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Investigation into the semantic density and semantic gravity wave profile of teachers when discussing electrophilic aromatic substitution (SEAr)

Cranwell, P. B. ORCID: and Whiteside, K. L. ORCID: (2020) Investigation into the semantic density and semantic gravity wave profile of teachers when discussing electrophilic aromatic substitution (SEAr). Journal of Chemical Education, 97 (10). pp. 3540-3550. ISSN 0021-9584

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.0c00571


Language in chemistry is highly specialized and, for students, transitions in language complexity from high school to university can be extremely challenging. With an increasingly diverse cohort of students enrolled upon UK chemistry degree programmes, better understanding the linguistic challenges students face is becoming a greater pedagogical priority. Spoken language plays a central role when learning chemistry, and any misunderstandings can lead to misconceptions that can impede students’ success in this demanding subject. This small-scale study sought to compare the complexity of spoken-language explanations of the same chemical process within UK secondary (high school) and university contexts. The study involved seven organic chemistry educators/teachers, four based in a UK University and three in a UK high school, discussing electrophilic aromatic substitution (SEAr) via a lecture or screencast. The participants’ spoken discourse was transcribed and coded according to the concepts of semantic gravity (the degree to which meaning relates to context) and semantic density (the degree to which meaning is condensed within symbols) drawn from Legitimation Code Theory, and then analyzed for semantic waves. When considering semantic gravity, there were some similarities and some differences. In all cases, semantic gravity was weaker, but participants based in a university environment generally tended to exhibit slightly weaker semantic gravity than their school-based counterparts. The school-based participants usually added further explanations to clarify what was meant during an explanation and exhibited semantic waves by unpacking and re-packing a concept, whereas the university-based participants tended to show a flatter semantic profile. Findings showed that across the levels of study investigated, semantic density was stronger: a similar complexity of chemistry-specific vocabulary used by all seven participants, regardless of the audience. Findings have pedagogical implications and suggest that a larger-scale study of semantic waves in oral chemistry discourse could usefully inform specific-purposes language teaching.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > International Study and Language Institute (ISLI)
Life Sciences > School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy > Department of Chemistry
ID Code:92064
Publisher:The American Chemical Society


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