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Readings on epistemological framing

October 13, 2012

Another handful of papers I read trying to get a handle on my IRISE video. These articles are more aligned with my current thoughts on the video than the previous batch of papers dealing with ontology.

Scherr & Hammer (2009), Student behavior and epistemological framing: Examples from collaborative active-learning activities in physics, Cogn. & Instr. 27, 147.

This paper looks at video of students working in groups in a recitation section. They identify various visual markers associated with four different epistemological frames: worksheet frame, discussion frame,  TA frame & joking frame. The activities, interactions, and types of knowledge students draw on differs from frame to frame and Scherr & Hammer show that aural & visual cues such as line of sight, posture, volume, tone, and pattern of speech and type of gestures can be used to help an instructor determine how a group is framing their activity from moment to moment. A nice intro to the idea of epistemological framing and it lays the groundwork for a more fine-grained analysis of the discussion frame. This is where my current interest lies – within a discussion frame, when and how do students move between co-constructing knowledge, one person explaining their idea, checking an idea that they group tentatively agrees on, etc.


Colin, Gupta, Scherr, & Hammer (2007), The dynamics of students’ behaviors and reasoning during collaborative physics tutorial sessions, PERC Proceedings.

This paper takes a closer look at the discussion frame to identify instances of mechanistic reasoning. They analyze video using a coding scheme that identifies seven elements of a hierarchy of mechanistic reasoning: describing target phenomenon, identifying setup conditions, identifying entities, identifying actions, identifying properties of entities, identifying the organization of entities, and chaining. The authors focus primarily on instances of chaining as the other elements can arise in a variety of discussion modes beyond just mechanistic reasoning. Analyzing an extended ~20 minute interaction the authors find that there is generally a sequence of chaining moves with trigger a transition from the worksheet frame to the discussion frame. Students then persist in the discussion frame until a satisfactory explanation/model is developed, at which point the transition back to the worksheet frame. They also find instances of the discussion mode being exited due to one group member stating an epistemic stance that is inconsistent with the discussion mode (ex. “I don’t try to argue with the laws of physics, I just trust that they work.” This statement is inconsistent with a sense-making discussion and thus triggers a transition back into the worksheet mode.) I should take a look at the last two references in this article. They look to be relevant to my question of when does a group take up and when does a group wave off a question by one of the group members.


Bing & Redish (2009), Analyzing problem solving using math in physics: Epistemological framing using warrants, PRST-PER 5, 020108.

Bing & Redish look for students’ warrants – their (often implicit) reasons for drawing a conclusion – as evidence of their epistemological framing. They use warrants to help determine whether students are framing their current task as a calculation, a physical mapping between math and their model of the physical world, a deferral to authority, or making a connection between different mathematical ideas. Each frame has its own implicit warrant (algorithms are reliable, mathematical results should match physical observations, sources of authority are reliable, mathematics is internally consistent). The authors use warrants to identify students’ frames and give examples of productive student discussions due to shared framing and unproductive student discussions due to conflicting frames.

Besides offering a useful tool for identifying students’ frames, this article also has a nice summary of the resources framework and several general references on the topics of framing and epistemology. There are also some references to argumentation theory and discourse analysis that could be useful to read at a later time.


Tuminaro & Redish (2007), Elements of a cognitive model of physics problem solving: Epistemic games, PRST-PER 3, 020101.

T&R use the idea of epistemic games – locally coherent, goal-oriented activities – to understand students’ behavior as they work on various problems. The type of game students play influences the cognitive resources they draw on, the tools they use, and the tasks they carry out. Any epistemic game involves two ontological components: a knowledge base and an epistemic form (target structure, something external to an individual). An e-game as has a structure consisting of starting conditions, allowed moves, and ending conditions. T&R identify the following e-games: mapping meaning to math, mapping math to meaning, physical mechanism, pictorial analysis, recursive plug-and-chug, and transliteration to math (using a worked-example to solve new problem based only on math structure, not conceptual understanding). For each game T&R identify the ontological components and the structure of the game.

Epistemic games seem to be a way to delve deeper into the idea of epistemic framing. How a student frames her activity will influence what resources she draws on, the activities she engages in, and what she considers success or the goal. E-games offer a more detailed discussion of these aspects. Most interesting to me at the moment is the idea that different games have different ending conditions. In other words, “success” is defined differently for different games. Also of interest is the moves that cause students to switch e-games. There are a lot of ideas in this paper and I’ll need to read it a few more times to really let things sink in. This paper draws heavily on Tuminaro’s dissertation which I will also try to read at some point.


From → Epistemology, Framing

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