New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

Patterns of Participation and Power: Opportunities for Learning in a University Science Classroom

Allison Ritchie, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education - University of Toronto (Canada)


Past studies in the science research have documented that people of colour and women continue to be underrepresented in science-related university programmes and careers. The need for providing equitable opportunities to learn (hereafter OTL) science in diverse, content-focused classrooms has been recognized as an important aim in educational research. Partially because of prior assumptions that equal access to OTL will lead to comparable academic outcomes, there has been limited research examining students’ uptake processes of OTL. To better understand issues of equity, this critical microethnographic study explores how students’ participation and acts of positioning shape their access to particular OTL within scientific discussions, set in a diverse, Canadian university, Kinesiology classroom activity system. My research draws data from videotaped observations of classroom lessons, student interviews, and four vignettes of group work wherein two participants were the focus of the analysis. The video analysis focuses on how students go about learning together within science discussions by looking at the ways in which participation and acts of positioning unfold in intergroup interactions. Using a stimulated recall interview technique, the study also explores how the focal students identify and interpret their experiences within these interactions. Drawing on cultural historical activity theory, I describe the dimensions of the Kinesiology classroom activity system. Then I focus on two case studies of the focal participants. The findings describe their verbal and non-verbal acts of positioning, highlighting how students’ access to particular OTL may be facilitated and/or constrained by these positions, and acknowledge the different observations and interpretations between the researcher and focal students. Using positioning analysis, these case studies allow us to see how certain aspects of identity become more salient in particular interactions as well as how these focal students’ uptake processes influenced the distribution of OTL within groups. The study’s theoretical contributions include a synthesis of sociocultural theories of learning that afford a multilevel inquiry. Implications for science education research are raised, including suggestions for a greater analytic focus on student-led spaces, and making visible the meso- and macro-level processes connected with local classroom events for a more coherent description of science learning.

Keywords: learning sciences, postsecondary education, science education, social justice and equity, STEM education, university education;

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