Tag Archives: higer education

Universities should take stronger leadership on knowledge and how it matters

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Through their commitments to, and dependence on, professional education and multidisciplinary research, universities have skin in the epistemic game.
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This is a longer read. Enjoy!


If reports in the media can be trusted, then “knowing” isn’t what it used to be. It seems that we are all caught in a rip, being swept helplessly from a knowledge-based world into a post-truth society, where robots will take all the best jobs.

The latest edition of the Innovating Pedagogy report, published annually by the UK’s Open University, names “epistemic education” as one of the “high impact” trends that will become widespread in education over the next two to five years.

Simultaneously, the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s Trend watch list is topped by the word “epistemic”. Something is going on here, but is it just a flash in the pan? An educational fad feeding off a moral panic about fake news, alternative facts and information bubbles?

Understanding today’s ‘epistemic’ world

Epistemic” comes from the Greek epistēmē meaning “knowledge”. Epistēmē has some specific connotations in the philosophy of knowledge, but “epistemic” has taken on a broad role in contemporary usage, covering everything to do with knowledge and how we know things.

In the popular media, one finds it used in such terms as “epistemic closure”, “epistemic violence” and “epistemic crisis”. These terms are coupled with a deep disquiet about the diminishing role of knowledge in political argument and decision-making, particularly in the US.

Popular media in the US turns to epistemology as they confront the diminishing role of knowledge in politics.
David Maxwell/AAP


Read more:
Post-truth politics and why the antidote isn’t simply ‘fact-checking’ and truth


In academia, where knowing about knowledge still elicits some respect, philosophers refer to “epistemic virtues” such as careful and attentive reasoning, openness to evidence, and critical thinking.

Anthropologists identify “epistemic artefacts” – “tools for thinking”. These include scientific models, organisational plans and architectural sketches, which people use when solving problems and creating new knowledge.

In education, researchers and teachers are working on ways to foster students’ “epistemic cognition” and help them become more capably knowledgeable about knowing; to develop “epistemic fluency”.

Epistemic fluency is the capacity to recognise different kinds of knowledge and to work flexibly with different ways of knowing. For example, effective action on climate change, obesity, cybersecurity, or gun control needs specialist knowledge from research on these problems, combined with knowledge from areas like economics, politics and the law.

Why do students need epistemic fluency?

Our research suggests university teachers are very conscious of the need for epistemic fluency, but don’t always have the language to explain what it entails. We can point to at least four sets of challenges in economic, social and political life where more explicit attention to epistemic fluency is possible and urgent.


Read more:
How do you know that what you know is true? That’s epistemology


Acting knowledgeably in the workplace

Our own research focus has been on professional education – where students are being helped to prepare for work in areas such as pharmacy or nursing. In these courses, students are often given assessment tasks intended to help them connect academic knowledge with workplace practice.

The difficulties students face in doing this are not really problems of “transfer” – not simply a failure to apply prior knowledge. It turns out acting knowledgeably in the workplace involves constructing new actionable knowledge. This is knowledge that fuses together a number of different forms of knowledge and ways of knowing in order to deal with a specific situation.

For example, a pharmacist may combine knowledge of the medical properties of a drug, the prescribing habits of a local doctor and the various needs of elderly clients to customise advice for the person they’re serving.

A pharmacist may need to combine various types of knowledge to tailor advice to individual customers.
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Working in multidisciplinary teams

The second area of our research explores how multidisciplinary teams of academics learn to work together. This is a significant challenge when academics move out of their disciplinary silos to work together in research centres that are oriented to complex societal problems, such as obesity and climate change.

Differences in what counts as reliable knowledge to biologists, computer scientists and sociologists are quite important in such organisations. The ability to work together depends on mutual respect and a degree of understanding of how various disciplines create knowledge.

Epistemic fluency is likely to remain valuable in these two important areas of university work – professional education and multidisciplinary research.

Working with smart machines

The third area in which this matters is future employment: specifically, what is sometimes succinctly called “heteromation”. Complex knowledge work is no longer done in individual human brains.

Now, it’s distributed across humans and machines. This includes computer programs that can extract useful information from large databases, measuring equipment that can detect things inaccessible to human senses, and robots that can perform complex physical operations that are beyond the capacities of human beings.

The knowledge and skills people need in order to participate productively in networks of other people and machines are different from the ones that will do for more autonomous work. The development of these network capabilities can be helped by a careful mix of explicit teaching and practical tasks. But those doing the teaching must master the new tools, as well as the concepts and words needed to explain to students new ways of working with knowledge.

