Using a disciplinary discourse lens to explore how representations afford meaning making in a typical wave physics course

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We carried out a case study in a wave physics course at a Swedish university in order to investigate the relations between the representations used in the lessons and the experience of meaning making in interview–discussions. The grounding of these interview–discussions also included obtaining a rich description of the lesson environment in terms of the communicative approaches used and the students’ preferences for modes of representations that best enable meaning making. The background for this grounding was the first two lessons of a 5-week course on wave physics (70 students). The data collection for both the grounding and the principal research questions consisted of video recordings from the first two lessons: a student questionnaire of student preferences for representations (given before and after the course) and video-recorded interview–discussions with students (seven pairs and one on their own). The results characterize the use of communicative approaches, what modes of representation were used in the lectures, and the trend in what representations students’ preferred for meaning making, all in order to illustrate how students engage with these representations with respect to their experienced meaning making. Interesting aspects that emerged from the study are discussed in terms of how representations do not, in themselves, necessarily enable a range of meaning making; that meaning making from representations is critically related to how the representations get situated in the learning environment; and how constellations of modes of disciplinary discourse may be necessary but not always sufficient. Finally, pedagogical comments and further research possibilities are presented.