A sociocultural approach to conceptual change learning in first year pharmacy students.

Doctoral Studies Completed Theses - 2009 Archive

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Erica Jane Sainsbury

PhD thesis, conferred 2009

This thesis describes a sociocultural approach to conceptual change learning among first year pharmacy students at the University of Sydney, Australia. Observations over many years with first year students have consistently identified student difficulties in learning a number of topics, and in particular recognising differences in meaning of the same terms when used in two different but related contexts, chemistry and pharmacy.

In this thesis, a general discourse model of conceptual change is proposed which highlights the context dependence of meaning, and illustrates the process of cognitive socialisation by which students become able to engage in meaningful discourse with members of the pharmacy community.

The sociocultural nature of this model is emphasised by situating both the outcomes and processes of conceptual change within discursive practices and analysing the interdependent emergence of unique individual and group trajectories as students engage in collaborative discourse and problem-solving activities in formal classrooms. The use of Rogoff's planes of analysis approach as an analytical framework reinforces the sociocultural basis of the model by emphasising the intertwining of the individual and social through alternately foregrounding each against the background of the other. The character of collaboration is specifically investigated by focusing on the semiotically mediated development of shared thinking and creation of zones of proximal development, as they are supported by structured teaching and modeling. Cognitive socialisation proceeds by means of the appropriation of concepts and discursive practices pertinent to the pharmacy community, and this appropriation is brought about through the reciprocal and transformative processes of internalisation and externalisation.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Richard Walker