High Order of Conceptual Thinking: Find the Equivalence of Meaning

High Order of Conceptual Thinking: Find the Equivalence of Meaning

Masha Etkind (Ryerson University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1985-1.ch001


This chapter describe a novel pedagogy for conceptual thinking and peer cooperation with meaning equivalence reusable learning objects (MERLO) that enhances higher-order thinking; it deepens comprehension of conceptual content and improves learning outcomes. The evolution of this instructional methodology follows insights from recent developments: analysis of patterns of evolving concepts in human experience that led to the emergence of concept science, development of digital information, research in neuroscience and brain imaging showing that exposure of learners to multi-semiotic problems enhance cognitive control of inter-hemispheric attentional processing in the lateral brain, and increase higher-order thinking. The research on peer cooperation and indirect reciprocity document the motivational effect of being observed, a psychological imperative that motivates individuals to cooperate and to contribute to better common knowledge. Teaching courses in History and Theory of Architecture to young architecture students with pedagogy for conceptual thinking enhance higher-order thinking, deepen comprehension of conceptual content, and improve learning outcomes; it allows one to connect analysis of historic artifact, identify pattern of design ideas extracted from the precedent, and transfer concepts of good design into the individual's creative design process.
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Higher Order Of Thinking With Meaning Equivalence Reusable Learning Objects (Merlo)

‘…In all matters, but particularly in architecture, there are these two points: the thing signified, and that which gives it its significance. That which is signified is the subject of which we may be speaking; and that which gives significance is a demonstration on scientific principles. It appears, then, that one who professes himself an architect should be well versed in both directions. He ought, therefore, to be both naturally gifted and amenable to instruction.’

Vitruvius (70–15 BC). 10 Books on Architecture. Book1: The education of the architect.

The main goal of this chapter is to describe innovative way of teaching and learning architecture with pedagogy for conceptual thinking that focus learners’ attention on conceptual meaning of form, and enhance learning outcomes from understanding concepts extracted from architecture precedent into design. This chapter discuss the specifics of teaching architecture with Meaning Equivalence Reusable Learning Objects (MERLO), and describes pedagogy for conceptual thinking as applied in study of architecture and peer cooperation that enhance higher-order thinking, deepen comprehension of conceptual content, and enrich interactive learning processes that lead to better understanding of principles and can be then applied in the field of architecture (Shafrir & Etkind, 2018; Etkind, Kenett, & Shafrir, 2016; Shafrir & Kenett, 2016; Shafrir, Etkind, & Treviranus, 2006; Ripley, Etkind, & Shafrir, 2004).

MERLO is a multi-dimensional database that allows the sorting and mapping of important concepts through multi-semiotic representations in multiple sign systems, including: exemplary target statements of particular conceptual situations, and relevant other statements. Each node of MERLO database is an item family that includes five statements: one Target Statement (TS) that describes a conceptual situation and encodes different features of an important concept; and 4 other statements that are sorted by two sorting criteria:

  • Shared equivalence-of-meaning with TS.

  • Shared surface similarity with TS.

Figure 1.

Template for constructing an item-family in MERLO


Figure 1 is a template for constructing an item family anchored in a single target statement (TS). Statements populating the four quadrants of the template in Figure 1, namely, Q1; Q2; Q3; Q4; are thematically sorted by their relation to TS. For example, if a statement contains text in natural language, then by ‘surface similarity’ we mean same/similar words appearing in the same/similar order as in the TS; and by ‘meaning equivalence’ we mean that in a community that shares a sublanguage (Cabre, 1998; Kittredge, 1983) with a controlled vocabulary, a majority would likely agree that the meaning of the statement being sorted is equivalent to the meaning of TS. In Figure 1, statements in quadrants Q1 and Q3 are similar in appearance to TS, which means that they share the same sign-system with TS (e.g., text). In contrast, statements in quadrants Q2 and Q4 are not similar in appearance to TS, which means that these statements may be constructed within another sign-system (e.g., images; diagrams); or they may be constructed in the same sign system as TS, but do not look similar to TS.

The 4 quadrants contain the following types of statements:

  • Q1 contains statements similar in appearance to TS and shares equivalence-of-meaning with it.

  • Q2 contains statements that are not similar in appearance to TS, but do share equivalence-of-meaning with it.

  • Q3 contains statements similar in appearance to TS, but that do not share equivalence-of-meaning with it.

  • Q4 contains statements that, although thematically relevant to TS, are not similar in appearance to TS and do not share equivalence-of-meaning with it.

Collectively, MERLO item families encode the conceptual mapping that covers the full content of a course (a particular content area within a discipline, for example ‘functions’ in mathematics). MERLO pedagogy guides sequential teaching/learning episodes in a course by focusing learners’ attention on meaning. The format of a MERLO assessment item allows the instructor to assess deep comprehension of conceptual content by eliciting responses that signal learners’ ability to recognize, and to produce, multiple representations, in multiple sign-systems - namely, multi-semiotic - that share equivalence-of-meaning. A typical MERLO assessment item contains 5 unmarked statements: unmarked TS (target statement); plus four additional (unmarked) statements from quadrants Q2; Q3; and Q4. Our experience has shown that inclusion of statements from quadrant Q1 makes a MERLO assessment item too easy, because it gives away the shared meaning due to the valence-match between surface similarity and meaning equivalence - a strong indicator of shared meaning between a Q1 and TS. Therefore, Q1 statements are excluded from MERLO assessment items.

Figure 2.

Example of MERLO assessment item with Target Statement on ‘Greek Acropolis’; TS; plus Q2; Q3; and Q4 statements


Task instructions for MERLO assessment are:

At least two – possibly more - out of the five statements share equivalence-of meaning

  • Mark all statements– but only those– that share equivalence-of-meaning

  • Formulate the shared concept

Following these task instructions, learner’s response to a MERLO item combines two formats: (i) multiple-choice/multiple-response (recognition); and (ii) short written answer (production). Subsequently, there are two scores for each MERLO item: recognition score; and production score.

Figure 3.

Example of a multi-semiotic MERLO item (History of Architecture, Italian Baroque)


Figure 3 is an example of a MERLO item in 2nd year course ‘History of Architecture’, that includes 5 representations (at least two of which share equivalence-of-meaning), in the following sign-systems: urban plan (A); photograph (B); orthogonal drawing (C); language (D); 3D sketch (E).

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