Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:20 AM
SYNTHESIS OF RESEARCH ON THINKING & LEARNING IN THE GEOSCIENCES: DEVELOPING REPRESENTATIONAL COMPETENCE
Representational competence is facility in the use of graphs, maps, tables, diagrams, flowcharts and other non-verbal modes of expression to record and convey observations and interpretations, and to extract insights from such representations when they are used by others. Human's ability to turn observations into representations is what makes it possible to study something as large, heterogeneous, and dynamic as the Earth, using eyes and brains that can only be in one place at a time. Visual representations leverage human's evolved ability to recall, detect, match, and infer significance from patterns in our visually-perceived environment. Based on a tally of illustrations, equations and tables per hundred words of text in major professional journals, geoscientists use representations to communicate with their peers more extensively than do professionals in other social or natural sciences. Thus developing representational competence is an important aspect of developing geoscience expertise. We identify three components of representational competence in geoscience. First is learning to read and write geoscientists' conventional representations, such as the stratigrapher's timeline, the structural geologist's stereonet, and the physical oceanographer's temperature/salinity diagram. Second is metacognitive understanding of the nature of representations, including: representations are made by a person for a purpose and selectively exclude those aspects of the referent that are not useful for that purpose; concept-driven visualizations comingle universal truths and conditional truths; and the ideal representation for communicating an idea to readers or viewers is seldom the same representation that was optimized for capturing information or analyzing data. The third and most challenging component is being able to combine understanding of the Earth system and knowledge of representational strategies so as to invent suitable representations to record and convey novel concepts or observation types.