Focus On Explaining Developmental Stages In Epistemological Education Essay

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The article which I am going to review is ' EPISTEMOLOGICAL BELIEFS ACROSS DOMAINS USING BIGLAN'S CLASSIFICATION OF ACADEMIC DISCIPLINES' by Schommer-Aikins, Duell and Barker (2003) is formed on the system of beliefs approach to epistemological belief's. I will firstly discuss briefly the approaches to studying epistemological beliefs; secondly I will review and evaluate the research. I will finally conclude with future research suggestions.

There are 3 main [1] approaches to the study of the nature of epistemological beliefs Developmental, The System of Beliefs and the Epistemological Resource approaches researchers of each approach work independently and there is not much consensus between them. Research findings propose various and interesting questions and implications that could make vast changes to the educational system. However the domain specificity/generality debate plagues the research area of epistemological beliefs and the potential positive applications that the research could have to educational settings are seemly being wasted on the aforementioned debate. Developmentlist ( Kuhn et al., 2000;King and Kitchener 1994,2002,2004 and Baxter and Magolda 1992,2001,2002,2004) focus on explaining developmental stages in epistemological thinking and the epistemological belief's that are underlying these. They are not concerned with identifying domains [2] in which epistemological belief's vary they are however concerned with the reasoning and qualitative changes that occur at each stage. The System of Beliefs approach (Schommer-Aikins 2004 and Alexender & Murphy 2002) emphasise the features, nature and structure of epistemological beliefs. The Epistemological Resources approach (Hofer and Pintrich 1997, 200, 2001, 2002 and Elby &Hammer 2002) put forward that epistemological beliefs are domain and context dependent and there is not much consistency in an individual's belief's across domains. As people age and expand their knowledge and experience with learning their epistemological resources become richer this leads to enhanced articulation, individuals then become experts in their beliefs and thus their epistemological belief's become more consent.

Dweck and Leggett (1988) reported from their research with children that children who avoided challenge and showed impairment in learning in the face of difficultly are initially equal in ability to those who seek challenge and show persistence in their academic attainment. Dweck and Leggett (1988) further explain that they were left with the fascinating question of why these individuals of equal ability showed vast differences in response to challenge "in the domain of intellectual achievement". Two goal classes were identified "performance goals" in which individuals were concerned with gaining favourable judgements of their competence and "learning goals" in which individuals were concerned with increasing their competence academically. Dweck and Leggett (1988) describe two major patterns of behaviour to explain the aforementioned different goal orientations. The maladaptive "helpless" response is affiliated with the performance goal mindset, characterised by avoidance of challenge and deterioration in academic performance in the face of obstacles. These individuals believe that intelligence is fixed from birth. The adaptive "mastery- oriented" response that is allied with the "learning goals" mindset, in contrast involves the seeking of challenging tasks and maintenance of effective striving under failure these individuals believe that intelligence is changeable and can be increased with practice and are motivated to participate in self regulated learning strategies. Dweck and Leggett (1988) concluded from their research that the individuals "implicit theories" about how academic knowledge is obtained whether it is innate from birth (performance goals) or acquired from practice (learning goals) can impact their academic performance. So we can see that what is now known as students' individual epistemological beliefs can have influences on their study strategies The importance of Dweck and Leggett (1988) work is that it implied that children who believe in learning goals would practice in order to achieve in an academic discipline. One can construe from Dweck and Leggett (1988) findings that some children from a young age hold the epistemological belief that the acquisition of knowledge in regards to a domain comes with practice and there are different knowledge from different domains. Consequently some children epistemological belief's are domain specific and will adapt their study skills to individual domains in order to meet the requirements of the domain. My opinion is substantiated by the following quotation "Children with a strong belief in incremental ability will display mastery behaviour. They will typically vary their approach to the task and persist until a solution is reached".....page number etc... Research by Schommer, Calvert, Gariglietti and Bajaj (1997) (a continuance of Schommer's (1993) earlier work) showed that Dweck and Leggett (1988) were accurate in their conclusions from their research. 69 high school students were administered questionnaires over a four year period. Using a repeated measure analyses it is found that participant's beliefs in fixed ability to learn, simple knowledge and quick learning and certain knowledge changed as they neared the end of their 4th year at high school. Students who did not believed in quick learning and believed learning is a process that gets better with practice, the better grade point average they earned.

