Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on the Future of the Book

The Value of Inscriptions in Science Education: Implications of the Dual Coding Model

Dr Lisa Best, Joseph L. Holland.

Scholars investigating the concrete laboratory practises of scientists have recently stressed the importance of “inscriptions” (graphs, tables, diagrams) in the construction of scientific facts. In particular, ethnographic studies of laboratory work have shown that the inscriptions used to represent findings are a crucial means by which scientific knowledge-claims are constructed, revised, and contested. According to Bruno Latour and others who study inscriptions, graphs are an especially powerful means of data-representation due to their ability to stabilize facts, to be superimposed and manipulated, and to be transported across sites. As graphs are reproduced and mobilized, findings become increasingly resistant to deconstruction and emerge as accepted facts. According to Latour’s “graphism” thesis, graphs are in fact a crucial distinctive feature of science. The use of graphical displays has spread from scientific laboratories to many other academic and non-academic fields. For example, businesses use pie charts and bar graphs to show the growth and loss, clinical psychologists use time series graphs to chart client progress, and historians use graphs to show changes over time. The use of visual representation has also spread to all levels of education and currently, inscriptions are commonly used in textbooks to convey important points. Diagrams depicting the theory of gravity, the food chain, and the water cycle are a normal part of a schoolchild’s science education. Given the widespread use of inscription devices, it is important to examine whether these are actually an effective teaching tool rather than simply a colourful (but eye-catching) addition to textbooks and scholarly articles.


Dr Lisa Best  (Canada)
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
University of New Brunswick

Joseph L. Holland  (Canada)

  • Graphical Perception
  • Inscriptions in Science
  • Integration of Text and Graphs
  • Dual Coding Model
  • Learning

(Virtual Presentation, English)