Mod 7 Week 1 Initial Post

Module 7 builds on Module 4 and continues the training in research methods. Arguably, this module is the single most critical one because of the expectation that successful doctoral candidates become independent researchers. Certainly, the module structure is different from any other (so far) in that all of the work–except of course for the essay assignments–are done inside what is laughably called ‘Learning Teams’. Because of this imposition, I cannot post all of my posts directly. Much of my work has been to gently critique the work of others. That, I cannot publish here.

In one key way this module is the lightest in that the actual readings are not as stringent as in earlier modules, neither are they as intellectually demanding. Yet this freedom allows the value of the module to shine through–the space to develop my own doctoral research plan. However, this development means that much of my postings have an iterative nature.

I have selected my topic. Epistemic cognition is hardly studied in Japan, and I am situated ideally either to develop a new instrument that reflects epistemic cognition in the Japanese context, or to modify a previous instrument and test its validity. The exact research question remains elusive. Week 1 asked students to present three examples of ‘good research’ and demonstrate an ability to critique and define goodness. All of my posts in this week and subsequently are papers that have some kind of relation to epistemic cognition.

Three studies

Epistemological Development

My research interest is in a field that is known variously as epistemological development (Ouellette-schramm, 2006; Richardson, 2013), personal epistemology (B.K. Hofer, 2001) and reflective judgement (King & Strohm Kitchener, 2004) among others. Although not mentioned explicitly in any of the three articles I selected, one of the key questions that underpins the field of epistemological development (ED) is taken from the related field of student development that asks about;

“the ways that a student grows, progresses, or increases his or her developmental capabilities as a result of enrolment in an institution of higher education” (Rodgers, 1990, cited in Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, & Renn, 2010, p. 6).

ED focusses on how students’ beliefs about the nature of how they know impacts on their learning (B. K. Hofer & Pintrich, 1997). The “somewhat reluctant theorist” William Perry’s work fifty years ago set the initial model and scope of investigation (Evans et al., 2010, p. 84). Perry (1970) realised that fourth-year Harvard students categorised their beliefs about knowledge in remarkably different ways from the first years. Furthermore, the same first years seemed to change their knowledge belief structures over the subsequent three-to-four years to converge on similar modes of belief. Perry (1970) set out a nine-position framework that categorised these beliefs, which can be simplified into three-stages: dualism, where knowledge is seen in stark terms, i.e. right and wrong; relativism, a set of positions that accept differences without prejudice; and commitment, where strong beliefs enfold based on rigorous systems of knowledge and belief regarding the veracity of knowledge types (Perry, 1970). Perry’s work was conducted with white, middle-class American males, a situation that prompted equivalent research in other demographics, notably King and Kitchener’s study (2004) of women’s ways of knowing.

A moment’s reflection will reveal that there are many deep issues in ED. Hofer (2000) distinguishes four key dimensions: the nature of knowledge, which includes certainty and simplicity of knowledge; and the nature or process of knowing, which comprises the source and justification of knowledge (p. 380). Are our beliefs about knowledge affected by the subject we study, or are they domain-general? Are certain types of knowledge inherently more stable than others? Are certain epistemologies abler to produce more justifiable knowledge? Does an advanced system of epistemological beliefs held by a student in one discipline enable that individual to engage at a higher cognitive level in a new (to them) discipline? Teasing apart student beliefs from the myriad sub-issues is a complex but fascinating study. The results allow educators to develop better, more ‘scientific’ instructional systems that may answer Slavin’s complaint about modern teaching;

“If Rip Van Winkle had been a physician, a farmer, or an engineer, he would be unemployable if he awoke today. If he had been a good elementary school teacher in the 19th century, he would probably be a good elementary school teacher today” (Slavin, 2002, cited in Yates, 2004, p. 23).

The Three Studies

1. Hofer, B. K. (2000). Dimensionality and disciplinary differences in personal epistemology.

This study fulfils two of Yate’s three themes in good research (Yates, 2004), exhibiting a rigorous level of technical control that is “tight and convincing” and making “a contribution to knowledge” (p. 16). However being hypothetico-deductive (Gray, 2004; Hammond & Wellington, 2013; Reid, Hart, & Peters, 2014), only the third of Yate’s (2004) claims is upheld. The classroom teacher will take little from this study directly, and there the very focus of the study ignores any attempt to exhibit “evidence-based learning” attributes (Biesta, 2010; Davies, 1999).

The value of this study to me is that it sets out a model of one type of excellent research. Hart (1998) describes the purpose of a literature review, arguing for a focus on ideational argumentation rather than a “he-said-she-said” style of reporting. Hofer outlines the main issues in ED, expertly describing them in relatively jargon-free prose while retaining a sense of the main players and their historical (to 2000) contribution to the field. Hofer’s literature review may well be a very good model for my own EdD thesis.

The next two studies exemplify an aspect of model building that I may need to contend with during the research question development stage. A complex topic such as ED contains many related sub-themes, and many apparently integrated concepts need to be prised apart, leading to new investigations into how the components of any construct interact. The result is a deeper, more complex model of ED.

