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Tuesday, July 2 • 3:30pm - 4:10pm
Variations on a theme: Understanding student learning through semantic codes

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Learning is a process towards knowing and being, where one does not simply acquire knowledge, but actually becomes a knower (Barnett, 2009; Maton, 2014). Learning processes can be compared to learning a new language. One can learn the grammar, the syntax and acquire the vocabulary. However, without immersing oneself in the culture of that language, one is unable to really and truly speak a language with fluency. In educational learning the curriculum provides the framework for this journey and goes far beyond the content of what is taught and also includes teaching pedagogy, the teaching style of the educator, who the student is, and teaching, learning and assessment practices. Knight (2001) reminds one of the importance of ensuring coherence in the curriculum between what is planned, executed and most importantly what is understood and experienced by the students. If learning is a journey, what does this journey look like, how is it experienced and how can one visualise it? Maton (2014) provides us with a profound language to understand a student’s learning process. At the same time, one should not overlook students’ emotional responses to the complexity of the learning process as they struggle to navigate the variations of sematic density and asemantic gravity in a given course.

This study draws on the experiences of two academics, an engineer and a social worker who both completed a postgraduate diploma in higher education at a South African University. For the purposes of this study the two academics reflect on their roles as students. The postgraduate diploma programme is comprised of three core courses: teaching and learning, assessment and curriculum development. This study explores the response of these two academics to a specific assessment task within the curriculum development module. In the task, students were asked to critically reflect on their own trajectory of learning in the module and how this trajectory has affected each student’s development as an educator, curriculum developer, learners and being.

The engineer used semantic codes to show how learning in the module took place in two main stages akin to a musical theme-and-variations format. The initial variations in semantic density and gravity facilitated the building of the academic’s foundational knowledge and skills. This development of the theme was followed by a series of assessment tasks that allowed that gained knowledge to be recontextualised in a number of different ways. This stage was characterised by oscillations in sematic gravity, giving added meaning to the concepts.

The social worker described the journey through the module in terms of the lived experience. She focused on the process of her own learning, while also reflecting on the cognitive and emotional processes which her students may encounter during the oscillations of semantic gravity. Her trajectory of learning emphasised how educators need to consider students’ learning in a holistic manner and acknowledge the cognitive as well as emotional processes which students experience during their process of knowing and becoming. A preliminary investigation into these two interpretations of the learning experiences shows that they are complimentary. In this study, through a thematic analysis of the two assessment tasks, we propose to show how these academics’ learning was facilitated through variations in the semantic density and gravity.

If we want to be educators that are responsive to our students learning, we need to understand how they acquire knowledge and respond to the learning processes so that we can provide more appropriate and relevant pedagogic interventions to guide our teaching practices.

Tuesday July 2, 2019 3:30pm - 4:10pm SAST

Attendees (7)