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Wednesday, July 3 • 3:30pm - 4:10pm
Lonergan and Semantics: A hope for chemistry education?

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In the context of major curriculum reform and calls for decolonization of curricula in South Africa, at our institution we have been asking the purpose of a bachelor of science degree. For the graduate who obtains a pass of 51%, there is no entry into honours, and no access to the world of professional science. Within months of graduation they will have forgotten the majority of the content they have learnt. What is value of their degree?

Having a good model against which to critique curriculum reform efforts and a practical set of analytical tools through which to understand the model could provide valuable insights for chemistry education . This paper integrates LCT(Semantics) with the Lonerganian model of human understanding. Lonergan’s major project was understanding ‘understanding’, ultimately to achieve what he termed self-appropriation. This can be translated into the idea of critical citizenship. Lonergan’s model gives a four-part iterative cycle comprising experience, understanding, judgement and decision making.

Experience includes sensory experience and cognitive experience and is informed by one’s past. Understanding is the grasping of the principle which underlies the related experiences – the aha moment. Judgement is then required to ascertain whether the understanding is indeed reliable. And finally, decision making is the action which is appropriate given the judgement.

The chemistry education literature is dominated by discussions on the presentation of different topics (experience) and teaching different concepts (understanding). Both of these aspects are vitally important, but if our educative effort ends at the correct articulation of chemical concepts, we may be teaching chemistry but we are failing to educate in any broader sense. At the very least we would like our graduates to know the extent and limits of their knowledge. If they can exercise that judgement, and make appropriate decisions, they will be capable to engage constructively with new knowledge areas. In education-speak, they would be life-long learners. But there is little evidence of this higher order thinking in our graduates.

For self-appropriation to be possible, the understanding gained must be robust. The knowledge gain must be real. Lonergan’s framework clearly indicates that in order for this to happen we need to teach fewer concepts at greater depth. It is only with depth of knowledge that we can really learn the skill of interrogating our level of understanding.

It is here that the link to LCT (Semantics) becomes clear. Semantic gravity in particular gives us a way of consciously scaffolding the learning process such that there is iterative movement from very specific context dependent examples, to the high order, less contextualised concept.

Currently chemistry education is relatively good at measuring and assessing variation in semantic density. But the variation in semantic gravity is relatively poor. The conversation between Lonergan and LCT(Semantics) can provide an easier entry for chemistry educators into consideration of variation of semantic gravity. Lonergan provides an easily described framework that science educators are happy to adopt, but gives little detail as to how to implement a better system. The desire to implement the Lonerganian framework provides the activation energy required to get science educators to engage with variation in semantic gravity in a much more intentional and conscious manner.


Wednesday July 3, 2019 3:30pm - 4:10pm SAST
Room B47