Schommer-Aikins et al., 2003 study was a response to Paulsen and Wells (1998) research which was a response to Schommer and Walkers (1995) research that concluded that epistemological beliefs were domain general. Paulsen and Wells (1998) administered a questionnaire to 290 students who studied different academic disciplines students epistemological beliefs were evaluated using Biglans (1973) classification system, which was created from his research. In which he asked 200 faculty members from two universities to sort 36 academic disciplines into categories bases on similarities between areas -the following table was produced from this research.

Dimension I

Dimension II Hard Soft

Pure Mathematics' Sociology

Botany History

Geology Psychology

Applied Mechanical Engineering Finance

Agricultural Economics Special Education

Civil Engineering Economics

Whereas Schommer and Walkers (1995) work was a within subject design, Paulsen and Wells (1998) was a between subject design from their results they suggested that what Schommer and Walker deemed as showing domain generality of epistemological belief's across academic domains could actually be the participants perceived similarities between these domains. Paulsen and Feldman (1998) also commented that students who believe that knowledge should be organised into bits and pieces have difficulty understanding complex text such as journal articles; and that Students with these beliefs have been found to be less motivated and less likely to engage in self regulated learning and study strategies.

Schommer-Atkins, Duell and Barker (2003) rationale for their study was to observe epistemological beliefs across diverse academic domains. The importance of this avenue of research has been evidence by the aforementioned studies firstly Dweck and Leggett 1988 early research linked epistemological beliefs to educational performance. Paulsen and Feldman 1998 offered an explanation that an individual could perceive academic disciplines being similar such as Maths which has only one solution to many of its questions being the same as Sociology which has many and uncertain answers too many of the question it poses. If an individual believed the latter that the two disciplines were the same this could lead to them failing in assessment. Taking the above into account it is my view that the authors' rationale for their study was valid.

152 participants from a Midwestern USA University of 15,000 students 91 were female and 61 male, students were from a Varity of academic disciplines [3] . Students were administered a domain specific questionnaire that was derived from Schommer Walkers study (1995) which used a domain general construct [4] Student's epistemological beliefs were tested in the domains of Maths, Social sciences and Business. Students were told to keep an academic domain in mind [5] .Schommer-Aikins et al., 2003 results for their test question are epistemological belief's domain general are twofold. On one hand the results indicate that epistemological belief's about different academic beliefs are domain general but on the other hand the results suggest that to some degree epistemological beliefs are domain specific. The determining factor which answers the aforementioned test question seems to be the amount of exposure the participant had to a particular academic domain [6] . If an individual had high or low exposure to two academic domains then they displayed a moderate to moderately strong domain generality; although if they had low exposure to one domain and high to another academic domain or vice versa the correlations suggested a degree of domain specificity.

Schommer-Aikins et al., 2003 undertook the follow measures to ensure the internal validity of their results. Firstly the researchers held a pilot study to test the proposed research design which lead to them making adjustments to the methodology employed in the main study. Secondly to certify the participant's attentiveness the researchers added two questions to the questionnaire which asked the students to leave two items on the questionnaire blank. Thirdly the results from a control group whom the researchers' tested twice about the domain of social science suggested the control group members had a constant epistemological belief about social science as their answers reflected this on both the questionnaires they completed. Also these control group results indicated participants were able to keep a specific domain in mind when answering the questionnaire. Schommer-Aikins et al., 2003 report 'some correlations between academic domains were as low as .11 and .38' these results 'suggest that participants were able to keep different domains in mind while completing the questionnaires' (p.356).

