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Title: Mental representation and the construction of conceptual understanding in electronics education
Author: Twissell, Adrian
ISNI:       0000 0004 7430 8171
Awarding Body: Oxford Brookes University
Current Institution: Oxford Brookes University
Date of Award: 2016
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Learning about abstract electronics concepts can be difficult due to the hidden nature of the phenomena of interest. Developing understanding about electronics is therefore challenging because voltage cannot be readily observed; only the outcomes of the behaviour of voltage can be observed. Consequently modelling the phenomena of interest becomes a crucial factor in supporting learners in their development of knowledge and understanding. Visualisation skills have been promoted as important when modelling knowledge in different forms, supporting learners in their development of knowledge and understanding. Current research about electronics education, however, has tended to focus on learners’ misconceptions, experimental methods and interventions focusing on theoretical aspects of knowledge. Perspectives on learners’ actual constructions of knowledge in practice are not common. The aim of this research study, therefore, was to explore the use of external visual representations in support of learning about electronics concepts, within the context of Secondary Design and Technology education. The study adopts a case study approach and uses an interpretative cross-case synthesis methodology to explore a specific case of representation use among one class of Year 10 students. The analytical framework is designed to focus on the translation of and transition between multiple representations, including computer program code, and the representation of phenomena at three levels of representation: observable, symbolic and abstract. Data collection involved the observation of learners engaged with learning activities, documents collected from these activities, individual semi-structured interviews and participant characteristics data collected from course records. The findings show that common processes of learning are accompanied by individual developments in meaning and understanding. Individual understanding was characterised with the creation of four cognitive profiles representing key learner constructs. Understanding about abstract concepts was shown to benefit from representations where concrete referents linked with practical experience. Electronics understanding was also shown to benefit from the explanatory use of program code as a supporting method with which to model and simulate circuit behaviour. The research approach involving the close observation of learners engaging with learning activities was found to provide a greater understanding of learners’ approaches to learning in practice. The outcomes are applied to the practice of teaching electronics and modifications to the research are suggested for future researchers interested in the issues of teaching, learning and concept development in electronics education.
Supervisor: Glenny, Georgina ; Butt, Graham Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ed.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral