The following post is the final assignment for my Master of Education (Knowledge Networks & Digital Innovation) taken through Charles Sturt University. This final piece of writing brings student voice into this journey via narrative analysis of students discussing their beliefs about knowledge and technology use.
Narrative Analysis of Student Personal Epistemologies and How Students Think These Beliefs Influence Their Technology Use in a Year 9 Science Classroom.
Despite widespread integration of technology in education, and demands for students to be adept knowledge workers, actual “on the ground” uses of technology by students remain underexplored. Well-developed student epistemological beliefs are reported to underpin a number of positive learning outcomes. This qualitative phenomenological case study, explored the epistemological beliefs of a group of Year 9 students, selected via convenience sampling. Epistemological beliefs were explicated from narrative data, collected from a focus group. Results from coding this data and thematic analysis indicated a predominance of context specific, naive epistemologies. Further analysis suggested that the student participants had limited awareness of how their technological practices were influenced by these personal epistemologies. The implications are a need for students underdeveloped personal epistemologies to be strengthened by deliberate intervention. This is important in new cultures of learning where information technology is a participatory medium and students construct knowledge in social ways.
Context of the case study
Today’s society requires that people think critically about problems (Ulyshen, Koehler & Gao, 2015) perhaps driven by imperatives to prepare technology-oriented workers (Selwyn, 2016). Within Australian schools, these imperatives are reflected in a curriculum that asks students to pose questions, identify and clarify information as well as transfer this knowledge into new contexts (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], n.d.). Technologies should also be used to collect, authenticate and interpret data from a range of sources (ACARA, 2016). Yet the digital literacies (Bawden, 2008; Chase & Laufenberg, 2011) and information behaviours (Bawden, 2012) of students appear to be largely unknown. Without reliable knowledge of how students find and use information, the work of the digital teacher may be based only on guesswork and prejudice (Bawden, 2012). Consequently, there is an urgent need to explore the often compromised and constrained social realities of technology use in educational settings (Selwyn, 2010). This need for student-centred exploration is heightened by changed classroom contexts typified by comprehensive digital learning environments (Veletsianos, 2016) in which little is known about the effects of one-to-one computing initiatives on learning from online information (Kennedy, Rhoads & Leu, 2016).
Previous work by this author (Keily, 2017) explored teacher technological, pedagogical and epistemological beliefs which may impact on effective technology integration, resulting in a low prevalence of student centred technology uses (Ottenbreit, Glazewski, Newby & Ertmer, 2010). These observations regarding teacher practice, point to an urgent need to explore technology use from a student-centred perspective, to determine if student epistemic reasoning influences how they use technology in the classroom. The voice of the student remains silent in much research on contemporary classroom use of technology, including analysis of the multi-dimensional aspect of personal epistemologies in middle school students (Schommer-Aikins, Mau, Brookhart & Hutter, 2000).
With regard to student views about knowledge, a brief review of literature shows that student beliefs play a critical role in learning (Bendixen & Feucht, 2010; Brookhart & Hutter, 2000; Mason, Boscolo, Tornatora & Ronconi, 2011; Schommer-Aikins et al., 2000). These beliefs influence GPA (Schommer, 1993; Schommer-Aikins et al., 2000) and are enacted when students evaluate information, engage in inquiry and deal with ill-structured problems (Ulyshen et al., 2015). Therefore, there is a need to focus teaching not only on cultivating student content knowledge but also on their complex beliefs about knowledge and knowing (Mason et al., 2011). To inform such an approach, this paper explores student personal epistemologies and how they link these beliefs with technology use, in an attempt to make “better sense of why technologies are used (and not used) in the ways they are in education.” (Selwyn, 2016 Loc 3494).
In direct response to the above contexts and the brief theoretical perspectives presented in literature, the following research question was posed:
What are Year 9 students’ beliefs about knowledge and how do they think these beliefs influence their use of technology, when learning in a Year 9 science classroom?
This research question is the central mast to which the ensuing case study is anchored and connects questions, concepts and data (Punch & Oancea, 2014). It also reflects the main tenet of qualitative research of seeing through the eyes of others (Bryman, 2012).
Structured case study approach
I declare a personal bias towards research as a human construction and the postmodern view that reality can be accessed through narratives (Bryman, 2012). The following hermeneutical phenomenological case study was informed by the above biases and a constructivist paradigm. To avoid an objectivist conception of reality (Bryman, 2012) a quantitative approach did not inform this study as the focus was on understanding “the social world through examination of the interpretation of that world by its participants.” (Bryman, 2012, p. 380). This small-scale research was also informed through the interpretive lens of this researcher as both reflective practitioner and researcher (O’Toole & Beckett, 2016, p. 69). Informed deeply by teaching practice, it was deemed pertinent to explore the perspective of the Year 9 Student participants in detail, where knowledge is gained by understanding the direct experiences of others (McMillan & Wergin, 2010).