Schommer-Aikins et al., 2003 attempted to counterbalance the order in which the questionnaires were completed by using a memory distracter task such as puzzles between questionnaires. Overall the above measures in my viewpoint were a good way to try to ascertain internal validity. Schommer-Aikins et al., 2003 also tried to limit the effects of selection bias by offering an incentive of a $100 for the students to participant. However I deem that 152 out of a possible 15000 students to be too low a number to make inferences to make changes in the education system just from this study. In the researchers defence they did distribute 365 questionnaires only 152 were returned (the authors' note in their discussion 'ideally, the sample size would be larger' (p.363). Students however were allowed to complete the questionnaires at home for instance because of this lack of experimental conditions scientific theories cannot be formed on the strength of this research. I deem this to be a bit neglectful on the researchers part in practically Schommer-Aikins as she has undertaken a lot of research into this field of epistemological belief's and I feel that she should have made sure this basic variable should have been accounted for as to ensure this studies wider application. To substantiate my latter comment the researchers reported they had to enter dummy values for 18 participants majors and 9 participants age's this would not have been the case under experimental conditions as the researchers would have been present and would have been able to ensure the booklets were completed in entirety. The inclusion of the memory distracter in the questionnaires cannot be seen as a valid method to counter balance order of effects as the participants may not have completed them. The researchers in their discussion note that they would administer the questionnaires under more controlled conditions and that they would use a 'random stratified sampling technique' p......to make the results more valid. Also the usage of questionnaires in general is questionable as Limon 2006 points out items on the questionnaire may not be measuring what the researchers what them to measure. Hofer (2004) further explains that self report methods may actually only be measuring a student's professed epistemological belief and not their enacted one. Limon (2006) suggests that one way to counteract this problem is to carry out longitudinal research using observational methods. However it is my viewpoint that the use of questionnaires shouldn't be undermined as it was productive in indicating that epistemological belief's can vary from one academic domain to the next. Also Biglans classification system should be updated for it is over 35 years old and for instance faculty members may now view disciplines such as Psychology as being a hard applied discipline for instance.

Moreover I don't understand why the researchers concluded the following "academic experience notwithstanding, the results of this study support the idea that epistemological belief's of college undergraduates are domain general" Schommer-Aikins et al., 2003, p.360. When the current research also showed that they can be domain specific also. One possible reason for this could be for further funding to be obtained in order for more research into the somewhat circular domain/specific debate; as aforementioned Schommer has dedicated a lot of her life to this research but seems to want to carry on the debate of the domain general/specific which seems to be resolved. In so far in my mentality as a student it is clear to me from my personal studies that epistemological belief's can be domain general and domain specific depending on the context and it baffles me that researchers who are more learned still debate this. I don't understand that the researchers concluded this because of they acknowledge Paulsen and Wells (1998) argument that was founded on Schommers (1995) work which galvanised the current study Schommer-Aikins et al., 2003 used the same between subject design as used in Paulsen and Wells 1998 study and found similar results to Paulsen and Wells 1998, So we can see the argument seems to be circular and based on omission of research findings by Schommer-Aikins et al., 2003.

The authors defend this by stating the area of their results that highlighted that epistemological belief's for some students can be domain specific are preliminary and that more research needs to be done on this aspect. Conversely I don't see how the researchers can quote these results as preliminary as various research studies have found that epistemological belief's can be domain specific. Muis, Bendixen & Haerle (2006) agree with my viewpoint; after reviewing 19 empirical studies Muis, Bendixen & Haerle put forward that there is sufficient evidence to 'propose that beliefs are both domain general and domain specific'. So I don't see why Schommer-Aikins, Duell and barker 2003 can state these findings as being in its infancy; one explanation for them doing so seems to be wanting to continue a academic argument that has been going on for some time the authors' reference a critic who said that they use of 'moderate domain generality' is too vague for the academic community. Schommer-Aikins et al., 2003 (p.362). One can construe that this whole paper is to further the research agenda which seems to be to carry on this domain/generality debate as I can't find no other legitimate explanation for the researchers comment that the section of their results that show epistemological belief's as being domain specific preliminary. It is my view that time has come to stop arguing on this point and focus on the implications of the domain/general nature of epistemological belief's to education which is far more compelling and productive to the discipline than having academic wars in research papers.

