Visual Perception of Biologically Useful Information

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“Searchin’ for Swampman”
The Epistemological Quagmire of Literacy,
Visual Cognition and Biology Education.
Robert Day
OSU College of Education
[email protected]
This .ppt file is available at:
http://www.angelfire.com/ri/skibizniz/literacy.ppt
Rob’s Research Interests:
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Construction of naturalistic microcosms (ie.
ecosystems) and their use in life-science
education
Visual cognition in biology undergraduates
Conceptual change and cognition in science
education
Science literacy, both visual and linguistic
Connections between all of the above
http://www.angelfire.com/ri/skibizniz/index.html
What is this talk about?
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Since I am not really a philosopher, a linguist or
an expert in the language arts, I will skim quickly
through some vast, slippery philosophical and
epistemological issues that connect literacy and
visual cognition before discussing the theoretical
framework of my dissertation. My hope is that
this might be “food for thought” and may give
others something new to think about when they
consider the nature of “literacy”.
What is this talk NOT about?
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The special ways that scientists use
language and writing in science classrooms
are important topics within science
education, but I want to concentrate on
visual issues today since these are currently
the main focus of my studies. Jay Lemke
has written extensively on issues of
language use in science classrooms. His
work may be of interest to some here.
Who is “Swampman”?
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A hypothetical individual with (some serious
epistemological problems) who challenges
definitions of literacy and cognition.
First proposed as a thought experiment by Donald
Davidson
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swamp_man
He appears here partly because I like swamps.
Swamps are full of creatures that are hard to see.
What is Literacy?
(dictionary.com)
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1. the quality or state of being literate, esp. the
ability to read and write.
2. possession of education: to question
someone's literacy.
3. a person's knowledge of a particular subject or
field: to acquire computer literacy.
Synonyms: learning, culture.
What is Literacy?
(Rob Day)
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In a broad sense it is the extent to which an
individual has learned the socially
constructed meanings of symbols and signs
used to communicate concepts within his
or her culture.
There are similarities and connections
between visual cognition and literacy
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Attribution of meaning to words vs. images
Thinking in words vs. images
Modulation (eg. words vs. geons)
Defining categories
Social construction of meanings
Problems with ambiguity for the positivist mind
Construction of concepts
Language acquisition and the problem of induction
Theory-laden interpretation of meaning
Connection between vision, semiotics and language
perception > cognition > meaning
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This pattern is essentially the same no matter how
we experience the world, whether it is through
visual, spoken or written stimuli. The more
literate we are, the more complex the stimuli we
can perceive and the more meaning we can
extract.
Novices do not always perceive stimuli the same
way that experts do.
QuickTime™ and a
TIFF (Uncompressed) decompressor
are needed to see this picture.
http://www.kfafh.org/images/all/saudiflag.gif
What is the origin of “literacy”?
Early forms of literacy often involve biological symbols.
http://www.sanford-artedventures.com/study/images/cave_painting_l.jpg
If we don’t know the meaning of this symbol, are we illiterate?
http://www.cyberdreamwork.com/images/Copy%20of%20cave-art-hand1.jpg
How do we all know that these are people?
What are they doing?
http://yatin.chawathe.com/photos/2004-03-Africa/images/img_0934.jpg
How does this kitten feel?
How does its mother feel?
How does this octopus feel?
soup or art?
…and now on to visual cognition and
conceptual change in biology undergraduates
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Hypothesis: Biology undergraduates encounter
significant visual difficulties in laboratory and field
work that can hinder their understanding and learning.
Some of these difficulties are common in many
disciplines but others are caused or complicated by
specific attributes of biological material.
Experts in the discipline have a greater degree of
“biological visual literacy” - what they visually
perceive is often different to what the novice
perceives.
"I passed all the other courses that I took at my
university, but I could never pass botany. This was
because all botany students had to spend several
hours a week in a laboratory looking through a
microscope at plant cells, and I could never see
through the microscope. I never once saw a cell
through a microscope.”
"My Life and Hard Times" James Thurber, former
student of the OSU Plant Science Department.
Some visual processing problems
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Visual agnosia
Pareidolia (eg. The Rorschach Test)
Perceptual scotoma
Ambiguous images and perceptual flip
Pareidolia links
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Definition and earliest citation
Some examples
More examples
Fossil on the moon?
What we see is influenced by many factors
QuickTime™ and a
TIFF (Uncompressed) decompressor
are needed to see this picture.
http://www.doorbell.net/tlr/pixweek/camo.jpg
What factors affects visual
perception?
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Eyesight (resolution / acuity)
Language and semantics
Direct and indirect content knowledge
Innate visual cognitive abilities
Multiple intelligences (Gardener)
Learning style
Teaching approach (constructivist, behaviorist etc)
More factors…
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Socio-cultural factors
Gender, biological / social
Motivation
Lifestyle and previous visual environment
Neurological issues
Metacognition
Other factors
What is Conceptual Change?
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Conceptual change is a learning theory developed
by Posner et al. that emerged from the
educational implications of Thomas Kuhn’s
“Structure of Scientific Revolutions”
Students may have well developed, but incorrect
conceptual ecologies (misconceptions) that can be
resistant to modification, even in the face of
anomalous data presented by an instructor.
For a review of conceptual change theory go here
… or watch “private universe”
According to Posner et. al. conceptual schemas
change by accommodation or assimilation
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Assimilation: This occurs when you fit some new
information into an existing structure or
conceptual understanding.
Accommodation: This occurs if new information
cannot easily fit into an existing structure or
conceptual understanding. Instead, the new
information requires a radical cognitive
transformation and reorganization of the
conceptual ecology.
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When a student fails to see something,
misinterprets the meaning of what they see, or
sees something that is not there, it is the
instructor’s job to facilitate a change in what the
student sees.
Is this type of change of perception really a
conceptual change in the sense that Posner et al
meant it or is this an unrelated cognitive
phenomenon?
Example: “seal donkey”
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in ocean
moving, swimming?
splashing
making a noise (bark?)
therefore alive?
seals bark & swim
seals live in ocean
Seal donkey anomalies:
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Not swimming gracefully
Appears to rise out of water > illogical
Noise not like a seal
Rear fins out of water – illogical
Eyes seem to be releasing steam
“Fins” don’t look right
IF sufficient anomalies are noticed by (or
pointed out to) the observer, eventually a
point is reached where the observer
experiences a state of dissatisfaction with
the image presented to their conscious
mind by their visual centers, and a
cognitive shift or assimilation event may
occur.
Post perceptual flip seal >donkey
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fins > ears > must be concave not flat
swimming > drowning
barking > braying
natural event > unusual
happy animal > animal in distress
no further action necessary > action may
be required to save drowning donkey
Interesting things to note….
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Many optical illusions involve images of living
things.
Cognitive scientists often describe perceptual
categorization problems involving living things.
fMRI studies indicate that a special part of the
brain is implicated in the process of recognizing
living things.
No reason why conceptual change should not also
be important in other disciplines, eg. Reading
comprehension.
Rationale and goals for this Research
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Alert biology instructors to the problem
Increase student performance and practical skills
Alert biological researchers and medical imagers to
issues related to reliability of graphical data
Expedite postgraduate novice-expert transformation
Use fMRI studies of visual cognition to help integrate
neurology and psychology with educational theory.
Expand conceptual change theory
Explore implications for societal scientific literacy and
environmental awareness, as well as for other types of
literacy
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