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Educating Semiosis: Exploring ecological meaning through pedagogy

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
This thesis consists of six essays – framed by introduction and conclusion chapters – that develop possibilities for philosophy of education and pedagogy from the lens of bio-semiotics and edu-semiotics (biological and educational semiotics). These transdisciplinary inquiries have found commonality in the concept of learning-as-semiosis, or meaning-making across nature/culture bifurcations. Here, quite distinct branches of research intersect with the American scientist-philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce's (1839 - 1914) pragmatic semiotics. I argue in these essays that the research pathway suggested by the convergence of edu- and bio-semiotics, reveals possibilities for developing a (non-reductive) theory of learning (and pedagogy generally) that puts meaning-making processes in a central light. A fully semiotic theory of learning implores us to take an ecological and biological view of educational processes. These processes explore the complementarity of organism-environment relations and the relationship between learning and biological adaptation. They also unravel new implications for education through the basic recognition that meaning is implicitly ecological. Understanding semiotic philosophy as an educational foundation allows us to take a broader and less dichotomized view of educational dynamics, such as: learning and teaching, curriculum design, arts and music education, inter/trans-disciplinary education, literacy (including environmental and digital literacy), as well as exploring the relationships and continuities between indigenous/place-based and formal pedagogical processes and practices. From this meaning-based and ecological perspective, what is important in the educational encounter is not psychologic explanations of learning stages, predetermined competencies, or top-down implemented learning-outcomes, but rather meaning and significance and how this changes through time-space and with others (not only human others) in a dynamic and changing environment. As addressed more directly in the conclusion chapter, these essays unravel the implications of this emerging approach to the philosophy of education, pedagogy and learning theory, specifically by providing conceptual/philosophical possibilities for integrating arts education, science education, and indigenous place-based knowledge into holistic educational approaches and programs.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: O'Neill, Susan
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