Practical epistemic cognition in a design project—Engineering students developing epistemic fluency

Over the last year, a number of papers have been published that directly or indirectly draw upon and extend the idea of epistemic fluency. We are planning to introduce at least some of them on our website. If you have published a paper that speaks to the idea of epistemic fluency and would like to see it shared on our website, please email us.


The first paper on our list is: Bernhard, J., A. Carstensen, J. Davidsen, and T. Ryberg. “Practical Epistemic Cognition in a Design Project–Engineering Students Developing Epistemic Fluency.” IEEE Transactions on Education  (2019): 1-10. (An open-access pre-print is available on this website).

The paper investigates the development of students’ epistemic fluency in situ by tracing, what could be called, students’ epistemic resourcefulness in action using videographic methods. Among other things this paper presents an insightful comparison of some key differences between the scientific practices and engineering practices (pp. 2-3). It also offers a useful approach for tracing and visually presenting the development of epistemic fluency in students’ design teams (see p. 4). The paper ends with a juxtaposition of our semiotic approach for studying epistemic fluency discussed in Chapter 11 (p. 334-337) with a model of knowledge development based on Owen (2007) which sees science primarily as an analytic-symbolic practice, while design  as a synthetic real world practice. The authors conclude that, in practice, engineering design requires engaging in a much broader array of epistemic activities:

“Seeing development in terms of developing “actionable knowledge” as well as “knowledgeable action”  requires the development of epistemic fluency. Epistemic fluency implies the weaving together of conceptual, physical, epistemological and symbolic spaces to develop an epistemic space.” (p. 8).

Abstract (quoted from the paper)

Contribution: This paper reports engineering students’ practical epistemic cognition by studying their interactional work in situ. Studying “epistemologies in action'” the study breaks away from mainstream approaches that describe this in terms of beliefs or of stage theories.

Background: In epistemology, knowledge is traditionally seen as “justified true belief,” neglecting knowledge related to action. Interest has increased in studying the epistemologies people use in situated action, and their development of epistemic fluency. How appropriate such approaches are in engineering and design education need further investigation.

Research Questions: 1) How do students in the context of a design project use epistemic tools in their interactional work? and 2) What are the implications of the findings in terms of how students’ cognitive and epistemological development could be conceptualized?

Methodology: A collaborative group of six students were video recorded on the 14th day of a fifth-semester design project, as they were preparing for a formal critique session. The entire, almost 6 h, session was recorded by four video cameras mounted in the design studio, with an additional fifth body-mounted camera. The video data collected was analyzed using video ethnographic, conversation analysis, and embodied interaction analysis methods.

Findings: The results show that the students use a wealth of bodily material resources as an integral and seamless part of their interactions as epistemic tools, in their joint production of understanding and imagining. The analysis also suggests that students’ epistemological and cognitive development, individually and as a group, should be understood in terms of developing “epistemic fluency.”


L. Markauskaite and P. Goodyear, Epistemic Fluency and Professional Education: Innovation, Knowledgeable Action and Actionable Knowledge. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2017.

C. Owen, Design thinking: Notes on its nature and use, Design Res. Quart., vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 16–27, 2007.



Practice-based research methods: Challenges and potentials

This stack of slides comes from the presentation entitled “Practice-based research methods: Challenges and potentials” given before the master class on practice-based research on the 11th of December 2018, at the University of Southern Denmark, Kolding.

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Education as an applied interdisciplinary research field faces acute challenges in defining the nature and scope of practice-based research. Constantly shifting notions of what it means to learn and, consequentially, what it means to teach make practice-based research a fluid and muddy concept. Increasing technologisation of learning environments and heightened expectations concerning the role of evidence in situated educational decisions have led some scholars to suggest a range of new approaches that are seen as more suitable for quickly changing research and practice contexts and capable to connect research with practice, design with teaching, and data with action. In this presentation, I discuss some different ways of thinking about these connections and emerging from them methodological implications. I argue that practice-based research has to ground itself in a much better understanding of diverse ways of knowing. It requires knowledge and skill to engage in methodological craftsmanship.

Interdisciplinarity and Epistemic Fluency: What makes complex knowledge work possible

This small deck of slides comes from the EATEL webinar “Interdisciplinarity in Technology-Enhanced Learning”. It was conducted as as dialog between Lina Markauskaite and Carolyn Rosé, December 12th, 2018.

This presentation, entitled “Interdisciplinarity and epistemic fluency: What makes complex knowledge work possible”, draws on the notions of “epistemic infrastructures”  and “epistemic games”. It argues that each research field needs to build its own  epistemic infrastructure for doing joint knowledge work. Constructing  shared epsitemic infrastructures is particularly important (and challenging) for interdisciplinary fields, such as TEL. In order to do this, the field needs to understand much better how researchers (and practitioners) do joint knowledge work and then build deliberatively robust socio-technical epistemic infrastructures that enable to work across disciplinary boundaries productively.

