This post discusses epistemology – first the sorts of questions we might ask when applying epistemology to education, and then a general taster of the areas epistemology covers (which is by no means comprehensive). If you want to comment, click on a paragraph and use the comment box to the right. Comments can also be viewed in this way. For a more detailed story re: relationship between epistemology, pedagogy and assessment (and learning analytics) see [our paper]1 (Knight, Buckingham Shum, Littleton, 2013), or my [SoLAR talk]2 and the citations within them. If you are here from theLAK13 mooc… 1. I would definitely suggest reading the first section to get a flavour for the issues well tackle. 2. Some of you may also want to read the rest of the post 3. Finally, if youre still interested, there are a few further references on epistemology (generally), and the references from the whole post at the bottom – you could follow up with those. If youre still interested then, do get in touch (here or in the forums so we can share with everyone) and Ill have a look for other material. Epistemology and Education – so what? When I talk about epistemology, what do I mean? Well, epistemology is fundamentally concerned with the status, acquisition, and characteristics of knowledge – that is: 1. What distinguishes knowledge from other things (such as true beliefs, understanding, etc.) 2. How does one come to know 3. What are the characteristics of knowledge: including those arising from the above questions; and its structure (e.g. propositional knowledge v. knowing how); the status of truth, meaning and belief, etc. Applying it Educationally I think this stuff is interesting. Why do we want students to have knowledge rather than true belief, what does it take for them to instantiate that knowledge, and how true a representation of that knowledge do assessments give (how good at ensuring knowledge rather than true belief, or ensuring students can give their knowledge rather than thinking they have none, etc.)? 1. When we assess, what are we assessing? What emphasis should be placed on skills v facts, 2. What does it mean to “know” a fact? Recall, explanation, connection – to what extent? 3. What is the role of external artefacts (open book exams, calculators, [the internet – as in Denmark]3) in knowledge? (My [MA]4 was broadly on this) 4. Where does knowledge reside when learners collaborate, or learn from teachers (their testimonial knowledge) (see Suthers (2006) on the first) 5. How reliable and valid are assessments of knowledge (or competence), what is the impact of increased reliability (through standardisation) on the view of epistemology implied in assessments (see any of Andrew Daviswork on this – refs at end) 6. At a more abstract level we might worry about what fixes propositions astrue, perhaps particularly where assessment systems might instantiate a particular take on knowledge at the exclusion of other ways of knowing. Im less interested in researching this area (although I think it is important), but Id highly recommend Gipps (1999) (sadly closed access) 7. How do we compare qualitiesandquantitiesof knowledge? (e.g. how do we measure knowledge (Treanor, 2013 – a version of which I first heard at a Mind Network meeting at Cambridge). ## Some issues in Epistemology ## True Belief A key pursuit of epistemology has been to distinguishknowledgefrommeretrue belief. One suggestion is that we want people to becreditworthy` for knowledge, while true beliefs may be accidentally true. This has bearing for education – what does it take for a particular token of knowledge, or skill to be ‘credited’ to the individual?  The motivations behind this pursuit are explained below.

Justified True Belief? A couple of problems have been raised with

the notion of knowledge as simply true belief. Ill talk about one here. Many people will also be familiar with more general concerns such as Descartes sceptic and the cogito, or more recent brain in vat arguments – Id encourage you to look those up separately (and say I think people like Edward Craig and his naturalised pragmatist epistemology (Craig, 1999) deal well with them). The reason true beliefis problematic is because in some circumstances simply holding a belief that is true does not seem to be enough to credit an agent withknowledge`. Gettier cases show this rather nicely, for example: * imagine walking past the door to the Oval Office, seeing an Obama like figure at the desk, and saying “Oh, Obama is in the office”

  • unbeknownst to the speaker in fact what was seen was a dummy made to look exactly like Obama * however, Obama is indeed sitting in the corner – unseen by the speaker In this case, the belief “Obama is in the office” is true, but it is not clear the speaker has knowledge of this because the belief is based on false information – that the dummy seen by the speaker was Obama.

By Szczepan1990 12:59, 23 July 2006 (UTC) (original submission); FrostyBytes, 13 December 2006 (resubmission, minor aesthetic changes) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What justifies knowledge?Various suggests for how to

