Mid-week epistemological reflections

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

This is a mid-week epistemology update – in that I’m just going to report on some reading I’ve done, and not answer my weekly questions just yet.

So far this week, I’ve read:

Siegel, H. (2006). Epistemological diversity in education research: Much ado about nothing much? Educational Researcher, 35(2), 3-12. doi:10.3102/0013189X035002003

Bell, P. (2004). On the theoretical breadth of design-based research in education. Educational Psychologist, 39(4), 243-253. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep3904_6

The theme of this week is epistemological diversity and my burning question is this is how should I position design-based research in theoretical perspectives? Unfortunately, at this point in time, the question is still rather unanswered, as “it depends” doesn’t help me much!

The following are summaries of the articles I read. I’ll try to make explicit what my thoughts are versus those of the author. When in question, assume I’m summarizing the author.

Epistemological diversity in education research: Much ado about nothing much?

Culture influences what we consider knowledge, and we, as researchers, need to develop an appreciation for the different views on knowledge. The author uses the term “tolerance”, but I much prefer the term appreciation.

Reading this article, I was reminded of a sermon a minster once gave at our church, about tolerance not be enough. To strive for tolerance of those that are different is not enough, we as a human race should be striving for an appreciative understanding – that is to really understand where the other is coming from, rather than just tolerating the difference. In that same sense, the author is calling for early researchers to develop an appreciative understanding of the different epistemological perspectives. Although, he does caution the issue of bread versus depth and trying to figure out what that best balance between the two is.

Just because there are different views on what counts as knowledge, it doesn’t mean that all the views are valid or that all approaches are equally good. Also, no single group of people (e.g. women) can be said to follow the same view on what constitutes knowledge. This means that when one is critiquing epistemological assumptions of a community, one is not critiquing a complete group (e.g. critiquing feminism does not mean critiquing all women) [ideas are from the author, the example is mine].

All approaches should stand up to scrutiny, but the criteria being used for criticism must also be scrutinized, not just the approach. The author goes on to say that it is not unethical to question epistemological approaches that are created by a particular community or subordinated group as long as the criticism is not intended to oppress. Again, the point is that the criteria for criticism should also be scrutinized, as should the motivations – but no particular epistemological approach should be beyond scrutiny simply because of the particular community that supports it.

Finally, the author emphasizes that education research is comprised of research from all other fields; therefore, educational researchers need to be aware of the various forms of research.

On the theoretical breadth of design-based research in education.

In this article the author also talks about the need for epistemological diversity, but in the context of design-based research. The author provides examples of different variations of design-based research that call upon different theoretical perspectives, specifically: developmental psychology design-based research, cognitive science design-based research, cultural psychology design-based research, and linguistic or cognitive design-based research.

The author differentiates between design research and design-based research. In order for something to be design-based research the associated design experiments must be “theoretically framed empirical research on related educational phenomena” (p.245). In essence, you can’t just be trying things out, you need to have a theoretical framework based upon previous research that is guiding your design experiments (hence the need for a solid literature review).

One thing that does confuse me is the idea that “design-based researchers often elect to work across the paradigms if it will benefit the educational outcomes and the theory at hand” (p.251).

The quote in the article that resonates most with my philosophical perspective is “design-based research is focused on the development of sustained innovation in education” (p.251).

1 Comment on Mid-week epistemological reflections

  1. I read Bell recently and I think you'e picked up a couple of important lines.
    RE x-paradigms: how is this similar to/different from Dewey's pragmatism?
    RE improvement: this has a significant impact on the generation of a research question… and something that I find quite exciting – to think that research can be founded on the need to seek continual improvement, rather than to identify or explain problems.

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