2. Elby, A. (1999). Another reason that physics students learn by rote.

Elby separates epistemological beliefs and course-specific beliefs in a clear example of how to “tease apart” (p. s52) two potentially confounding variables in the larger construct of epistemological beliefs (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2011; Creswell, 2009). Without a precise separation of domain-general study beliefs from topic-specific beliefs, it would be unknown if students’ beliefs were due to the nature of the subject they are studying or due to the nature of how they thought about studying itself. Elby allows a keener inspection of this key aspect of epistemology theory, at once elucidating how the study fits into the wider body of knowledge and expanding upon it (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998).

The language style adopted by Elby falls closer to the colloquial side than much the jargon-filled psychological texts do. This makes the study readable, and as such, a model for how technical writing can still be readable. Again, as with Hofer’s study, Elby’s only fulfils Yates (2004) third claim for being scientifically based, i.e. on the traditional view of the scientific method.

3. Heiskanen, H. and Lonka, K. (2012). Are epistemological beliefs and motivational strategies related to study engagement in higher education?

Heiskanen and Lonka use a mixture of regression analysis, cluster analysis and analysis of variance (ANOVA) to investigate a more complex set of variables within a construct. ED studies are often found within the field of educational psychology, and this paper continues theories derived from that tradition (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998). Unlike Elby’s prising apart a single construct into two aspects, Heiskanen and Lonka test the relationship between both epistemological beliefs and motivational strategies on study engagement.

All three studies ultimately derive from Perry (1970) and fall within the established hypothetico-deductive methodology that attempts to model empirical data onto mathematical systems (Moses, J. & Knutsen, 2007). Perry’s original methodology was more akin to what became known later as the grounded study approach (Charmaz, 2006) as he conducted a series of interviews and modified his findings until his nine positions were established (Perry, 1970). Since the 1970s many survey type questionnaires were developed in order to avoid the lengthy processes of interviewing and to collect data more cost effectively (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998; Barbara K Hofer, 2000). Other methodologies for investigating ED may be possible, perhaps as a homage to Perry’s phenomenology. Furthermore, I am interested in approaching ED not from an educational psychological angle but from a sociological perspective because I suspect that the Japanese education system within which I work affects ED in ways that have not yet been fully investigated.



Bentz, V. M., & Shapiro, J. J. (1998). Mindful Inquiry in Social Research. Sage Publications. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Biesta, G. J. J. (2010). Why “What Works” Still Won’t Work: From Evidence-Based Education to Value-Based Education. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 29(5), 491–503.

Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. London: Sage.

Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2011). Research Methods in Education. Professional Development in Education (7th ed.). Abingdon: Routledge.

Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research Design Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Approaches (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.;2-C

Davies, P. (1999). What Is Evidence-Based Education ? British Journal of Educational Studies, 47(2), 108–121.

Elby, A. (1999). Another reason that physics students learn by rote. American Journal of Physics, 67(S1), S52.

Evans, N., Forney, D., Guido, F., Patton, L., & Renn, K. (2010). Student Development in College: Theory, Research, and Practice (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Gray, D. (2004). Doing research in the real world. London: Sage Publications.

Hammond, M., & Wellington, J. (2013). Research Methods. London and New York: Routledge.

Hart, C. (1998). Doing a literature review. London: Sage Publications.

Heiskanen, H., & Lonka, K. (2012). Are Epistemological Beliefs and Motivational Strategies Related to Study Engagement in Higher Education? Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 69(Iceepsy), 306–313.

Hofer, B. K. (2000). Dimensionality and Disciplinary Differences in Personal Epistemology. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(4), 378–405.

Hofer, B. K. (2001). Personal epistemology research: Implications for learning and teaching. Educational Psychology Review.

Hofer, B. K., & Pintrich, P. R. (1997). The Development of Epistemological Theories: Beliefs About Knowledge and Knowing and Their Relation to Learning. Review of Educational Research, 67(1), 88–140.

King, P. M., & Strohm Kitchener, K. (2004). Reflective Judgement: Theory and Research on the Development of Epistemic Assumptions Through Adulthood. Educational Psychologist, 39(1), 5–18.

Moses, J. & Knutsen, T. (2007). A constructivist philosophy of science. In Ways of knowing: Competing methodologies in social and political research (pp. 165–196).

Ouellette-schramm, J. (2006). Epistemological development and depth in critical thinking. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 55(1), 114–134.

Perry, W. G. (1970). Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Reid, A. D., Hart, E. P., & Peters, M. A. (2014). Introduction to Research in Education. (A. D. Reid, E. P. Hart, & M. A. Peters, Eds.). Dordrecht: Springer.

Richardson, J. T. E. (2013). Epistemological development in higher education. Educational Research Review, 9, 191–206.

Yates, L. (2004). What does Good Educational Research look like: Situating a field and its practices. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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1 Response to Mod 7 Week 1 Initial Post

  1. e4eng says:

    Very interesting Jim.


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