Presentation in teacher education. A study of student teachers’ transformation and representation of subject content using semiotic technology
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Situated in the context of teacher education, the current study seeks to understand the practice of presenting – here supported by digital technology – as a student learning activity. The study considers Shulman’s (1986) concepts on what constitutes teachers’ professional skills, which he coined pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). He identified the transformation and representation of subject content as two key aspects of teaching; transformation entails didactic reasoning regarding how to make the subject content comprehensible, whereas representation captures how to give ideas a material shape. The present study regards preparing and conducting a presentation as a process where the transformation and representation of the subject content occurs; first, this occurs during the process of designing the PowerPoint slides, and second, it happens while performing the slides for a group of learners.
The current study comprises three substudies that each contribute to the following overall research question: How can student-led presentations that are supported by semiotic technology be understood as a learning activity in teacher education?
By approaching a presentation as a semiotic practice (Zhao et al., 2014), transformation and representation take on additional meaning; it is a sign-making activity motivated by pedagogical ends. By applying the learning design sequence (LDS; Selander, 2008; Selander, 2017; Selander & Kress, 2010a) as an analytical tool, the students’ agentive process of sign making is modelled as two transformation cycles. The first cycle captures the students’ preforming activity of giving shape to knowledge by designing a semiotic artefact: a set of PowerPoint slides. The second cycle captures the performance of the slides for an audience.
The first study proposes a revision of the LDS so that it can be used as a framework for the analysis of empirical data derived from the video observations of first-year student teachers. These participants were observed as they presented reports from their practicum placement to their peers. In contrast to the original model, the amended version of the LDS captures the dynamic, multimodal interplay that occurs between the constituent elements of the slides and the presenter during the performance. The revised LDS conceptualises the presentation as a ‘live’ multimodal event encompassing the performance of preformed materials and designs. The model is utilised as an analytical framework supporting the three articles that are published and that represent the scientific output of the current PhD study.
Using theoretical concepts pertaining to jazz improvisation, the second article delves deeper into interpreting the phenomena of presentation as a performative activity. The motivation behind the second study is to test theoretical devices developed by the jazz community as tools for researching the practice of presenting. The aim of the study is to develop concepts and terminology that may help in understanding what mechanisms are at play during the performance of presentations in educational settings.
If musical lead sheets depict ‘the kind of skeletal model that typically provides players with a framework for improvising’ (Berliner, 1994), preformed slides may be studied in terms of their properties as an improvisational framework. The philosopher Stephen Davies claimed that works made for performance can be ‘thick’ or ‘thin’ in their constitutive properties (2001); these perspectives are applied to study the design of the student-made slides prior to being performed. The concepts of horizontal and vertical playing (Baker, 1989) are adopted to interpret the student teachers’ performance of the slides. A vertical approach involves elaborating and expanding on the constituent elements of the slides, whereas a horizontal approach involves connecting the elements into coherent linear phrases. The outcome of the study is a model that has a double matrix operationalising the concept of improvisation in the current context. One axis permits the researcher to position a slide on a continuum between ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ according to the slide’s constituent elements. The other axis, spanning between ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’, reflects the student’s approach to performing the slide. By interpreting presentation as an improvisational activity, the article contributes new perspectives to the epistemology of teaching as commonly practised in higher education. The empirical data are video recordings of music students’ presentations for their peers of music lessons planned for their practicum placement.
The focus of the third study shifts from describing and interpreting the processes that unfold during presentation and towards the very subject content that is being presented. The study attains a meta-perspective on professional teacher development by exploring student teachers’ representations of what may be considered teachers’ professional knowledge. The study is based on the ontological idea that what is represented by the student teachers during their presentations is not isomorphic with a fixed reality but rather is a version of a socially constructed reality, one that is shaped by the situated interest and agency of the student teachers.
The study maps the students’ representations of professional knowledge by using a double dichotomy that spans between the universal and local and between the theoretical and procedural. The ‘knowledge landscape’ that appears calls into question what ‘epistemologies of teaching’ the students encounter in and outside of campus during their education. A discussion follows on how the traditional gap between theory and practice can be understood in light of the representations of professional knowledge made by student teachers themselves.
The overall outcome of the study supports a better understanding of presentation in teacher education, displaying it as an agentive act on the part of the student, who transforms and makes a representation of curricular issues, and who is influenced by the norms and contexts of campus-based practices in teacher education. The social semiotic perspective supports a perception of knowing and knowledge that is based on the ability to participate in the discourses of the society and interest-guided communities by using the available modes and means for expression. Situated in teacher education, the presentations contribute to bringing discourses of the profession into the classrooms on campus, hence offering the students an opportunity to reflect on subject matter that resides in the gap between campus and practicum. The improvisational features of performing the preformed remind us that knowledge representations in education are subject to the fluid logics of improvisational practices, where knowledge construction requires an awareness of the curricular framework and structures within which the teacher performs the knowledge.