Lab work in science education : Instruction, inscription, and the practical achievement of understanding

Sammanfattning: Taking an analytical perspective founded on ethnomethodology and conversation analysis, the four studies presented in this thesis provide detailed analyses of video recorded lab work in mechanics at secondary and university level. The investigated activities all build on educational design afforded by a technology called probeware. The aim of the thesis is to investigate how teachers, task formulations, and technology make mechanics visible and learnable, and how students and teachers witnessably orient towards the practical achievement of understanding in the setting. The first study investigates how students use the technology in the interpretation and production of graphs: how they produce increasingly precise interpretations, how they fluently switch between different modes of meaning, and how the interpretations are both prospectively and retrospectively oriented. With a starting point in the analysis, the relevance of technology and task structure for the students’ interaction and learning are discussed. In the second study, the use of probeware is contrasted with the use of a simulation software. The study shows that some important differences between the local enactment of the two technologies are to be found in the practical work of the students; more specifically, in the ways that students orient to the subject matter content. The third study demonstrates an intimate interplay between how students display their problems and understandings and how instructors try to make the subject matter content visible and learnable. The analyzed episodes are illuminating with regard to the analytical notion of disciplined perception as applied to graph interpretation, the cognitive and practical competencies involved in producing, recognizing, and understanding graphs in mechanics, and the interactive work by which these competencies are made into objects of learning and instruction. The fourth study investigates episodes where explicit references to students’ understanding are made through formulations such as, “I don’t understand” or “do you get it?” The analysis focuses on the use, reference, interactional significance, and positioning of these formulations, and is followed by a discussion on the relation between the many and varied ways references to understanding are used and the concrete conditions of lab work. In sum, all four studies contribute to a detailed understanding of lab work as an educational practice and how learning and instruction are practically achieved.