Authors: Theo Niessen, Tineke Abma, Guy Widdershoven, and Cees van der Vleuten, Sanne Akkerman
ABSTRACT. In this article the authors challenge contemporary epistemological research within educational settings. After a reconciliation of the current models which treat epistemological beliefs as static and mechanical, the authors present a teaching experience to illustrate their enactivist view that epistemological beliefs should be conceptualized as fluid and dynamic constructs, emerging in web-like configurations. Answers to epistemological questions unfold within the interstices and mutual interactions between people and their environment. Boundaries between student–teacher, individual–community, cognition–bodily experience are becoming blurred. From this enactivist perspective the researcher’s role changes considerably. Instead of determining teachers’ personal traits and epistemological make-up, the researcher should sensitize teachers to the subtle ways epistemological beliefs are enmeshed within their day-to-day professional lives, focusing on the complex fabric of the teaching practice. KEY WORDS: contemporary epistemological research, education, enactivism, lived experiences, personal epistemology
We rehearse information, but perform meaning. Information is like the web of links in a wire fence; Meaning is like the cascade of waves on a mountain stream. Cliff Crego (2002) © 2002 picture-poems.com
THEORY & PSYCHOLOGY Copyright © 2008 Sage Publications. VOL. 18(1): 27–45 DOI: 10.1177/0959354307086921 http://tap.sagepub.com
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& PSYCHOLOGY 18(1)
What is the true nature of knowledge, and how does a person come to know? These questions first became subject of psychological investigation in the late 1960s through the seminal work of Perry (1968). Today, these questions are studied under the umbrella of research on personal epistemology (Hofer & Pintrich, 2002). Personal epistemology has come to be seen as the common denominator for research done within this field and as a term signifying individual conceptions of knowledge and knowing. These conceptions are referred to by many disparate labels, of which the most commonly used term is ‘epistemological belief’. Other labels are: epistemological posture, epistemological resource, and ways of knowing (Niessen, Vermunt, Abma, Widdershoven, & van der Vleuten, 2004). Because the term ‘(epistemological) belief’ is already more broadly used within (educational) psychology and thus easy to associate with, we will use this term throughout the article when referring to issues of knowledge and knowing. Within this article we provide a cognitive psychological and an enactivist account of epistemological beliefs and claim that the differences between both are ultimately reflected in Crego’s distinction between the rehearsing of information and performing of meaning. We will apply the enactivist perspective to an interview segment to enable deeper understanding of teaching practice. The application of the enactivist account to this case has the character of a hermeneutic circle. This means that the enactivist account provides us with a background view that enables us to understand teachers’ experiences more fully. At the same time, the process of application is also a practice of opening up and being caught by new insights while interpreting. These insights might alter our epistemological perspective. This study is part of a larger ongoing investigation to understand the phenomenon of resistance by teachers to a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) environment using the epistemological perspective as our interpretive framework. PBL, in short, is an instructional method that,...