Epistemology – Week 1

The following is part of a series of blog posts I wrote while taking an education PhD course on Epistemologies. A summary of all posts in the series is included in this paper: Developing an Appreciative Understanding of Epistemologies in Educational Research: One Blogger’s Journey

What does “the nature of knowledge” mean? That is, what constitutes “new knowledge”?

I’ve been struggling with this one this week – mostly because I am struggling with what “I believe” versus what “I want to believe”. You see, I’m afraid that what I believe might be really hard, or might not align with what I want to do.Week 1

I want to believe that knowledge can be a concrete thing, not just an abstract construct. So, I want to build something and have that be considered new knowledge. I want to build a course, in a way that no one has ever done it, and I want that to be considered new knowledge. But I’m not sure how that is any different from any of the other courses I’ve built in the past, and how it suddenly becomes research rather than simply instructional design. And where does creativity fit in the creation of new knowledge?


What are my epistemological assumptions? How do these assumptions relate to my intended study of mobile learning?

The other aspect of what I’ve been struggling with is with the field of education. I think the way people learn is complicated. I had thought that I wanted to figure out design principles – but I wonder if that is really true. You see, I’m not sure I believe in design principles. I believe that some ways of teaching work better for some people, but I think it is complicated. Some people will learn regardless of how you teach them, others will only learn if you teach them a specific way. So trying to discover design principles seems to me like you are trying to prove a “right” way, when no true right way exists. It is like you are trying to ignore the complexity of it all.

That being said, I wonder if that is really just a cop-out. Am I taking this stance because I believe creating a process for measuring and determining principles is too hard? Or do I really believe in the limited value of said principles?

What new terms did I discover this week, and what areas require further investigation?

This week, I read:

Gunzenhauser, M., & Gerstl-Pepin, C. (2006). Engaging graduate education: A pedagogy for epistemological and theoretical diversity. The Review of Higher Education, 29(3), 319-346.

It talked about a new term “post-paradigmatic context” where rather than choosing a single world-view or paradigm as the correct one, researchers are using multiple theoretical perspective to influence their work. So, there isn’t one “right” way, rather there are multiple lenses in which to see research.

All this choice is nice, but then it is also difficult. You see, if there were three or four nice boxes in which to place yourself, it makes it much easier to make decisions. If you suddenly get to pick and choose, it feels good to be empowered, but it certainly makes for more work. Now you need to really think about what you believe and learn to articulate it. I guess I’m feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment (I’ve had a cold, and so my brain is a little foggy).

The article included a great definition of epistemology: “epistemology is a theory of what gets to count as knowledge.” (Gunzenhauser & Gerstl-Pepin, 2006, p.332).

What has changed this week w.r.t. my understanding of epistemology?

One quote from Gunzenhauser & Gerstl-Pepin is rather intriguing “When students understand that there is no longer prescribed, paradigmatic alignments between and among epistemology, theoretical perspectives, and methodology… ” (p.335).

This brings me back to the first article we were assigned to read in the Qualitative Research course I took in January (my first course in the Ph.D. program – this article was a mouth full and then some):

Koro-Ljungberg, M., Yendol-Hoppey, D., Smith, J. J., & Hayes, S. B. (2009). (E)pistemological awareness, instantiation of methods, and uninformed methodological ambiguity in qualitative research projects. Educational Researcher, 38(9), 687-699.

I remember that when I initially read the article, I stumbled over the language – it was a challenge. What I took from the article was that research methodologies need to align with epistemological assumptions. This doesn’t really align with what Gunzenhauser & Gerstl-Pepin are saying, so alas, I have chosen to re-read the Koro-Ljungberg et al article.

What is immediately interesting is that the abstract no longer scares me! I am no longer tripping over all the words that I don’t understand. I’ll report back next week on my new understanding of the Koro-Ljungberg article.

1 Comment on Epistemology – Week 1

  1. Oh, I do remember the problems I had in understanding the whole epistemology thing.  Now it kinda trips off the tongue!  But more to your point, it seems to me that the researchers are just reflecting the real world where all the nice and tidy boxes have exploded.  That's why, I think, we're seeing so much polarization on so many issues as people grab onto something and than won't let go.  Sigh.

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