June 15, 2014
June 15, 2014
June 18, 2014
Educational Research and Methods
24.684.1 - 24.684.18
Identification of Students’ Epistemological Resources and Frames in EngineeringUnderstanding how a student frames or interprets a learning experience gives us insight into howstudents approach learning and why they employ certain study habits. If a student’s personalepistemology, or how she/he views learning and knowing, does not align with an instructor’spedagogy, it could undermine efforts to engage students in active learning environments. Byidentifying views of learning, we can address them and better improve student learning practice.The literature on personal epistemology has historically taken a unitary ontology; that is, it treatspersonal epistemologies as entrenched beliefs that exist independent of context. In contrast, wefollow the view suggested by Elby and Hammer that personal epistemologies are manifoldconstructs that consist of fine-grained elements called resources. When networks of resourcesare activated and reinforce one another, they can become stable and form belief-like structurescalled frames. Unlike the unitary standpoint, this manifold view indicates that epistemologicalframes are highly context-dependent and are not always clearly defined. In a learningenvironment, a student’s epistemological frame influences how she/he approaches newknowledge, and it plays a critical role in how the student experiences that context.In this research paper, we explore how undergraduate chemical engineering students frame theirexperience in a junior level thermodynamics course that uses concept based instruction. We posethe following research questions: How do students frame what it means (i) to gain understandingand (ii) to perform well in chemical engineering? How are these views influenced by their priorexperiences in school? If these experiences negatively affect their frames, what strategies caninstructors use to shift students to more productive epistemological frames?We examine free response written explanations of the thermodynamic students. Following thefirst midterm, students read an American Journal of Physics article by Elby which investigateswhy students in physics courses may rely on rote memorization techniques. The thermodynamicsstudents then answer five open-ended questions, including whether they believe their engineeringclasses rewarded rote learning. We analyzed 158 responses using emergent coding to identifythemes and epistemological frames.Themes that were identified included the type of learning (rote vs. conceptual) the studentviewed as best suited for (i) gaining understanding and (ii) grade performance, and (iii) the typeof learning which they chose to employ. Many students indicated that true understanding camethrough conceptual learning, with a majority of those students also indicating that someengineering classes reward rote learning. Our analysis shows that a subset of students perceivedthis reward “forced" them to use rote memorization to obtain a good grade. This result illustratesone way in which students’ prior school experiences influence how they approach learning.Students’ varied descriptions of rote memorization and conceptual learning are interpreted interms of common epistemological frames. For example a frame identified was “mathematicalequations require only rote memorization.” This frame is activated by a set of resourcesincluding the “equations are facts” resource.
Smith, C., & Bowen, A., & Montfort, D., & Koretsky, M. (2014, June), Identification of Students’ Epistemological Frames in Engineering Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20576
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