Developing Students’ Disciplinary Literacy? The Case of University Physics
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In this chapter we use the concept of disciplinary literacy (Airey, 2011a, 2013) to analyze the goals of university physics lecturers. Disciplinary literacy refers to a particular mix of disciplinary-specific communicative practices developed for three specific sites: the academy, the workplace and society. It has been suggested that the development of disciplinary literacy may be seen as one of the primary goals of university studies (Airey, 2011a).
The main data set used in this chapter comes from a comparative study of physics lecturers in Sweden and South Africa (Airey, 2012, 2013; Linder, Airey, Mayaba, & Webb, 2014). Semi-structured interviews were carried out using a disciplinary literacy discussion matrix (Airey, 2011b), which enabled us to probe the lecturers’ disciplinary literacy goals in the various semiotic resource systems used in undergraduate physics (i.e. graphs, diagrams, mathematics, language).
The findings suggest that whilst physics lecturers have strikingly similar disciplinary literacy goals for their students, regardless of setting, they have very different ideas about whether they themselves should teach students to handle these disciplinary-specific semiotic resources. It is suggested that the similarity in physics lecturers’ disciplinary literacy goals across highly disparate settings may be related to the hierarchical, singular nature of the discipline of physics (Bernstein, 1999, 2000).
In the final section of the chapter some preliminary evidence about the disciplinary literacy goals of those involved in physics teacher training is presented. Using Bernstein’s constructs, a potential conflict between the hierarchical singular of physics and the horizontal region of teacher training is noticeable.
Going forward it would be interesting to apply the concept of disciplinary literacy to the analysis of other disciplines—particularly those with different combinations of Bernstein’s classifications of hierarchical/horizontal and singular/region.
KeywordsDisciplinary literacy undergraduate physics knowledge structures singulars versus regions comparative education
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