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A personal epistemology

September 9, 2012

On the form of a personal epistemology, D. Hammer and A. Elby, in Personal Epistemology: Beliefs about Knowledge and Knowing (2002).

Epistemology can be thought of as a type of informal knowledge that can affect a student’s knowledge, reasoning, and participation. Thinking about epistemology provides a lens through which to interpret a student’s actions and to assess their needs. This article argues in favor of a resources view of epistemology rather than the traditional unitary view of epistemology. The resources view argues that student epistemologies are not large-scale, unitary beliefs that are stable across contexts but are instead built from small-scale elements that are combined to form different context-dependent epistemologies.

A researcher’s view of epistemology will influence how he attempts to study epistemologies. The common practice of having students respond to questionnaires or interviews outside of class and often outside of the learning context assumes that students’ epistemologies are relatively stable and context independent. Depending on the type of questions asks these methodologies might also be assuming that students are consciously aware of their epistemologies and are able to articulate them. Page 12 lists several references for different methodologies that the authors feel are suited for a resources view of epistemology.

Pages 3-5 list some references for models of how epistemologies develop and several studies of epistemology – some that show context sensitivity and some that do not.

Epistemological Resources

(Authors reference Collins and Ferguson papers on forms and games several times.) By considering the behaviors of small children and looking for resources that could be considered ‘common sense’ the authors propose four categories of epistemological resources:

  • Resources for understanding the nature and sources of knowledge (How do you know…?)
    • Knowledge as propagated stuff (Mommy told me.)
    • Knowledge as free creation (I made it up.)
    • Knowledge as fabricated stuff (I figured it out.)
    • Knowledge as direct perception (I saw it.)
    • Knowledge as inherent (I just do.)
  • Resources for understanding epistemological activities (What are you doing?)
    • Accumulation (I’ll go find out.)
    • Formation (creating or devising something)
    • Checking (Go check that you put your book away)
    • Application (singing a song or enforcing a rule)
    • Other examples in Collins and Ferguson
    • These are NOT activities themselves, they are resources for understanding how these activities work, what it is that you are doing when you engage in these activities.
  • Resources for understanding epistemological forms (What are …?)
    • Stories
      • Writing a story requires not just idea of knowledge as free creation and an understanding of the activity of creating or formation but also an understanding of what a story is.
    • Rules and Rule systems
    • Other examples in Collins and Ferguson
  • Resources for understanding epistemological stances (towards an epistemological form)
    • Belief or disbelief
    • Doubting
    • Making sense, understanding, puzzlement, acceptance
    • These resources are how you understand your state of ‘being’ towards various ideas or constructs.

Like knowledge in pieces (KIP), the idea is that a learner would invoke multiple epistemological resources simultaneously to construct his or her epistemological belief in a given context. For example, the view that knowledge is received from authority may be constructed from the ‘propagated stuff’ and ‘accumulation’ resources. The epistemological resources are not themselves beliefs. They are inarticulate, unstable, and activate and deactivate below a person’s conscious awareness. Similar to KIP, a stable epistemological belief is considered a pattern of activation of different resources that is systematic and reproducible across multiple contexts.

The authors argue that context must be considered when attempting to define ‘desirable’ epistemological beliefs. The idea that knowledge is tentative may be desirable when thinking about current scientific knowledge but not so desirable when thinking about whether or not the earth is flat.

I’m interested in students’ epistemologies in the context of computer simulations. In the context of this framework, I would say that the simulation itself represents some sort of epistemological form (or combination of forms) for the student. As the student uses the simulation, she interprets her activity in terms of her resources for understanding epistemological activities. While using the simulation, the student may experience various epistemological stances. (Could she experience acceptance but interpret this as understanding?) Will the simulation cue the knowledge as propagated, as fabricated, or as perception resource most strongly?


From → Epistemology

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