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. EARLI 2017 program is here.

Insights into the dynamics between changes in professional fields and teaching in higher education

Lina Markauskaite, Peter Goodyear, The University of Sydney, Centre for Research on Learning and Innovation (CRLI)


What counts as expert knowledge, and what is expected from knowledgeable practitioners are subject to continual change in professional fields. Consequently, professional education programmes are often challenged to ascertain their capacities to prepare “job-ready” graduates for such changing professional knowledge work. However, what is the nature of these changes and how they get incorporated into teaching and learning practices in university courses are rarely examined, so teachers running courses for professional education get little guidance about how it can be more clearly conceptualised, and done better. Our study focussed on “epistemic shifts” – observable changes in professional fields that bear on how professionals are expected to work with knowledge. We aimed to understand how recent epistemic shifts in specific professional fields were instantiated in assessment tasks in professional courses. We focussed on assessment tasks as these tasks give insights not only into what and how students learn, but also into what counts as “job-ready” graduates. Our detailed case studies came from five courses – in pharmacy, nursing, social work, school counselling and education. Our results show that the epistemic shifts varied in their transformative scale and in the ways they became incorporated in assessment tasks: from implicit incorporation of an ongoing flow of small shifts into established professional tasks, to introduction of new professional epistemic practices. The analytical framework we have constructed helps depict what is actually changing in students’ epistemic practices when assessment tasks are redesigned and what kinds of new epistemic capabilities students will consequently develop.

Learning as construction of actionable concepts: A multimodal blending perspective

Lina Markauskaite, Peter Goodyear, The University of Sydney, Centre for Research on Learning and Innovation (CRLI)


In mainstream cognitive research, ‘formal concepts’ usually serve as the main unit of analysis for investigating students’ conceptual learning. Accordingly, conceptual understanding is often seen as a capacity to take an already acquired formal concept and transfer it intact to a new situation, by recognising structural commonalities and using analogy. We use our research into how pre-service (student) teachers design lessons to show that their capacity to use concepts in real world professional work cannot be understood as a simple transfer of formal concepts to new situations. Rather, actionable conceptual understanding, or concepts that are used in action, involve a capacity to construct situated conceptualisations dynamically: by selecting, projecting, mapping and blending relevant conceptual features with material and symbolic affordances of the encountered situation into one emerging multimodal construct that becomes a part of an embodied action. Extending conceptual and material blending (Fauconnier & Turner, 1998; Hutchins, 2005), we show that construction of multimodal blends serves as a productive unit of analysis for investigating conceptual learning for professional action.


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