Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 11, Issue 1

The role of visual representations in the learning and teaching of science: An introduction


Professor Emeritus, The University of Reading
Visiting Professor, King's College London
Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Science Education

Email: john.k.gilbert@btopenworld.com



Representations are the entities with which all thinking is considered to take place. Hence they are central to the process of learning and consequently to that of teaching. They are therefore important in the conduct and learning of science, given the central commitment of that discipline to providing evidence-based explanations of natural phenomena, in which underlying entities and mechanisms have to be postulated and substantiated on the basis of empirical enquiry. The three generic types of representation and the modes in which they are expressed are presented against the background of an established model of their acquisition, processing and display. The two meanings of ‘visualization’ are discussed as is the key role played by fluency in them in the attainment of expert status in the processes of science. The nature and origins of students’ problems in attaining this ‘metavisual competence’ are derived from a review of the literature. Good practice in the teaching of the conventions of representation is suggested. Specific research and development is needed if this key aspect of knowledge acquisition and display is to be fully recognised in the varied curricula of formal science education and in the provision of opportunities for the informal communication of science.


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