Semantic awareness of foundation-year and first-year physics learners at the University of Pretoria

Naude, Karen Louise (2005-03)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2005.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study investigates and measures the correlation (or "gap") between the perceptions held by learners and lecturers of learners' knowledge of selected Physics terms and the accuracy of such perceptions. Several theorists have pointed to the differences between meaning(s) of vocabulary used by specialists and vocabulary used by lay people. One of the primary sources of confusion is that the scientific terminology and lay words are identical in spelling and pronunciation but fundamentally different in meaning. With reference to a variety of social and educational researchers, this study endorses the view that, in a Physics classroom at higher education level, the lecturer and the learners occupy two separate worlds - each with unique (and potentially exclusive) terms of reference. The success of any Physics tuition in such a setting rests upon the ability of learners and lecturers to bridge the comprehension "gap" between the two worlds. Three related but independent sub-disciplines were consulted in studying this phenomenon: educational theory (specifically Science education); semantics and communication theory. Principles from each discipline are referred to in order to show that successful Science education at the foundation and first-year level of higher education could be as much a matter of communication as is it of science. The study propounds that communication in a setting where vocabulary crucial to the subject is not understood adequately by the learners, often fails. On the basis of the literature review, a pilot study was done using a modified version of Jacobs's 1989 questionnaire. The questionnaire required the respondents to indicate their confidence in their vocabulary knowledge, and then tested their actual vocabulary knowledge. As the main study, a modified formal test was administered to 216 learners and four lecturers. One group of learners (numbering 100) was registered in a foundation year programme, another group (numbering 59) was registered in an extended programme, while the third group (numbering 57) was registered in a BSc course in the Faculty of Agricultural and Natural Sciences at the University of Pretoria. Learners were asked to indicate which of four possible explanations matched the word being investigated (which in all 16 cases was a very specific Physics term which has a matching lay word which bears little resemblance in terms of meaning). In making the selection, the respondents were also asked to indicate the confidence level with which they were making the selection - in other words, how confident they were that they understood the word. The results were rated both in terms of correctness of understanding and whether the prediction of confidence matched the outcome. In addition, four lecturers were asked to indicate their prediction of the learners' outcomes - they predicted what percentage of the learners would answer correctly. In this way, the gap between learners' actual knowledge and lecturers' expectations was highlighted. In an additional exercise, the correlation between the learners' results in terms of correctness and their performance in a standard language proficiency test, Language Proficiency course scores and Physics course scores were investigated. The results showed a very low positive correlation between performance in this study and performance in the Physics and Language Proficiency courses. The results confirmed the existence of a significant gap between learners' perceived knowledge and their actual knowledge. Although the responses of the three participating groups differed from word to word (with some groups scoring higher than others on certain words), overall, the learners' perception of their knowledge differed significantly from their actual knowledge. Furthermore, a significant difference between lecturers' perceptions and the actual knowledge of learners was shown. On average, lecturers expected their learners to understand the words used 81.02% of the time, while learners only understood the words 48.53% of the time, as shown in the tests. The study concludes with recommendations (with reference to the literature) for overcoming the gap in vocabulary knowledge between lecturers arid learners.