Illuminating Knowledge

29 February 2012

Exploring the nature of knowledge in the natural sciences

First annual Legitimation Code Theory science and mathematics symposium 

Our very own Dr Christine Lindstrom and the founding author of Legitimation Code Theory, Dr Karl Maton, with a cast of PhD students will shed light on the nature of knowledge and its role in the practice of science and mathematics education.  How to shape research projects for prospective PhD students and for our own research will be discussed.  

More about LCT, including papers, PhDs and seminars can be found at:

PowerPoint slides and audio recordings from this event are available here (zip file).

More information about what was discussed at the symposium can be found here.

When: 29th February 2012 from 4:15-6pm. (Join us from 3:45pm for light refreshments)
Where: New Law School Lecture Theatre 026, University of Sydney.
RSVP: RSVP online by 22 February 2012


4:15-4:45Dr Karl Maton 
4:50-5:10Dr Christine Lindstrøm 
5:15-5:25 Jing Hao 
5:25-5:35Yaegan Doran
5:35-5:45 Helen Georgiou
5:45-6pmQuestion time
6:30pmDinner at local restaurant (optional at own cost)


Dr Karl Maton

Abstract: Shining a Light on Knowledge: What is ‘LCT’ and why is it useful for science education?
 Over recent decades, studies of education have removed knowledge from the equation. Psychologically-informed approaches have typically focused on generic processes of learning; and sociologically-informed approaches have typically focused on how relations of power shape learning. The tendency for education research has thus been to address knowing or knowers rather than knowledge itself, as if the forms taken by the content and practices of subject areas are homogeneous and play no role in education. One result has been an oscillation between ‘traditional’ and ‘constructivist’ pedagogies that generalise across all subject areas, treating Science or Mathematics as identical to English or History. Legitimation Code Theory is an approach that brings knowledge back into the equation. It offers a sophisticated toolkit for conceptualizing the forms taken by knowledge practices and exploring their role in education. This toolkit is now being used in substantive studies of a wide range of issues, exploring all levels of education (as well as informal contexts of learning), subjects from across the disciplinary map, and practices from intellectual production to teaching and learning in classrooms. In this talk I briefly sketch the background to the development and growth of LCT, introduce some key concepts, and illustrate how research is using these ideas to provide powerful explanations of substantive problems in education.
Karl Maton is Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney, Elected Professor at University of Provence (France), and Visiting Professor at Rhodes University (South Africa). Karl has published extensively in sociology, education and linguistics. He is the founding author of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), which is being widely used by researchers in Australia, France, South Africa, Ireland and elsewhere. Karl recently co-edited Social Realism, Knowledge and the Sociology of Education (with Rob Moore, 2010, Continuum) and Disciplinarity (2011, Continuum). Karl’s book, Knowledge and Knowers, and a primer of research studies using LCT, Knowledge-building: Educational studies in Legitimation Code Theory, are being published by Routledge.  

Dr Christine Lindstrøm 

Abstract:  In 2007, a successful year-long teaching intervention in tutorials for first year students was trialled in the School of Physics at the University of Sydney. Owing to its success, these tutorials, called Map Meetings, have since 2008 become integrated into the two first-year courses offered to students with the least prior knowledge of physics. The centrepiece of Map Meetings is Link Maps: two-dimensional non-linear representations of the core knowledge of the weekly topic covered in lectures. LCT has been instrumental in understanding why Link Maps were both liked by students and helped novices learn physics. In my talk I will discuss two analyses of Link Maps using LCT. First, I describe how the collection of Link Maps in the Mechanics module introduces students not only to physics content knowledge but also to the underlying structure of how this knowledge is organized. The highly integrated knowledge structure of physics is referred to as a hierarchical knowledge structure, and understanding this structure is essential to the learning of physics but rarely taught explicitly. In my second analysis I use the LCT concepts of semantic gravity and semantic density to show that in physics we quickly expect students to understand very abstract concepts that are strongly connected with other abstract concepts, a characteristic of physics (as well as other hard sciences) that strongly contributes to it being a particularly challenging subject for students.

