Chapter 9: Epistemic tools and artefacts in epistemic practices and systems


“…what we wanted our [nursing] students to do is not – is to be thinking, to be able to think – and not because somebody tells you to do something, that you should do a particular procedure in a particular way. So in the clinical environment, a lot of the time the students come back and say ‘we were told to do it this way’. And I say ‘well you have to think about why – there are many ways of doing things. If you were to adhere to the principles of what you doing’ ” (Nursing Lecturer)

In this chapter, we extend our analysis of knowledge work as situated practice, sketching epistemic practice (9.1) and we introduce some organising ideas about the special roles and qualities of epistemic tools (9.2) and epistemic artefacts in the accomplishment of knowledge work. We frame this in ways that connect epistemic tools and artefacts to the larger systems of epistemic practice in which they function. Section 9.3 establishes some relationships between action, meaning and epistemic practice. In section 9.4 we use interview and observational data from our research with nurse educators to analyse the epistemic qualities of artefacts produced by students as part of their preparation for practice. We show how such artefacts combine multiple epistemic functions and support multiple forms of perception. Section 9.5 introduces ideas about the epistemic openness of systems for education, work and scientific research, drawing implications that are relevant for rethinking curriculum in professional education programs.


9.5 Epistemic openness: knowledge practice systems

University is an odd space in which to learn professional knowledge. It is a hybrid space where three epistemic cultures of learning, research and the profession come together. We should perhaps celebrate this convergence – hybrid sites are places for creativity and innovation. However, as Goodwin (2005) notes, knowledge does not float in some context-free domain, but is situated, and the space and place where work is done has consequences for the knowledge produced.

Such spaces and places constitute and are simultaneously constituted by actions,

“…relevant spaces are reflexively constituted through the organization of the actions that simultaneously make use of the structure(s) provided by particular places while articulating and shaping them as meaningful entities appropriate to the activity in progress.” (Goodwin, 2005, 85-86).

He describes this space as a space for action:

“…a diverse patchwork of different kinds of spaces and representational technologies by differently positioned actors working together…” (Goodwin, 2005, 86).

Heterogeneity is a key characteristic of such workspaces as the university. On the one hand, science, the profession and education each share and value three common phenomena: knowledge, work and learning. On the other hand, there are some significant differences among the knowledge creation and inquiry practices in the scientific world, educational institutions, and organizational and professional settings. One of the qualities that makes them distinct is the “epistemic openness” of their knowledge production systems: objects of inquiry, tools and environments.

Source: These are extracts from Chapter 9 of Markauskaite, L., & Goodyear, P. (forthcoming, 2015). Epistemic fluency and professional education: innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge. Dordrecht: Springer. This is a close-to-final draft. Please check the final published version if you are going to quote it. The book  is available from Springer’s e-shop.

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