From (global) epistemic shifts to actionable concepts

Butter-makingRecently we have been writing some papers on various aspects of the epistemic fluency as well as preparing for several conferences. The following two papers will be presented at EARLI 2017. The first — “Insights into the dynamics between changes in professional fields and teaching in higher education” — will be presented at the symposium “Researching professional learning in changing epistemic environments” (Organised by Monika Nerland); and the second — “Learning as construction of actionable concepts: A multimodal blending perspective” — will be presented at the SIG 17’s (Methods in learning research) invited symposium “The unit of analysis in learning research: Approaches for imagining a transformative research agenda” (Co-organised by Crina Damsa & team). These presentations, when taken together, should give some insights into how (innovative) professional ideas “travel” from changes in professional cultures (and formal documents) to students’ specific ideas of how they should act in practice. At least, they should give some ideas into how such “journeys” of knowledge could be analysed.

If you are coming to EARLI this year, then we will be delighted to meet you there. If not, we will share our presentations in our slideware here after the conference. For now, if you want to read the extended summaries of these papers, please email us and ask. Below are short abstracts.

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Preparing teachers for knowledgeable action: Epistemic fluency, innovation pedagogy and work-capable graduates

In our slideware you can now find a new set of slides entitled “Preparing teachers for knowledgeable action: Epistemic fluency, innovation pedagogy and work-capable graduates”. These slides were used in the seminar-discussion “How do we know it’s because of us? University prepared teachers and our impact on classroom readiness” organised by the Initial Teacher Education and Professional Learning (ITEPL) Research Group @ QUT. It is not a completely new presentation, but it sharper articulates some implications for pre-service teachers’ education and “measurement” of their readiness.


What kinds of epistemic tools do skillful teachers use in their work and what kinds of epistemic games do they play? How could teachers’ preparation for knowledgeable action benefit from engagement of pre-service teachers in professional innovation? What different kinds of professional artifacts-tools produced by future professionals could tell us about their workplace readiness? Could current bureaucratic accreditation infrastructures and regimes (at least partly) be replaced by an open infrastructure for teachers’ (including pre-service teachers) professional innovation and professional knowledge co-creation? If foundational courses in law introduce students to legal thinking, and foundational courses in medicine teach students clinical reasoning, shouldn’t pre-service teachers also be helped to learn their professional ways of knowing?

But as the first thing, teacher education should move beyond (now dominant) evidence culture that sees teaching as a rigorous  application of firm, robust and often inflexible externally generated knowledge, to an epistemic culture that sees teaching as a skillful knowledge craft and values professional ways of knowing.

Developing Innovation Capability in Higher Education

Thomas Carey recently published several valuable posts discussing how to develop innovation capabilities in higher education.

One shared thread that goes through these posts is that higher education needs to engage in innovation in order to figure out how to help students develop capabilities to innovate.

These posts also remind us that ‘innovation’ – at least in its current formulations of ‘innovation capability’ – is not only an epistemic project, but also a powerful socio-political project. Many units that define what constitutes ‘capability to innovate’ do this on the level of visible ‘events’ rather than deeper mechanisms that co-produce those events. This leaves for universities (if not for students) to figure out how those mechanisms actually work and what they need to teach/learn. It’s good to see some initiatives described in the posts above that try to assist with this.

Some ideas that could be help understand the complexity of learning to engage in joint socioscientific knowledge practices, such as innovation, we briefly discussed in Chapter 5: Professional knowledge and knowing in shared epistemic spaces: the person-plus perspective. We argued:

“…learning to (co)create epistemic practice (and culture) is – or at least should be – an integral part of both learning and professional culture. Such learning involves the capacity to master representational devices – linguistic systems, objects, and other cultural systems – and to assemble from them one’s own epistemic environments for joint knowledgeable work.” (p.105)


“Each knowledge domain, including the modern sciences and the professions, is a field of interrelated cognitive, material and social practices, rather than a set of statements, skills, and dispositions. So one’s understanding of, and ability to engage with, those knowledge practices become a core part of the epistemic fluency needed for professional work and innovation. These practices include work in specific epistemic spaces, as well as in shared epistemic spaces created through negotiation, joint work and co-assembling.” (p.120)



Epistemic fluency in higher education: bridging actionable knowledge and knowledgeable action

In our “slideware” you can now find a set of slides from a presentation that reviews the main ideas from  our Epistemic Fluency book.  These particular slides were used during  the seminar entitled “Epistemic fluency in higher education: Bridging actionable knowledge and knowledgeable action” @The Oxford Centre for Sociocultural and Activity Theory Research (OSAT). Similar (but not identical) slides were also used during our presentations @University of Sydney (CRLI),  University of Oslo (ExCID), University of Bergen (SLATE), University of Helsinki (CRADLE), University of Southern Denmark, and University of Stirling (ProPEL). If you can’t find something important, then email us and ask.

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What does it take to be a productive member of a multidisciplinary team working on a complex problem? How do people get better at these things? How can researchers get deeper insight in these valued capacities; and how can teachers help students develop them? Working on real-world professional problems usually requires the combination of different kinds of specialised and context-dependent knowledge, as well as different ways of knowing. People who are flexible and adept with respect to different ways of knowing about the world can be said to possess epistemic fluency.

Drawing upon and extending the notion of epistemic fluency, in this research seminar, we will present some key ideas that we developed studying how university teachers teach and students learn complex professional knowledge and skills. Our account combines grounded and enacted cognition with sociocultural and material perspectives of human knowing and focus on capacities that underpin knowledgeable action and innovative professional work.  In this seminar, we will discuss critical roles of grounded conceptual knowledge, ability to embrace professional materially-grounded ways of knowing and students’ capacities to construct their epistemic environments.

Beyond professional education: Why do we need epistemic fluency?

Eight years ago, when Peter and I started this project, public interest in ‘epistemic X’ was steadily going up. Knowing, that the interest in ‘wisdom’ was falling, it made sense for us to invest some our intellectual energy into understanding ‘epistemic fluency’. At least, there was an implicit hope that this may compensate for the ‘fall’ in ‘wisdom’.



Has the situation changed after 8 years? It is hard to get ‘hard’ evidence, but from looking at Twitter’s feeds, I think it is safe to say that public interest in ‘epistemic X’ was as ever on peak. But ‘X’, to my dismay, wasn’t ‘fluency’.

‘Epistemic closure’ was certainly on the top of the list (particularly around the US election time), followed by ‘epistemic nihilism’, ‘epistemic injustice’, ‘epistemic uncertainty’, ‘epistemic violence’, even ‘epistemic sexism’. (I am less sure about  ‘wisdom’, but its antonym ‘stupidity’ certainly was on peak too, in 2016.)

What does it mean for education? On the one hand, we may simply ignore this: word ‘epistemic’ equally happily floats above everything that we hate or value. On the other hand, we should admit that our educational systems have not yet succeeded rising up an epistemically wise and respectful population.

It is likely that 2017 will be even more epistemically challenging. We haven’t yet learnt to participate in democracies that we created, and now we need to debate democracies in which we find ourselves. This is why we need epistemic fluency.