From a social semiotic perspective, image designs in science textbooks are inevitably influenced by the sociocultural context in which the books are produced. The learning environments of Australia and Taiwan vary greatly. Drawing on social semiotics and cognitive science, this study compares classificational images in Australian and Taiwanese junior high school science textbooks. Classificational images are important kinds of images, which can represent taxonomic relations among objects as reported by Kress and van Leeuwen (Reading images: the grammar of visual design, 2006). An analysis of the images from sample chapters in Australian and Taiwanese high school science textbooks showed that the majority of the Taiwanese images are covert taxonomies, which represent hierarchical relations implicitly. In contrast, Australian classificational images included diversified designs, but particularly types with a tree structure which depicted overt taxonomies, explicitly representing hierarchical super-ordinate and subordinate relations. Many of the Taiwanese images are reminiscent of the specimen images in eighteenth century science texts representing “what truly is”, while more Australian images emphasize structural objectivity. Moreover, Australian images support cognitive functions which facilitate reading comprehension. The relationships between image designs and learning environments are discussed and implications for textbook research and design are addressed.
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