly, to better understand organic chemistry lectures, students need explicit instructions to direct their attention to their lecturers' gestures which carry additional scientific information not found in speech or writings. Thirdly, students' co-ordination of semiotic resources for solving a tutorial problem has an impact on the assessment of students' learning. Word-centered evaluative activities need to be complemented with alternative assessment methods that provide students with opportunities to engage with a multitude of resources in order to enhance their ability to express themselves and facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of chemistry concepts.

In conclusion, this study has applied multimodal social semiotics, a theory of how people make meaning with multiple meaning making resources to uncover socially recognizable meanings performed by lecturers and students. Through coordination of semiotic resources, objectification of knowledge and communicating components of organic chemistry at the sub-microscopic level, lecturers and students used visual inscriptions, gestures and speech to perform socially meaningful actions in ways that are characteristic of the academic organic chemistry community they belong to.