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Searchin for Swampman The Epistemological Quagmire of Literacy, Visual Cognition and Biology Education. Robert Day OSU College of Education

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Presentation on theme: "Searchin for Swampman The Epistemological Quagmire of Literacy, Visual Cognition and Biology Education. Robert Day OSU College of Education"— Presentation transcript:

1 Searchin for Swampman The Epistemological Quagmire of Literacy, Visual Cognition and Biology Education. Robert Day OSU College of Education This.ppt file is available at:

2 Robs Research Interests: Construction of naturalistic microcosms (ie. ecosystems) and their use in life-science education Visual cognition in biology undergraduates Conceptual change and cognition in science education Science literacy, both visual and linguistic Connections between all of the above

3 What is this talk about? Since I am not really a philosopher, a linguist or an expert in the language arts, I will skim quickly through some vast, slippery philosophical and epistemological issues that connect literacy and visual cognition before discussing the theoretical framework of my dissertation. My hope is that this might be food for thought and may give others something new to think about when they consider the nature of literacy.

4 What is this talk NOT about? The special ways that scientists use language and writing in science classrooms are important topics within science education, but I want to concentrate on visual issues today since these are currently the main focus of my studies. Jay Lemke has written extensively on issues of language use in science classrooms. His work may be of interest to some here.Jay Lemke

5 Who is Swampman? A hypothetical individual with (some serious epistemological problems) who challenges definitions of literacy and cognition. First proposed as a thought experiment by Donald Davidson He appears here partly because I like swamps. Swamps are full of creatures that are hard to see.

6 What is Literacy? ( 1.the quality or state of being literate, esp. the ability to read and write. 2.possession of education: to question someone's literacy. 3.a person's knowledge of a particular subject or field: to acquire computer literacy. Synonyms: learning, culture.

7 What is Literacy? (Rob Day) In a broad sense it is the extent to which an individual has learned the socially constructed meanings of symbols and signs used to communicate concepts within his or her culture.

8 There are similarities and connections between visual cognition and literacy Attribution of meaning to words vs. images Thinking in words vs. images Modulation (eg. words vs. geons)geons Defining categories Social construction of meanings Problems with ambiguity for the positivist mind Construction of concepts Language acquisition and the problem of induction Theory-laden interpretation of meaning Connection between vision, semiotics and language

9 perception > cognition > meaning This pattern is essentially the same no matter how we experience the world, whether it is through visual, spoken or written stimuli. The more literate we are, the more complex the stimuli we can perceive and the more meaning we can extract. Novices do not always perceive stimuli the same way that experts do.


11 What is the origin of literacy?

12 Early forms of literacy often involve biological symbols.

13 If we dont know the meaning of this symbol, are we illiterate?

14 How do we all know that these are people? What are they doing?

15 How does this kitten feel? How does its mother feel?


17 How does this octopus feel?

18 soup or art?

19 …and now on to visual cognition and conceptual change in biology undergraduates Hypothesis: Biology undergraduates encounter significant visual difficulties in laboratory and field work that can hinder their understanding and learning. Some of these difficulties are common in many disciplines but others are caused or complicated by specific attributes of biological material. Experts in the discipline have a greater degree of biological visual literacy - what they visually perceive is often different to what the novice perceives.

20 "I passed all the other courses that I took at my university, but I could never pass botany. This was because all botany students had to spend several hours a week in a laboratory looking through a microscope at plant cells, and I could never see through the microscope. I never once saw a cell through a microscope. "My Life and Hard Times" James Thurber, former student of the OSU Plant Science Department.

21 Some visual processing problems Visual agnosia Pareidolia (eg. The Rorschach Test)The Rorschach Test Perceptual scotoma Ambiguous images and perceptual flip

22 Pareidolia links Definition and earliest citation Some examples More examples Fossil on the moon?

23 What we see is influenced by many factors



26 What factors affects visual perception? Eyesight (resolution / acuity) Language and semantics Direct and indirect content knowledge Innate visual cognitive abilities Multiple intelligences (Gardener) Learning style Teaching approach (constructivist, behaviorist etc)

27 More factors… Socio-cultural factors Gender, biological / social Motivation Lifestyle and previous visual environment Neurological issues Metacognition Other factors

28 Conceptual change is a learning theory developed by Posner et al. that emerged from the educational implications of Thomas Kuhns Structure of Scientific Revolutions Students may have well developed, but incorrect conceptual ecologies (misconceptions) that can be resistant to modification, even in the face of anomalous data presented by an instructor. For a review of conceptual change theory go herehere … or watch private universeprivate universe What is Conceptual Change?

29 According to Posner et. al. conceptual schemas change by accommodation or assimilation Assimilation: This occurs when you fit some new information into an existing structure or conceptual understanding. Accommodation: This occurs if new information cannot easily fit into an existing structure or conceptual understanding. Instead, the new information requires a radical cognitive transformation and reorganization of the conceptual ecology.

30 When a student fails to see something, misinterprets the meaning of what they see, or sees something that is not there, it is the instructors job to facilitate a change in what the student sees. Is this type of change of perception really a conceptual change in the sense that Posner et al meant it or is this an unrelated cognitive phenomenon?

31 Example: seal donkey in ocean moving, swimming? splashing making a noise (bark?) therefore alive? seals bark & swim seals live in ocean

32 Seal donkey anomalies: Not swimming gracefully Appears to rise out of water > illogical Noise not like a seal Rear fins out of water – illogical Eyes seem to be releasing steam Fins dont look right

33 IF sufficient anomalies are noticed by (or pointed out to) the observer, eventually a point is reached where the observer experiences a state of dissatisfaction with the image presented to their conscious mind by their visual centers, and a cognitive shift or assimilation event may occur.

34 Post perceptual flip seal >donkey fins > ears > must be concave not flat swimming > drowning barking > braying natural event > unusual happy animal > animal in distress no further action necessary > action may be required to save drowning donkey

35 Interesting things to note…. Many optical illusions involve images of living things. Cognitive scientists often describe perceptual categorization problems involving living things. fMRI studies indicate that a special part of the brain is implicated in the process of recognizing living things. No reason why conceptual change should not also be important in other disciplines, eg. Reading comprehension.

36 Rationale and goals for this Research Alert biology instructors to the problem Increase student performance and practical skills Alert biological researchers and medical imagers to issues related to reliability of graphical data Expedite postgraduate novice-expert transformation Use fMRI studies of visual cognition to help integrate neurology and psychology with educational theory. Expand conceptual change theory Explore implications for societal scientific literacy and environmental awareness, as well as for other types of literacy

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