Limon (2006) states that the debate of the answer to the question 'are epistemological belief's domain general or to the contrary, are they domain specific' (p.8) has seemed to have generated research that lacks in fruitfulness and adequacy. Limon (2006) further notes that this argument has been going on for too long and that many researchers such as ( Wellman and Gelman 1992, Ceci 1989 and Alexander 1992) have questioned the 'relevance' of the aforesaid question. In addition Limon 2006 declares that 'In the case of epistemological beliefs within a domain there will be both domain general and domain-specific aspects thus 'some epistemological beliefs will be domain-general and some of them will be 'domain specific' ...page

To sum as mentioned in my introduction the system of beliefs approach is centred on the nature and characteristics of epistemological beliefs. This current study comes from the latter stance and this is why the researchers place more emphasis on the characteristics of epistemological beliefs thus omitting the thinking skills (Developmentlist perspective) that are used to form these beliefs. It's only logical in my mind as an undergraduate student to deduce that an individual needs to think in order to form a belief and vice versa. Limon 2006 p, 17 agrees with this by remarking 'It seems to be clear that epistemological belief's and the skills needed for reaching every stage of the models are closely related'. So we can see that the 3 approaches need to be integrated in order to get a clear picture of how-epistemological belief's are formed (developmental perspective), the nature of epistemological beliefs (system of belief perspective) and how they epistemological belief's change over the life span (epistemological resources perspective). It would be negligent to say that each of the 3 approaches do not have individual merit but more consensus between the researchers of these 3 approaches would lead to a clearer depiction and thus explanation of epistemological beliefs are formed. For instance Developmentlist should become concerned about the different domains and how epistemological beliefs vary between them. The other 2 approaches should also no longer omit evidence from other approaches instead they should acknowledge and include them in their research endeavours. Hofer 2006 agrees with this viewpoint by stating 'I recommend more collaborative work in the years ahead so that we might forge a shared theoretical understating and cooperative testing of models.

So we can see whatever Schommer-Aikins, Duell and barker 2003 research limitations it showed that some students do have 'moderate domain general beliefs' which can be problematic especially for dual honour students for instance if a student study mathematics and sociology they may apply the same study strategies to both domains that could lead to failure in none or both domains. However the authors found in their ancillary analysis that some student's epistemological beliefs were domain specific and this was dependent on the amount of exposure they had to a particular domain. Dwect and Legget 1988 earlier research showed that an individual's belief system about how knowledge is obtained has an impact on academic performance and that some children would vary their study approach to the task at hand. Consequently they would hold different (domain specific) epistemological beliefs from one academic domain to the next. The implications of Compelling findings such as those noted above should be the focus of future epistemological belief research instead of the over emphasis on the domain/specific debate. Schommer-Aikins, Duell and barker 2003 agree with this and state that the future research question should be 'what is the breadth of applicability of epistemological belief's'. I agree with this comment as a student myself I feel that the scope of epistemological research has vast benefits to educational institutions and professionals as it gives insight into have students learn acquire and best retain information in order to help improve students' learning, exam and other accreditation performance. The implications of future research findings that tackle the above question could help educational professionals' organised curriculums and modules in such a way to aid student's knowledge acquisition and retention in their respective academic disciplines. Another implication for epistemological research can be for compulsory tests to be administer throughout the educational process ( primary, secondary , further and higher education) to assess student's epistemological beliefs in relation to learning these test can be indicative of how each individual learns and point out which individuals may need extra academic support. Also basic facts on how an educational endeavour should be pursued should be made clear at a start of a course by teachers and lecturers. For instance undergraduates should be explicitly made aware they are reading for their degree. Also as indicated from Paulsen and Wells (1998) research educators should explain the concepts' of their domain and the differences between their academic domain and others especially in the case of dual honour students change such as this could lead to lower dropout rates across the education system. So I agree entirely with statement Schommer-Aikins et, al, 2003 p. That "Although much remains to be discovered about epistemological beliefs, it is clear that they are playing a crucial role in the educational processes".

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