Christine Lindstrøm undertook her tertiary studies at the University of Sydney and received her PhD in physics in 2010. Her PhD project was in Physics Education Research, where she developed a new type of tutorials, called Map Meetings. These tutorials have since 2008 been integrated into two first year courses offered by the School of Physics. Upon completion of her studies, Christine returned to her native Norway, where she currently works as a post doc in science at Oslo and Akershus University College. She also holds a position as Adjunct Associate Professor of University Pedagogy at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

Jing Hao

Abstract: Biology is one discipline of natural science that largely concerns about its knowledge application in human’s life. By investigating students essays in undergraduate years, we can see the biological knowledge that is recontextualised in the written texts and its interrelation with other applied fields (e.g. medicine, industry) and with human’s daily life. The recontextualisation of knowledge implies a underlying principle of knowledge integration in the discipline of biology. This presentation takes one third year HD biology essay to demonstrate in what way the student’s presentation of knowledge is highly valued by the educators. Drawing on Semantics from LCT and the notion of field in Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), I will show a ‘macro-’ semantic wave influenced by the ‘field drift’ across the text. The drift of fields is among those of biology, medicine, industry, bureaucracy, everyday, etc. This finding highlights the relationship between the knowledge of biology and its application in human's society and daily life. It suggests an explicit modelling that helps students to demonstrate their knowledge is needed. 

JingHao is a PhD candidate in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Sydney. Her M.Litt. research was part of the Scaffolding literacy in Academic and Tertiary Environment (SLATE) project, and was specifically focusing on tracking the literacy development of undergraduate biology. Her PhD project draws on both Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), to explore the development of technicality and abstraction in relation to semantic density and semantic gravity in biology essays across three undergraduate years.

Yaegan Doran

Abstract:  Physics is a fundamentally multisemiotic discipline. In order to convey knowledge to students, language is complemented by mathematics, images, demonstration apparatus, gesture and many other meaning making resources. This talk will extend the concepts of semantic gravity and semantic density to describe the use of mathematics and images in the teaching of undergraduate quantum physics. Drawing on textbooks and course notes provided in Sydney Uni Physics' first and third year program, we will be able to make explicit the differences in generality and specificity of images and mathematics being used to teach. Further to this we will see how these resources are encoded with the technical meanings of physics. An understanding of these features will provide greater detail for curriculum development and classroom teaching, whilst also helping to develop tools for improving student work by allowing for the modelling of movement between generalised theory and its application in specific situations.

Yaegan Doran is a PhD candidate in the Department of Linguistics at Sydney University, whose undergraduate studies were in physics and linguistics. His PhD project use Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) to focus on the complementarity of mathematics, images and language in the teaching of quantum physics in senior high school and undergraduate university.

Helen Georgiou 

Abstract: Physics students at the first year level consistently have difficulty with the subject of thermal physics. Understanding student reasoning in this subject may help illuminate the explanation behind this specific difficulty as well as potentially revealing the workings of student’s thinking in physics generally. Data were collected in the way of a series of written responses to contextually rich questions throughout a first year thermodynamics module at the University of Sydney. Aspects of the theoretical framework Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) were used to analyse this data for the purposes of providing a contextually independent qualitative examination — otherwise lacking in the literature pertaining to this subject. This talk will provide an explanation of the analysis of a sample of the responses from one of the questions, which was selected on the count of the low quality of student responses and of being difficult to code using previous techniques (SOLO and phenomenography). There were 146 responses with an average length of 40 words and the question was based around the thermodynamics of an expanding gas and the changes of state. The concepts of semantic gravity and semantic density were used to show three main results: that there is a clear semantic pattern to student responses; that the use of particular relative levels of semantic gravity appear to be related to more successful responses; and that the analysis on the whole showed potential for extension across the other questions. 

Helen Georgiou worked as a physics teacher in Australia and England immediately after completing her undergraduate degree and returned to educational research with the Sydney University Physics Education Research (SUPER) group as an Honours and now PhD student. Her work is based around exploring fundamental educational issues such as student reasoning and instructional design at the tertiary level in the subject area of thermodynamics.  

Time: 4:15-6pm. (Join us from 3:45pm for light refreshments)

Location: New Law School Lecture Theatre 026, University of Sydney

Cost: Free