Putting physics knowledge in the hot seat: The semantics of student understandings of thermodynamics
The study of students' ideas dominates efforts in science education research. Across the sciences and for all educational stages, more sophisticated approaches and methodologies have been developed which have helped result in improved instructional practices. Despite these significant developments, several fundamental issues remain underexplored, including questions surrounding the very nature of students' ideas, how they develop, and the values that should (or should not) be placed on them. Physics Education Research (PER) can be considered a specialism within the science education research agenda, comprising a relatively small but concerted initiative to support findings with theory in the hope of resolving these persistent issues. Mostly, theoretical frameworks utilized in PER have been based on cognitive science and aim to characterize the learning process, or what Maton (2014b) refers to as 'knowing'. This chapter instead turns the focus onto 'knowledge as an object' by looking at student ideas through the enactment of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT). In the first part of the chapter, limitations of current research on student ideas are discussed in the context of science education research. To illustrate the value of LCT as an potentially complementary approach, the chapter reports on a study conducted in a thermodynamics module in first year undergraduate physics which enacts the concept of 'semantic gravity' in analyses of student responses. Through this exemplar, the chapter illustrates how enacting LCT overcomes many limitations of existing studies to procure novel insights into the nature of student understanding.
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