fix the concept of knowledge exist, including: 1. Calls to the need for evidence (evidentialism) 2. Calls to the need for reliable methods for coming about truths (reliabilism) The specific type of evidence (infallible, indefeasible, etc.) or method (defined by social practice, defined by virtue, etc.) is a topic for discussion in epistemology. For the purposes of this post Im not going to go any further into it than that (sorry). ## Types of Knowledge ### Source of Knowledge Whether knowledge comes from internal (a priori, positivism, coherentism?) or external (a posteriori, empiricism, correspondence?) sources, and how knowledge is built up (from necessary knowledge or certain foundations e.g. foundationalism, or from a blank slate e.g. empiricism) are large debates in epistemology. Im less interested in these areas in education, although they may well have implications. How one acquires knowledge, though, is of interest and how we assess this in particular – for example some sources might be: 1. Perception – but do we have direct access ([naive] realism) or not? On what grounds can I assume sensory information is true? 2. Introspection – but surely this, too, is fallible 3. A priori knowledge – logically derived knowledge, but this a) can only give us logical truths (all bachelors are unmarried men) and may still depend on experience of the [social] world 4. Testimony – knowledge that p because being told (by someone/thing) that p is the case – but under what circumstances should we take testimony at face value? Structure of knowledge Another strand of epistemology discusses the nature of knowledge with respect to its atomic structure, with some claiming that knowledge can be thought about in terms of discrete propositions (“Snow is white”) while others claiming that the use of such expressions is bound up in dynamic, and inextricable ways with other terms – and thus that knowledge should be thought about in a holist way. In philosophy of education Andrew Davis has suggested (e.g. Davis 1998, 2002, 2005 ) that educational assessment should respect holist epistemology and explore knowledge in action, and as connected, rather than seeking to identify discrete tokens in highly reliable ways. See also Donald Davidson Knowledge that, knowledge how, and knowledge by acquaintance In addition to propositional knowledge (e.g. knowledge of facts) or knowledge that, epistemology has discussed knowledge how which can broadly be construed as skill or ability, knowing how to do some thing (e.g. multiplication, writing an essay, etc.). Truth: Coherence v. correspondence Epistemology is also concerned with how we decide whether something is true or not – this relates to how we conceptualise the world; can we map ‘facts’ to ‘things’, or do we require something else (perhaps justification…). Some theories (e.g. pragmatism) reject this discussion of truth in favour of seeking meaning this in part motivated by a concern that theories of truth result in a regress or presumption (there must be some first thing on which we can base all subsequent claims) and/or that we end up caught between the horns of coherence and correspondence theories of truth… Coherence theories of truth suggest that knowledge is like a web – that the truth of ones propositions rests in their accord with other propositions you hold, that is – ones beliefs must cohere to be true. Correspondence theories of truth suggest that for a proposition to be true (e.g. snow is white), the proposition must refer to some state in the world (e.g. the snow is white). Epistemology and Assessment – My further links So why do I care about this, working in education and computing? Well, particular views on knowledge are implicated in a range of policies, practices, and pedagogies – including those related to assessment. For more detail see the [epistemology posts on this blog]5, my LAK13 paper on epistemology and learning analytics, and perhaps also take a look at this video re: use of the internet in Danish exams – the policy documents on this explicitly outline a different epistemological stance to that discussed in many other countrieseducational policies (e.g.[history shall be taught as fact]6).  The work of Andrew Davis has been a great source of inspiration – although unfortunately it is (as far as I can tell) _all_ behind paywalls… ## Further Resources Id recommend: * Keith DeRose`s (at Yale) [general introduction to epistemology]7 (with bibliography) * or for a much longer article the [Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entry on epistemology]8

Bibliography Craig, Edward. _Knowledge and the state of nature : an

essay in conceptual synthesis_. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999. Davis, Andrew. “3: Understanding and Holism.” Journal of Philosophy of Education 32, no. 1 (1998): 41–55. >Davis, Andrew. “The Measurement of Learning.” In A Companion to the Philosophy of Education, edited by Randall Curren, 272–284. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2005. Davis, Andrew, and K. Williams. “Epistemology and Curriculum.” In The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education, edited by N. Blake, P. Smeyers, and R. Smith. Blackwell Reference Online, 2002. Gipps, Caroline. “Socio-Cultural Aspects of Assessment.” Review of Research in Education 24 (1999): 355. doi:10.2307/1167274. Knight, Simon, Simon Buckingham Shum, and Karen Littleton. “Epistemology, Pedagogy, Assessment and Learning Analytics.” Leuven, Belgium: ACM Press, 2013. Suthers, Daniel D. “Technology Affordances for Intersubjective Meaning Making: A Research Agenda for CSCL.” International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning 1 (August 30, 2006): 315–337. doi:10.1007/s11412-006-9660-y. Treanor, Nick. “The Measure of Knowledge.” Noûs (2012): no–no. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0068.2011.00854.x.XFRDC22 [UPDATE 19/03/2013] For anyone interested, there are 2 Andrew Davis chapters available on google books in part. I’m afraid they’re not complete but I can’t find ‘open access’ copies, and these at least give a flavour. Direct links:  Epistemology & Curriculum google books Davis and Williams The measurement of learning – Andrew Davis





  4. “MA Thesis”


  6. ““History shall be viewed as factual, not constructed” [stub]“