Stockholms universitet

John AireyProfessor

Om mig

I am Professor of University Science Education at the Department of Teaching and Learning.

I am also a Reader (docent) in Physics Education Research at the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Uppsala University, Sweden. 

My main research interests focus on the relationship between disciplinary knowledge and its representation. Here I am particularly interested in the use of language and other semiotic resources in the teaching and learning of university physics.

Over the years I have had a number of major projects funded by the Swedish Research Council. At present, I lead a four-year research project that examines how undergraduate students come to understand science phenomena that they cannot see. The project focuses on the representations used in two such areas in physics and chemistry--electromagnetic fields and chemical bonding.

I have supervised several PhD students to completion over the years and I am currently the main supervisor for a paired PhD student in University Astronomy Education in Stockholm and another in University Physics Education Research in Uppsala.

My teaching consists of courses for university science lecturers and PhD supervisors.


I urval från Stockholms universitets publikationsdatabas

  • A Fragmented Training Environment

    2020. Johanna Larsson (et al.). Research in science education 50 (6), 2559-2585


    This article reports the results of an empirical study exploring the discourses of physics teacher educators. We ask how the expressed understandings of a physics teacher education programme in the talk of teacher educators potentially support the identity construction of new teachers. Nine teacher educators from different sections of a physics teacher programme in Sweden were interviewed. The concept of discourse models was used to operationalise how the discourses of the teacher education programme potentially enable the performance of different physics teacher identities. The analysis resulted in the construction of four discourse models that could be seen to be both enabling and limiting the kinds of identity performances trainee physics teachers can enact. Knowledge of the models thus potentially empowers trainee physics teachers to understand the different goals of their educational programme and from there make informed choices about their own particular approach to becoming a professional physics teacher. We also suggest that for teacher educators, knowledge of the discourse models could facilitate making conscious, informed decisions about their own teaching practice.

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  • Learning to use Cartesian coordinate systems to solve physics problems

    2020. Trevor S. Volkwyn (et al.). European journal of physics 41 (4)


    In this paper, we show that introductory physics students may initially conceptualise Cartesian coordinate systems as being fixed in a standard orientation. Giving consideration to the role that experiences of variation play in learning, we also present an example of how this learning challenge can be effectively addressed. Using a fine-grained analytical description, we show how students can quickly come to appreciate coordinate system movability. This was done by engaging students in a conceptual learning task that involved them working with a movable magnetometer with a printed-on set of coordinate axes to determine the direction of a constant field (Earth's magnetic field).

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  • Developing Students’ Disciplinary Literacy? The Case of University Physics

    2018. John Airey, Johanna Larsson. Global Developments in Literacy Research for Science Education, 357-376


    In this chapter we use the concept of disciplinary literacy (Airey, 2011a, 2013) to analyze the goals of university physics lecturers. Disciplinary literacy refers to a particular mix of disciplinary-specific communicative practices developed for three specific sites: the academy, the workplace and society. It has been suggested that the development of disciplinary literacy may be seen as one of the primary goals of university studies (Airey, 2011a).

    The main data set used in this chapter comes from a comparative study of physics lecturers in Sweden and South Africa (Airey, 2012, 2013; Linder, Airey, Mayaba, & Webb, 2014). Semi-structured interviews were carried out using a disciplinary literacy discussion matrix (Airey, 2011b), which enabled us to probe the lecturers’ disciplinary literacy goals in the various semiotic resource systems used in undergraduate physics (i.e. graphs, diagrams, mathematics, language).

    The findings suggest that whilst physics lecturers have strikingly similar disciplinary literacy goals for their students, regardless of setting, they have very different ideas about whether they themselves should teach students to handle these disciplinary-specific semiotic resources. It is suggested that the similarity in physics lecturers’ disciplinary literacy goals across highly disparate settings may be related to the hierarchical, singular nature of the discipline of physics (Bernstein, 1999, 2000).

    In the final section of the chapter some preliminary evidence about the disciplinary literacy goals of those involved in physics teacher training is presented. Using Bernstein’s constructs, a potential conflict between the hierarchical singular of physics and the horizontal region of teacher training is noticeable.

    Going forward it would be interesting to apply the concept of disciplinary literacy to the analysis of other disciplines—particularly those with different combinations of Bernstein’s classifications of hierarchical/horizontal and singular/region.

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  • Social Semiotics in University Physics Education

    2017. John Airey, Cedric Linder. Multiple Representations in Physics Education, 95-122


    In this chapter we discuss the application of social semiotics to the teaching and learning of university physics. Social semiotics is a broad construct where all communication in a particular social group is realized through the use of semiotic resources. In the discipline of physics, examples of such semiotic resources are graphs, diagrams, mathematics, spoken and written language, and laboratory apparatus. In physics education research it is usual to refer to most of these semiotic resources as representations. In social semiotics, then, disciplinary learning can be viewed as coming to interpret and use the meaning potential of disciplinary-specific semiotic resources (representations) that has been assigned by the discipline. We use this complementary depiction of representations to build theory with respect to the construction and sharing of disciplinary knowledge in the teaching and learning of university physics. To facilitate both scholarly discussion and future research in the area, a number of theoretical constructs have been developed. These constructs take their point of departure in empirical studies of teaching and learning in undergraduate physics. In the chapter we present each of these constructs in turn and examine their usefulness for problematizing teaching and learning with multiple representations in university physics.

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  • The expansion of English-medium instruction in the Nordic countries

    2017. John Airey (et al.). Higher Education 73 (4), 561-576


    Recently, in the wake of the Bologna Declaration and similar international initiatives, there has been a rapid increase in the number of university courses and programmes taught through the medium of English. Surveys have consistently shown the Nordic countries to be at the forefront of this trend towards English-medium instruction (EMI). In this paper, we discuss the introduction of EMI in four Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden). We present the educational setting and the EMI debate in each of these countries and summarize relevant research findings. We then make some tentative suggestions for the introduction of EMI in higher education in other countries. In particular, we are interested in university language policies and their relevance for the day-to-day work of faculty. We problematize one-size-fits-all university language policies, suggesting that in order for policies to be seen as relevant they need to be flexible enough to take into account disciplinary differences. In this respect, we make some specific suggestions about the content of university language policies and EMI course syllabuses. Here we recommend that university language policies should encourage the discussion of disciplinary literacy goals and require course syllabuses to detail disciplinaryspecific language-learning outcomes.

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