Navigating post-truth societies

The fourth challenge is where we began: fake news and how to spot it. This is where schools are focusing their attention, extending courses on digital literacy to include the skills needed to break out of one’s own “information bubble” by engaging with alternative views and fighting “alternative facts” by testing the reliability of knowledge sources.

This educational initiative is unlikely to succeed on its own. Schools work best when their efforts align with broader movements. For some decades now, many school teachers have learned at university the fundamental truth that all knowledge is suspect. But this epistemological position offers shaky foundations for learning to participate in the joint creation of actionable knowledge necessary for working on complex societal challenges. It undermines the possibilities for informed action.

What could be done about this?

Concerns about fake news and the need to educate knowledgeable voters are important reasons for giving more serious attention to knowledge in universities and schools. There are also other deep and sustaining reasons for taking knowledge and knowing more seriously.

Students need to master epistemic tools with which they can act more knowledgeably in their future workplaces and communities. Tools need material to work on. So students’ learning activities need to involve both mastery of tools and progress on substantial problems: working across disciplinary and professional boundaries and in cooperation with other people and intelligent machines.

It will help if we all become better able to articulate the importance of understanding knowledge, and of knowing how to find the most useful combinations of knowledge for solving problems that we face in our lives.

Through their commitments to, and dependence on, professional education and multidisciplinary research, universities have skin in the epistemic game. It’s in their interests to take much stronger leadership over knowledge and how it matters.

Lina Markauskaite, Associate professor in Learning Sciences, University of Sydney and Peter Goodyear, Professor of Education, University of Sydney

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Our presentations at EARLI 2017

The slides of our presentations at EARLI 2017 are now available in our slideware (click on the images below). Five-page summaries of these two papers could be downloaded from ResearchGate.

Markauskaite, L. & Goodyear P. (2017). Learning as construction of actionable concepts: A multimodal blending perspective. Paper presented at the 17th Biennial EARLI Conference for Research on Learning and Instruction “Education in the Crossroads of Economy and Politics Role of Research in the Advancement of Public Good”. 27 August – 2 September 2017. Tampere, Finland.

Markauskaite, L. & Goodyear, P. (2017). Insights into the dynamics between changes in professional fields and teaching in higher education. Paper presented at the 17th Biennial EARLI Conference for Research on Learning and Instruction “Education in the Crossroads of Economy and Politics Role of Research in the Advancement of Public Good”. 27 August – 2 September 2017. Tampere, Finland.

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.

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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.

Epistemic fluency in Liberal Arts programs

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Our work on epistemic fluency has been nicely taken up by Thomas Carey in his article “Is the Future of Liberal Arts Programs “K-Shaped”?’ published in Inside Higher ED. The article offers a very interesting rethinking of the learning outcomes traditionally associated with Liberal Arts education and possible new ways for (re)designing Liberal Arts majors. Epistemic fluency is at the core of the offered perspective. Few quotes:

We aren’t planning to encourage all our Humanities majors to take a minor in Economics or Business to bolster their value proposition in the workplace – that would only encourage the impression that expertise in particular workplace domains is the key to graduates’ success. Instead, one of the ways we are tackling this challenge is through exploring epistemic fluency in particular workplace knowledge practices rather than particular professional knowledge domains.

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Just as we need to integrate the development of essential learning outcomes into development of student capabilities in their major disciplines, there has to be a strong intersection of all of the K-elements ‒ discipline depth, essential outcome breadth and documented capability in one or more emerging knowledge practices ‒ in order for the desired epistemic fluency to mature.

Read the full article here

Epistemic fluency perspectives in teaching and learning practice

How can epistemic fluency perspectives be enacted in daily learning and teaching work? This presentation overviews the design of a blended course Systems, Change and Learning that fundamentally builds on the ideas of epistemic fluency. The course draws together three modes of human inquiry: systems thinking, design practice and responsive action. Through reflective engagement with ideas from different disciplinary domains and teamwork on practical innovation challenges, students begin to appreciate the need to accommodate diverse perspectives and learn to combine diverse ways of knowing. This is not a “flagship” course – it never received any extra funding or other “external” support – but a course that emerged gradually through our daily work with students. By being “usual” and simultaneously “different” this course has celebrated students’ deep  engagement, collaboration and positive feedback. A brief description of our approach is in the presentation and this document. Below is a short summary.

three modes of inquiry

Summary: Learning to lead innovation and change

Capacities to drive collective learning,  jointly address complex practical challenges and create innovative solutions are seen as essential for future graduates. How can we prepare students to lead complex collaborative learning, change and innovation projects? How can we help them to develop the knowledge and skills needed for resourceful teamwork with other people who have different areas of expertise, experiences, and interests? Continue reading