SAMMENDRAG AV MASTEROPPGAVEN I PEDAGOGIKK
TITTEL:PERSONAL EPISTEMOLOGY: an empirical investigation of the relationship between epistemology and gender, topic knowledge and topic interestAV:Leila Eve FERGUSON
EKSAMEN:Masteroppgave i pedagogisk-psykologisk rådgivning SEMESTER: Høst 2007
STIKKORD:Personal EpistemologyGenderTopic InterestTopic Knowledge
The concept of personal epistemology refers to beliefs about knowledge and knowing. Psychological research into the topic of personal epistemology has its roots in cognitive developmental psychology, where research started in the 1950’s. The first major contribution to the field by educational-psychologists was by Schommer, in 1990. Since then researchers have linked personal epistemology to areas of education and learning including motivation, self-regulated learning, self-perception, meta-cognition and comprehension (Muis, 2007; Kuhn, 1999; Schommer, 1990). It is now generally accepted that personal epistemology consists of four dimensions that relate to source of knowledge, simplicity of knowledge, certainty of knowledge and justification for knowing. Each dimension is made up of a continuum of beliefs about knowledge that relate to relative sophistication or naivety. Research suggests that epistemological beliefs can be specifically related to domains of knowledge and to specific topics (Bråten et al, 2007; Hofer & Pintrich, 1997; Schommer, 1990).
Problem and methodology
Some of the main areas of research in personal epistemology thus far have included identifying developmental patterns (Baxter Magolda, 1986; Perry, 1970); the specificity of epistemological beliefs (Bråten et al, 2007; Buehl & Alexander, 2001); and possible predictors of epistemological beliefs (Muis, 2007; Mason, 2006). This dissertation investigates possible relations between the three variables of gender, topic interest and topic knowledge and dimensions of personal epistemology. The variables are chosen on the basis of previous research from the fields of epistemology, learning and motivation. The specific hypotheses concern a relation between gender and certainty of knowledge; and topic knowledge and topic interest in relation to justification for knowing. The first of these hypotheses is that females are more likely to view knowledge as tentative and evolving and males are more likely to view knowledge as fixed and certain. The second states that students that have high scores on topic interest and topic knowledge will be more likely to have sophisticated beliefs about justification for knowing.
Data for the investigation is gathered from a group of law students at the University of Oslo, in connection with the project Learning in a Knowledge Society: Constructing Meaning from Multiple Information Sources. A topic-specific epistemological questionnaire is used to find out about the sample group’s views on epistemology in relation to the topic of climate change. Use of a topic-specific measure may help to obtain a more accurate approximation of epistemology, by reducing other issues that may be included in a domain-general measure. Questionnaires are also used to gather other information about the group, including gender, topic interest and topic knowledge. Correlation analyses and multiple regression analyses are employed to investigate relations between the variables and the possibility that the chosen variables act as predictors for certainty of knowledge and justification for knowing.
Results and Conclusions
The results from the empirical analyses do not support the first hypothesis appertaining to a relationship between gender and certainty of knowledge. Although the results are not significant, the correlation suggests that given a larger sample group, the relation between gender and certainty of knowledge may have been the opposite of that I proposed, which means that the females in the sample group saw knowledge as more certain. The second hypothesis is supported by the presence of significant correlations between topic interest, topic knowledge and justification for knowing. The three variables gender, topic knowledge and topic interest account for seventeen percent of the variance in the sample group’s scores. This supports my hypothesis that individuals that are interested in a topic will also try to find out more about that topic, thus increasing their knowledge about it. Moreover, individuals with high topic knowledge and high topic interest are inclined to investigate the topic more fully and evaluate different knowledge sources in order to create their own idea of knowledge about the topic.
Results from the sample group also revealed relatively sophisticated views about knowledge on climate change in comparison to results based on another group of students. On the basis of results from the study and considerations based on other research, suggestions are made regarding the typicality of law students’ beliefs about knowledge, specifically regarding gender-typical views. Given the relative sophistication of the law students’ views, and assuming that their views on knowledge related to other topics are similarly sophisticated; I suggest that the principles of beliefs about knowledge that are communicated to students through the study of law may be used as a model for other subjects. Modifications will be necessary in light of the benefits that are shown to be gained by matching epistemological views to the epistemological make-up of a subject. Teaching students more sophisticated ways of viewing knowledge and knowing is particularly desirable in light of research suggesting links between sophisticated epistemological beliefs and self-regulated learning, critical thinking and motivation. It also seems that instruction in epistemology may affect these elements of learning, and vice versa (Muis, 2007; Kuhn, 1999). An amalgamation of recent research on links between epistemology and other aspects of learning with research on the specificity of personal epistemology may eventually lead to possibilities for the development of topic-specific models of motivation and self-regulated learning that incorporate epistemological beliefs.