Epistemic infrastructure and Epistemic games


The topic chosen for the second edition of the Webinar series is “Interdisciplinarity in TEL”. The TEL field is interdisciplinary by definition. This makes TEL an especially interesting research field. Yet, it also brings complexity at different levels. A challenge for TEL researchers is to properly understand what is interdisciplinarity in our field, its challenges and implications. In the first part of the dialog, Lina Markauskaite will elaborate on the concept of epistemic fluency as “the capacity to understand, switch between and combine different kinds of knowledge and different ways of knowing about the world” (Markauskaite & Goodyear, 2016). Carolyn Rosé will talk about the history of the International Alliance to Advance Learning in the Digital Era, why it was important to her to work towards that as the personal objective of her past presidency in ISLS. She will also talk about interdisciplinarity in her own research bringing learning sciences, human-computer interaction, and artificial intelligence together. The second part of the dialog will consist of a ‘questions & answers debate’ by the two speakers, with participation of the audience.

Understanding the nature and impact of wicked problems and unpredictable futures on work and practice

Cover Challenging Future Practice PossibilitiesThis is one more recent chapter that extends our work on epistemic fluency: Goodyear, P., & Markauskaite, L. (2019). The impact on practice of wicked problems and unpredictable futures. In J. Higgs, S. Cork, & D. Horsfall (Eds.), Challenging future practice possibilities (pp. 41-52). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Brill Sense.  You may have access to a digital copy of this chapter via your institutional subscription. But if you don’t have access and you are interested, please email us. We will be happy to send you a copy of the pre-print (for the sole purpose of your private use of course). The extracts below should give you an idea of what this chapter is about. Note, they are from the pre-print. Check accuracy in the published version if you will quote.


“Education faces a conundrum. On the one hand, imagined futures are becoming more diverse, fluid and contested. On the other, knowledge and learning are widely believed to be key to survival, success and sustainability. < . . . > There is a broad consensus that it cannot stay the same (Collins, 2017). But in many countries, there is deep disquiet about relations between current education and the futures of those it is meant to serve. Indeed, one sometimes senses a paralysis, brought about by conflicting ideologies as much as by the intrinsic difficulties of making sense of an uncertain, complex world.”

< . . . >

“In this chapter, we aim to offer something more positive. We suggest that there are tools that people can learn to use to deal with complex ‘wicked’ problems. These tools can be used by young and old, but are especially relevant to those who are invested in a problematic situation – those with ‘skin in the game’. These ways of dealing with wicked problems are deeply social. They do not start from an assumption that the best problem solvers are lone wolves: creative, entrepreneurial market-disruptors, motivated by personal profit. Quite the reverse. In our view, tools for working on wicked problems are embodiments of shared ‘moral know-how’, sharpened for the work of collaborative and co-operative future-making.

The rapid and accelerating pace of technological development has had an odd effect on ways we imagine the future. We see it as unknowable and full of risks for which we should prepare, without really knowing what to prepare for: as if the explosion of technological possibilities creates a blinding glare. It need not be so. Technological profusion should cause us to ask a different kind of question: not ‘what will the future world be like, and require of us?’ but ‘what kind of future world do we want to make?’. The genre changes from prediction to design; from reading tea leaves to taking action.”

Epistemic resourcefulness and the development of evaluative judgement


Developing Evaluative Judgement in Higher Education: Assessment for Knowing and Producing Quality Work, 1st Edition (Paperback) book coverWe wrote several new papers elaborating the idea of epistemic fluency. One of them is this chapter: Goodyear, P., & Markauskaite, L. (2018). Epistemic resourcefulness and the development of evaluative judgement. In D. Boud, R. Ajjawi, P. Dawson, & J. Tai (Eds.), Developing evaluative judgement in higher education: Assessment for knowing and producing quality work (pp. 28-38). London: Routledge.


“This chapter examines the development of evaluative judgement from a professional education perspective, with a focus on the abilities students need to deal with problems that are both complex and novel. Professional work regularly entails engaging in knowledgeable action in previously unencountered situations and formulating impromptu methods for making judgements about the adequacy of one’s actions. From this perspective, evaluative judgement is an epistemic (knowledge-creating) activity. We show how developing evaluative judgement can be understood as learning to play a range of epistemic games, and how epistemic resourcefulness enables one to frame complex judgements in principled ways.”

Extended overview

“Our chapter is primarily a contribution to the task of theorising evaluative judgement. While we believe that this has practical educational payoffs, which we outline in the final section of the chapter, we are also motivated by a curiosity about the kinds of work and capabilities that are involved in evaluative judgement – within and for professional action. In a nutshell, we argue in this chapter that evaluative judgement can be seen as an epistemic capability, useful in assessing one’s ability to engage in knowledgeable action in specific, dynamically changing situations. We draw on some of our recent empirical and theoretical research to show how a broad range of examples of professional knowledge work can be categorised within a taxonomy of epistemic games. The ability to recognise and participate in these games is a manifestation of epistemic fluency and we can think of the corresponding personal capabilities in terms of epistemic resourcefulness. We illustrate this approach to conceptualising evaluative judgement and its development, with a discussion of one particularly relevant kind of professional epistemic game: the evaluation game. From this base, we develop an argument about the need for evaluative judgement to be considered from a generative perspective. In rapidly changing and uncertain times, professionals cannot get by with methods and standards for assessing worth or quality that are carved in stone. Epistemic resourcefulness enables people to formulate novel, principled, approaches to the making of evaluative judgements.”