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Enabling cumulative learning through teaching: using Legitimation Code Theory to analyse pedagogy and explore avenues for academic staff development

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Sherran Clarence
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Students’ ability to build knowledge, and transfer it within and between contexts is crucial to cumulative learning and to academic success. This has long been a concern of higher education research and practice. A central part of this concern for educators is creating the conditions that enable their students' deep learning, as this is an area of significant struggle for many students. Legitimation Code Theory, in particular the dimension of Semantics, is proving useful in examining the kinds of conditions that may be necessary for students to build disciplinary knowledge cumulatively over time. Using illustrative data from one case study, this paper suggests that the conceptual tools offered by Semantics can provide academic lecturers and academic development staff with a set of conceptual and analytical tools which can enable them to ‘see’ and understand the ways in which knowledge can be cumulatively acquired and used, as well as the possible gaps between what they are teaching and what their students may be learning. The hope is that these new insights will provide new directions for change in teaching and learning where these may be needed.
Sherran Clarence
added a research item
John Biggs’ well-known curriculum design approach, constructive alignment, is widely used in higher education in the United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa. Developed with one dominant account of learning through curriculum, this approach has a gap in terms of accounting for other kinds of knowledge building, and associated knower development. This paper proposes a complementary approach that accounts for different kinds of knowledge and knower building. Using Legitimation Code Theory’s concept of Specialisation, the paper argues that accounting for what makes a discipline ‘special’ in terms of its basis for legitimate achievement can enable curriculum writers to align curricula more effectively with that basis in different disciplines. Using a case study approach, this paper shows how this tool can provide lecturers and academic development practitioners with a useful mode of analyzing curriculum alignment to more ably account for how the development of disciplinary knowledges and knowers.
Sherran Clarence
added 3 research items
This paper contends that current research and practice in teaching and learning that tends to overfocus on social aspects of education is influenced by constructivism, a paradigm that tends to have a relativist stance on knowledge, generally arguing that knowledge is constructed in socio-historical contexts and is therefore largely inseparable from those who construct it and from related issues of power. This leads to a conflation of knowledge with knowing, and knowledge is thus obscured as an object of study. Being able to see and analyse knowledge as separate from but connected to knowing is important for understanding how we can build knowledge, both conceptual and applied, over time within educational contexts. Legitimation Code Theory, in particular the dimension of Semantics, is proving particularly useful in examining some of the conditions necessary for students’ ability to build ‘powerful knowledge’ (Young, 2008) cumulatively over time in their fields. This paper will report on part of the findings from one case study within a larger study to show how semantic tools can provide us with a different way of thinking about teaching as enabling students to become familiar not just with ‘content’ and ‘skills’ that are often seen as two different parts of teaching or curricula, but also with connected concept chains within disciplinary ‘systems of meaning’ (Wheelahan, 2010). Drawing on qualitative data obtained from teaching observations, interviews and document analysis, this paper argues that the ‘what’ of learning – the knowledges of the discipline – must be a clear and present part of designing pedagogic approaches, and must not be conflated with the knowing of them. If we overfocus on knowing we risk constraining many students’ ability to see the systems of meaning they are working within as well as their ability to work effectively across the boundaries between ‘everyday’ and ‘theoretical’ knowledge (Wheelahan, 2010). The paper suggests that the conceptual tools offered by Semantics in particular can provide academic lecturers with a set of tools that can enable them to 'see' and understand their own teaching more clearly, as well as the possible gaps between what they are teaching and what their students are learning.
Teaching and learning is a growing field of research and practice globally, and increasing amounts of money are being invested in developing academics as teachers. Some of the more popular approaches, such as ‘authentic’, and ‘student-centred’ learning, while focused on getting students more actively engaged in their own learning processes, are often unable to fully account for the ways in which disciplinary knowledges, conventions and practices influence pedagogy and student engagement in learning. An inability to pay attention to knowledges in the disciplines can lead to overly generic academic development work which is unable to fully address the particular needs of the students, of the lecturer, or of the discipline itself. Semantics, a dimension of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), provides valuable insight not just into the how of pedagogy, but also the what and why – what knowledge students are grappling with, and how they need to connect it with what they already know to form constellations of meaning. This paper argues for the use of semantic profiles, and the concept of ‘constellations of meaning’ drawn from LCT, to open up conversations with lecturers around their own understanding of teaching, learning, and the nature of knowledge, in their disciplines. The paper raises important questions about the practical or applied uses of LCT tools in academic development work, and shares initial ideas, informed by feedback in one case study, of how these tools can be used effectively in academic staff development work.
Teaching and learning is a growing field of research and practice globally, and increasing investments are being made in developing academics as teachers. An inability to adequately account for disciplinary knowledge can lead to academic development inputs that are unable to fully address the needs of students, educators, or disciplines themselves. Semantics, from Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), provides insight not just into the hows of pedagogy but also the whats and whys, particularly the ways in which knowledge needs to be connected up in meaning-making. This paper argues for the use of semantic profiles to open up conversations with educators about teaching, learning, and the nature of knowledge in their disciplines. It raises important questions about the practical uses of LCT tools in higher education and shares initial ideas, informed by lecturer feedback in one case study, of how these tools can be used in academic staff development.