Conceptions and characterization : an explanation for the theory-practice gap in conceptual change theory

M.W. Eijck, van

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


    For more than 2 decades now, conceptual change theory has been lauded as a powerful framework for improving science teaching and learning. This has resulted in an increasingly sophisticated theory building, yielding, among other things, a comprehensive documentation of students’ (mis-, alternative, naïve, etc.) conceptions across most science domains. This increasing sophistication is required to address increasingly adequate the complex phenomena of teaching and learning science. Yet, despite this sophistication, the theory is not yet practical for the practice of teaching. On the contrary, with an increasing sophistication, the gap between research output and that what is finally put into practice by teachers has increased as well. In other words, "there is the paradox that in order to adequately address teaching and learning processes research alienates the teachers and hence widens the ‘theory-practice’ gap" (Duit and Treagust 2003, p. 683). In this chapter I explain the origin of this paradox. I start with an exemplary case of two students who jointly interpret a particular graph. Drawing on conceptual change theory, it can be said that they articulate "their conceptions" and that conceptual change is occurring. Departing from this case, I briefly rearticulate the current state of conceptual change theory and I illustrate that a key aspect of theory building in conceptual change, that is, the attribution of conceptions to individuals, is justified by the characterization of the individual by the practices in which they engage. To better understand this process of characterization and the way in which it is used as a rationale for the attribution of conceptions to individuals, I approach it through the lens of hermeneutic phenomenology. This investigation reveals a number of methodological problems that account for the theory-practice gap. I conclude this chapter by discussing the implications of this understanding of the origin of the paradox that, to address teaching-learning processes, research yields an increasingly sophisticated teacher-alienating output.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationRe/structuring science education : reuniting sociological and psychological perspectives
    EditorsW.-M. Roth
    Place of PublicationDordrecht
    Number of pages381
    ISBN (Print)978-90-481-3995-8
    Publication statusPublished - 2010

    Publication series

    NameCultural Studies of Science Education
    ISSN (Print)1871-1502


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