ED11B-0730: Gestures and metaphors as indicators of conceptual understanding of sedimentary systems (Invited)

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Authors: Eric M Riggs1, 2, Juan S Herrera2

Author Institutions: 1. College of Geosciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA; 2. Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA

Understanding the geometry and evolution of sedimentary systems and sequence stratigraphy is crucial to the development of geoscientists and engineers working in the petroleum industry. There is a wide variety of audiences within industry who require relatively advanced instruction in this area of geoscience, and there is an equally wide array of approaches to teaching this material in the classroom and field. This research was undertaken to develop a clearer picture of how conceptual understanding in this area of sedimentary geology grows as a result of instruction and how instructors can monitor the completeness and accuracy of student thinking and mental models. We sought ways to assess understanding that did not rely on model-specific jargon but rather was based in physical expression of basic processes and attributes of sedimentary systems. Advances in cognitive science and educational research indicate that a significant part of spatial cognition is facilitated by gesture, (e.g. giving directions, describing objects or landscape features). We aligned the analysis of gestures with conceptual metaphor theory to probe the use of mental image-schemas as a source of concept representation for students’ learning of sedimentary processes. In order to explore image schemas that lie in student explanations, we focused our analysis on four core ideas about sedimentary systems that involve sea level change and sediment deposition, namely relative sea level, base level, and sea-level fluctuations and resulting basin geometry and sediment deposition changes. The study included 25 students from three U.S. Midwestern universities. Undergraduate and graduate-level participants were enrolled in senior-level undergraduate courses in sedimentology and stratigraphy. We used semi-structured interviews and videotaping for data collection. We coded the data to focus on deictic, iconic, and metaphoric gestures, and coded interview transcripts for linguistic metaphors using the rubric established by Lakoff (1987) and Lakoff and Johnson (1999). The results suggested that students attempted to make more iconic and metaphoric gestures when dealing with abstract concepts such as relative sea level, base level, and unconformities. Schemas that were evident in both gesture and linguistic expressions dominantly included container schemas, schemas that expressed a source-path-goal relationship, and schemas that represented linear scales of quantity, such as thickness or time. Based on the analysis of gestures that expressed these central ideas, we found that proper use of representational gestures likely indicates completeness in conceptual understanding. We concluded that students rely on image schemas to develop ideas about complex sedimentary systems. Our research also supports the hypothesis that gestures provide an independent and non-linguistic indicator of image-schemas serving as mental models that shape conceptual development. The implication is that instructors should encourage proper gesture use by students during instruction, and also that gesture and linguistic metaphor could potentially be used as tools to assess student understanding.