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M. Etkind1, U. Shafrir2

1Ryerson University (CANADA)
2University of Toronto, Faculty of Information (CANADA)
The important role of conceptual thinking in learning for deep comprehension is now widely recognized. Still, traditional pedagogy and learning assessments focus on memory of facts and correct execution of problem-solving procedures presented through structured items such as true/false and multiple-choice questions.
In contrast, teaching and learning in the digital age is facilitated by pedagogy for conceptual thinking and peer cooperation that enhance ways of thinking that explore patterns of equivalence-of-meaning among ideas, relations, and underlying issues.
Conceptual thinkers engage in creative discovery and exploration of hidden - potentially viable - alternative ideas that may not be obviously related or easily identified. Pedagogy for conceptual thinking and peer cooperation focus learners’ attention on meaning, and enhances their understanding of differences among representations that may ‘look similar’, but may not share equivalence-of-meaning; or that may ‘look different’, but may share equivalence-of-meaning. Such representations may also be encoded in different sign systems, often found in knowledge domains where issues of quantity, structure, space, and change, play important roles: in mathematics; science (physics; biology); as well as in applied sciences - medicine, engineering, architecture, social science, where language, images, and mathematical symbolism - as well as other sign systems - are regularly used to encode meanings.
Evolution of pedagogy for conceptual thinking and peer cooperation follow insights from several recent developments, including:
1. The emerging digital cyber-infrastructure of networked information.
2. Analysis of patterns of content and structure of labeled patterns in human experience that led to the emergence of concept science.
3. Research in neuroscience and brain imaging that provide experimental support to the semiotic construct ‘representational competence’, demonstrating that exposure of learners to multi-semiotic inductive questions enhance cognitive control of inter-hemispheric attentional processing in the lateral brain, and increase higher-order thinking.
4. The key role of ‘knowledge of being observed’ in peer cooperation driven by reputation for enhancing the common good.
Cumulative results of implementation, since 2002, of pedagogy for conceptual thinking and peer cooperation at the Faculty of Engineering, Science, and Architecture at Ryerson University in Toronto; Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of University of Toronto (OISE/UT); Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg; as well as in other educational institutions, lend support to the following conclusions:
- Weekly multi-semiotic MERLO Cooperative/Interactive/Formative (CIF) quizzes enhance peer cooperation; conceptual thinking; and learning outcomes.
- Pedagogy for conceptual thinking and peer cooperation motivate and engage students in large undergraduate classes.
- Conceptual thinking is learnable.
- Good vs. poor conceptual thinkers who score high (low) on their level of conceptual comprehension of the content in a course of study, also score high (low) on deep comprehension of the conceptual content of other courses.
- Pedagogy for conceptual thinking and peer cooperation, implemented as a regular part of the instructional methodology, replicates the above pattern of results.