A multimodal social semiotic analysis of lecturer pedagogy for the physics concept of angular motion in physiotherapy education

Master Thesis


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Angular motion is a foundational concept in physiotherapy, applied when measuring joint range of motion (rom) in assessment and treatment of patients. Accordingly, first-year physiotherapy students are commonly taught rom measurement skills in their applied Physiotherapy course and are introduced to the concept of angular motion in their Physics course where their learning is primarily assessed through problem-solving. However, studies of student learning of angular motion show that while students can solve problems, they do not always have the necessary conceptual understanding to use their procedures appropriately and flexibly in other disciplines. Physics education researchers also demonstrate that accessing, learning, and communicating the conceptual and procedural knowledge involves using the affordances of multimodal language. Thus, a promising line of inquiry is how lecturers use the affordances of multimodal language in pedagogy to create opportunities for students to develop both conceptual and procedural understanding. My study focuses on a lecturer's pedagogy for the concept of angular motion in a Physics course for first year physiotherapy students at a South African university. Specifically, I use a multimodal social semiotic perspective to describe what and how she uses the affordances of multimodal language − verbal talk, written text, images, symbols and symbolic equations, gestures, and objects − to give presentational, organisational and orientational meanings. I also explain her pedagogical choices in the meaning-making process. In this focused ethnographic study, I observed lecture recordings to produce data on the lecturer's pedagogy. A subsequent semi-structured interview with the lecturer was analysed to understand the lecturer's choices. The multimodal social semiotic analysis shows that the lecturer organised her pedagogy to develop both conceptual and procedural meaning, while also relating these meanings to problem-solving, and to orientate students to the relevance of angular motion in physiotherapy. This organization was informed by her comprehensive understanding of the physics content, and its relation to the Physiotherapy course and physiotherapy practice, and the experiences and resources of the students in the class. Evident in her pedagogy was a pattern of starting with a focus on conceptual meaning using verbal talk, images, and gestures, following which she integrated symbols and symbolic equations which functioned as a link to focussing on procedural meaning as applied in problem-solving. This study contributes to existing physics and physiotherapy education research, an in-depth description and explanation of a lecturer's motivated, contextualised use of multimodal language to give meaning to the physics of angular motion for physiotherapy. These learnings and the multimodal social semiotic tools by which they were produced can be put to work in education development practice with disciplinary lecturers. Specifically, they serve to make explicit the affordances of various language modes for communicating particular conceptual and procedural meanings as a relevant for physiotherapy for planning pedagogy.