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie studie ondersoek en meet die korrelasie (oftewel "gaping") tussen die persepsies wat leerders en lektore het van die leerders se kennis van uitgesoekte Fisikaterme en die akkuraatheid van sulke persepsies. Verskeie teoretici het die verskille tussen die betekenis( se) wat spesialiste aan sekere woorde heg, en dié wat leke daaraan toeken uitgewys. Een van die primêre bronne van verwarring is die feit dat party items in die wetenskaplike terminologie en woorde in die leketaal identies gespel en uitgespreek word, maar fundamenteel in hulle betekenis verskil. Met verwysing na 'n verskeidenheid sosiale en opvoedkundige navorsers onderskryf hierdie studie die siening dat die lektor en die leerders in 'n Fisika-klaskamer in die hoër opvoedingsmilieu twee verskillende leefwêrelde beklee - elk met unieke (en potensieel eksklusiewe) verwysingsraamwerke. Die sukses van enige Fisika-opleiding in sodanige milieu berus op die leerders en die lektore se vermoë om die begripskloof (of -gaping) tussen hierdie twee wêrelde te oorbrug. Drie verwante maar onafhanklike sub-dissiplines is gekonsulteer in die navorsing van hierdie verskynsel: opvoedkundige teorie (met besondere verwysing na wetenskapsopvoeding); semantiek en kommunikasieteorie. Daar is na beginsels vanuit elk van hierdie subdissiplines verwys om aan te toon dat geslaagde wetenskapsopvoeding op die fondasievlak en eerstejaarsvlak van hoër opvoeding tot 'n ewe mate 'n kommunikasievraagstuk kan wees as 'n wetenskapsvraagstuk. Die studie is van mening dat kommunikasie ill 'n milieu waar die woordeskat wat noodsaaklik is vir die begrip van die vak nie genoegsaam deur die leerders verstaan word nie, gewoonlik faal. Op grond van 'n oorsig van die relevante literatuur is 'n loodsstudie gedoen wat gebruik gemaak het van 'n aangepaste weergawe van Jacobs se 1989 vraelys. Die vraelys het van respondente vereis om hulle vertroue in hulle woordeskatvermoëns aan te dui en het daarna hulle werklike woordeskatvermoëns getoets. In die hoofstudie is 'n aangepaste formele toets toegepas op beide 216 leerders en vier lektore. Een groep leerders ('n totaal van 100) was geregistreer vir 'n fondasiejaar program, 'n ander groep (59 leerders) was geregistreer vir 'n verlengde program, terwyl die derde groep (57 leerders) geregistreer was vir 'n BSc-kursus in die Fakulteit Landbou en Natuurwetenskappe aan die Universiteit van Pretoria Die leerders is gevra om aan te dui watter uit vier moontlike verduidelikings die woord wat ondersoek word (wat in al 16 gevalle 'n baie spesifieke Fisikabegrip was wat 'n ooreenstemmende "lekewoord" het wat min ooreenkoms toon wat die woorde se betekenisse betref). In die uitoefening van hulle keuse is die respondente ook gevra om die vertrouensvlak waarmee hulle die keuse uitoefen, aan te dui - met ander woorde, hoeveel vertroue hulle het dat hulle die woord verstaan het. Die resultate is beoordeel beide op die basis van die korrektheid waarmee die leerders die woord verstaan het en daarop of die vertrouensvoorspelling die uitkoms weerspieël. Verder is vier lektore gevra om die leerders se uitkomste te voorspel - hulle het voorspel watter persentasie van die leerders korrek sou antwoord. Op hierdie wyse is die gaping tussen die leerders se werklike kennisvlak en die lektore se verwagtinge uitgelig. In 'n verdere oefening is die korrelasie tussen die leerders se resultate ondersoek in terme van korrektheid en hulle prestasie in 'n standaard taalvaardigheidstoets, hulle Taalvaardigheidskursuspunte en hulle Fisikakursuspunte. Die resultate het 'n baie lae positiewe korrelasie aangetoon tussen die leerders se prestasie in hierdie studie en hulle prestasie in die Fisika en Taalvaardigheidskursus. Die resultate het die bestaan van 'n beduidende gaping tussen die leerders se persepsie van hulle kennis en hulle werklike kennisvlak bevestig. Alhoewel die response van die drie deelnemende groepe van woord tot woord verskil het (party groepe het beter presteer as ander met betrekking tot sekere woorde), het die leerders se persepsies van hulle kennis oor die algemeen beduidend verskil van hulle werklike kennisvlakke. Verder is 'n beduidende verskil tussen lektore se persepsies en die leerders se werklike kennisvlakke aangetoon. Oor die algemeen het die lektore verwag dat die leerders die woorde 81.02% van die tyd sou verstaan, terwyl die leerders die woorde slegs 48.53% van die tyd verstaan het, soos die toetse aangedui het. Die studie sluit af met aanbevelings (met verwysing na die literatuur) oor hoe die gaping tussen die woordeskatkennis van lektore en dié van die leerders oorbrug kan word.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/70281
This item appears in the following collections: