Enhancing Conceptual Thinking With Interactive Concept Discovery (INCOD)

Enhancing Conceptual Thinking With Interactive Concept Discovery (INCOD)

Masha Etkinda (Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada) and Uri Shafrir (University of Toronto, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1985-1.ch003


Interactive concept discovery (InCoD), based on concept parsing algorithms (CPA), is a novel learning tool in the context of pedagogy for conceptual thinking. It supports semantic searches of key word in context (KWIC), an interactive procedure that use text analysis (concordance, collocation, co-occurrence, word frequency) and allows students to explore the course knowledge repository (KR) for discovery of conceptual contents. InCoD guides sequential teaching/learning episodes in an academic course by focusing learners' attention on conceptual meaning. InCoD is part of a pedagogical approach that is very different from the usual classroom scenario where students are given a problem-solving exercise and asked to solve it individually.
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The emergent discipline of concept science is a novel generic methodology for parsing and analyzing concepts, applicable to the various knowledge domains and professions, with tools for recognizing, representing, organizing, exploring, communicating, and manipulating knowledge encoded in controlled vocabularies of sublanguages. Concept science document the evolution of content and structure of concepts and categorization, knowledge representation and use. Certain words, used to describe regularities in human experience, acquire specific meanings that differ from their meanings in the general use of language. These code words are unique names of concepts - patterns in the data, invariants. The use of code words is common practice in all disciplines and in all domains ofknowledge. It originates from the common need to eliminate – at least reduce – ambiguity, and to define conceptual content in precise terms that allow clear demarcation between the known and the unknown.

Code words in scholarly discourse are lexical labels of concepts in a controlled vocabulary that encode conceptual content within the body of knowledge in a discipline, a profession, a domain. A lexical label acts as proper name of a regularity, an organizing principle behind a collection of facts in context. Lexical label is often one or more common words (mostly nouns and noun phrases) used to label a recognized pattern in human experience and to communicate a well-defined meaning. Lexical labels of concepts differ from the use of these same words in ordinary language in two important ways:

  • Lexical labels of concepts do not encode the literal meanings associated with their constituent words in the common use of the language. Each such label encodes a connoted meaning, rooted in the regularity being considered, that differs from the literal meaning of the word(s).

  • Lexical labels of concepts cannot be replaced by synonyms. Each label functions as a proper name of the signified concept.

Initiates – insiders who share the code - know that a lexical label of a concept serves a similar function to that of a proper name, in contrast to ‘outsiders’ who encounter a lexical label and do not associate it with discipline-specific meaning. They assume that the label is just a word in general language, and therefore may be substituted by a synonym: ‘In general language it is easy to find synonymous expressions, but in specialist discourse the exact term for the conceptual equivalent is expected’ (Sager, 1993).



Conceptual curation is a recent development in curation of large repositories containing digital full-text documents (Shafrir & Etkind, 2011). It includes the use of semantic searches that reveal structured, multi-layered building blocks of concepts with lateral and hierarchical interactions. Concepts are labeled patterns in the data that encode ‘meaning’ in different domains of knowledge: semantic content embedded in them by the situation being documented, and the specific constraints associated with data generated during this evolutionary process.

Content of an academic course is encoded in its main concepts, accessible through a comprehensive collection of full-text digital documents. Such a collection is a Knowledge Repository (KR) that may contain all types of relevant digital documents: primary sources; monographs; technical reports; databases (numerical data; images; 3D artifacts; (see: http://research.library.gsu.edu/zotero). KR opens pedagogical horizons to instructors and learners, and shifts the emphasis from memorization of facts to experiential learning with Interactive Concept Discovery (InCoD), that allows exploration of particular conceptual situations from different points of view, in a particular knowledge domain, represented in different ways by a variety of authors of different documents in KR.

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