Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning

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Exploring pedagogical possibilities for transformative approaches to academic literacies in undergraduate Physics

Honjiswa Conana, Delia Marshall, Jennifer M. Case


How can research on academic literacies throw light on the challenge to widen access to undergraduate science studies? This article explores what an academic literacies approach might mean in the context of undergraduate physics. The study examines the pedagogical practices and student learning in two undergraduate Physics courses, a mainstream and an extended course, with a particular focus on the disciplinary practice of problem-solving. Concepts from the sociology of knowledge, specifically Legitimation Code Theory, offer a useful analytical framework for characterising the movement between abstract principles and concrete contexts in problem-solving and understanding how meaning is encapsulated in the dense representations of physics. The study shows that with more time and careful pedagogical attention, the extended course was able to make more explicit the literacy practices and epistemological functioning of the discipline. The study found that the extended course adopted a more explicitly normative approach to academic literacy, i.e., inducting students into the disciplinary knowledge and norms of the discipline, but elements of a transformative approach were also evident, i.e., opening up opportunities for these norms to be critiqued and contested.

Keywords: academic literacies, physics, problem-solving, disciplinary discourse, Legitimation Code Theory, semantic waves

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