Milner, Walter William (2011)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.
It is hypothesised that the development of concepts in formal education can be understood through the ideas of non-literal language and conceptual integration networks. The notions of concept, understanding and meaning are examined in some depth from philosophical, psychological and linguistic standpoints. The view that most concepts are grasped through non-literal means such as metaphor and conceptual blend is adopted. The central contention is that this applies both to everyday ideas and to those presented to students in formal educational contexts, and that consequently such learning is best seen in those terms. Such learning is not founded upon literal language, but a construction by the student of a complex network of metaphor and conceptual blends.
This is examined in the context of students learning programming, in particular in the language Java. The hypothesis is tested by analysing transcribed interviews with a wide range of students, triangulated with an examination of teaching materials, and the data is shown to be consistent with the hypothesis. However the approach is fundamental and is not concerned with specific features of programming or Java, so that conclusions are relevant across a wide range of disciplines, especially mathematics, science and engineering.
The thesis provides a new way of examining course design and learning materials including lectures and textbooks. Discourse which might seem to be literal is in fact metaphorical and blended, since it is in that way that the expert community understands the ideas. The students’ construction of corresponding blends is on the basis of their learning experience, and course design features such as examples can be explained and evaluated in such terms.
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