What do you see here? using an analysis of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram in astronomy to create a survey of disciplinary discernment

John Airey, Urban Eriksson

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract

Abstract

Becoming part of a discipline involves learning to interpret and use a range of disciplinary-specific semiotic resources (Airey, 2009). These resources have been developed and assigned particular specialist meanings over time. Nowhere is this truer than in the sciences, where it is the norm that disciplinary-specific representations have been introduced and then refined by a number of different actors in order to reconcile them with subsequent empirical and theoretical advances. As a consequence, many of the semiotic resources used in the sciences today still retain some (potentially confusing) traces of their historical roots. However, it has been repeatedly shown that university lecturers underestimate the challenges such disciplinary specific semiotic resources may present to undergraduates (Northedge, 2002; Tobias, 1986).

In this paper we analyse one such disciplinary-specific semiotic resource from the field of Astronomy—the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. First, we audit the potential of this semiotic resource to provide access to disciplinary knowledge—what Fredlund et al (2012) have termed its disciplinary affordances. Our analysis includes consideration of the use of scales, labels, symbols, sizes and colour. We show how, for historical reasons, the use of these aspects in the resource may differ from what might be expected by a newcomer to the discipline. Using the results of our analysis we then created an online questionnaire to probe what is discerned (Eriksson, Linder, Airey, & Redfors, in press) with respect to each of these aspects by astronomers and physicists ranging from first year undergraduates to university professors.

Our findings suggest that some of the issues we highlight in our analysis may, in fact, be contributors to the alternative conceptions of undergraduate students and we therefore propose that lecturers pay particular attention to the disambiguation of these features for their students.

Original languageEnglish
Pages52-53
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventThe first Conference of the International Association for Cognitive Semiotics, Lund, Sweden, 25-27 Sept 2014 -
Duration: 1980-Jan-01 → …

Conference

ConferenceThe first Conference of the International Association for Cognitive Semiotics, Lund, Sweden, 25-27 Sept 2014
Period80-01-01 → …

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • Other Physics Topics (10399)
  • Didactics (50302)

Keywords

  • undergraduate learning
  • astronomy
  • physics
  • graphs

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