As illustrated in Figure 1, the research design followed an empirical approach as suggested by McMillan and Schumacher (2014) and modified for the purposes of this research.
The site of this study was a dedicated Year 9 campus of an all boys college, situated in inner city Melbourne. This secondary school has a well implemented 1:1 laptop policy supported by good infrastructure. Four Year 9 student participants were chosen from this researcher-practitioner’s science class via convenience sampling (Bryman, 2012). This selection poses issues of generalizability (Bryman, 2012) but the aim was to build an analysis that was credible, plausible and resonated with the context, including other research (O’Toole & Beckett, 2016, p. 155). The students’ identities were protected by the use of the pseudonyms Harry, Patrick, Stuart and Trevor.
These students participated in a focus group, as a technique to interview groups of interviewees (Bryman, 2012; O’Toole & Beckett, 2016; Punch & Oancea, 2014) while collecting narrative data on their knowledge beliefs and technology uses, released via group interactions (Bryman, 2012). This idiographic approach is at the cost of external validity (Bryman, 2012), however, this limitation is balanced by naturalistically collected data and insights that honours the agency of the participants (O’Toole & Beckett, 2016). The proposed methodology links into theories of learning that call upon, student-student, student-teacher, teacher-content and student-content interactions that may lead to deep and meaningful learning (Anderson, 2016).
Based on Schommer-Aikins’ epistemological belief system (Schommer-Aikins, 2004), the interview questions published in Appendix A were used to guide a semi-structured interview. This technique is effective in exploring participant’s “perceptions, meanings, definitions and constructions of reality” (Punch & Oancea, 2014, p181), which is vital whilst exploring belief systems as a complex network of attitudes and values (Ottenbreit, Glazewski, Newby & Ertmer, 2010).
The narrative data collected from focus group interactions was digitally recorded and then self-transcribed into a text document. This transcribed text data was then shared with the student participants for member checking (O’Toole & Beckett, 2016 p. 16); minimal changes were made.
With the aim of answering the research question, descriptive and inferential coding, as per Punch & Oancea (2014) was undertaken using computer-assisted qualitative data analysis (CAQDAS), specifically NVivo software (Bryman, 2012). To build “intimate familiarity” (O’Toole & Beckett, 2016, p. 151) with the data, the original transcript was read through without taking notes or considering any interpretation. Upon further reading, reflective notes were taken and respondents key words annotated. Codes were then constructed using NVivo while reading the text and listening to the original digital recording. Categories were then built up out of groups of code (Saldana, 2009). Table B1 in Appendix B tabulates these core categories (Bryman, 2012) and the coding framework that emerged from this interaction with the narrative data. Finally, the categorised data was sifted manually for further emergent themes.
To validate investigations, researchers often use triangulation across data sources (McMillan & Schumacher, 2014). As this proposed research did not collect a number of data sets triangulation was not possible. For some types of analysis, a single incident is meaningful (McMillan & Schumacher, 2014).
The framework published in Appendix C guided an ethical approach to this research. Consent was gained from the school and all parent/guardians of the participants before interviewing. Relevant consent forms are documented in Appendix D and Appendix E. At the beginning of the focus group interview, each student also provided verbal consent after a brief explanation on the purpose of the recording was provided.
Critical analysis, evaluation and recommendation
Recorded narrative data exposed a tangle of beliefs about knowledge, technology and learning. The following analysis links voiced student beliefs to the research question before moving towards recommendations for classroom practice.
The research findings expressed below, are linked to the research question via three emergent themes identified by the teacher-facilitator. These themes were: Being Knowledgeable, Trusted Networks and Unknown Beliefs.
The students found difficulty in explaining what they thought knowledge is and therefore expressed their views in terms of being knowledgeable, that is, something that people have and can be passed onto someone else. As Patrick stated, “you should be able to teach it and… share it with everybody else.” Patrick believed that knowledge was gained by “digging deep” and that knowledgeable people know “how to teach it and really…how to communicate what [they] are thinking about… with other people.” This view resonated with Stuart’s description of knowledge in terms of the “ability to understand and share ideas you have learnt in a way where you are confident with what you are saying and know what you are saying.” This focus on the learning process and being knowledgeable appears to avoid defining knowledge per se. This conclusion is supported by the emergent coding (Appendix B) that shows a tendency to discuss learning in place of knowledge. Of interest, when Trevor was asked “What is knowledge?” he responded only after listening to other opinions by stating that knowledge is located “In your brain”. Harry also expressed his belief of knowledge in terms of being “really knowledgeable” and being able to “communicate what you are thinking about that with other people.” In these instances, the students are grappling with the nature of knowledge, which is what epistemologies are all about. These responses suggest that the participants view knowledge as a separate entity that can be passed between people and as we will see below, technology.
The students connected the above views to their technology use by saying that technology can assist with learning, as declared by Steven, “You use… technology to enhance the learning we are doing in the class and act as an online teacher.” Similarly, Patrick stated this idea in terms of “So, if a teacher can be a source, but a teacher isn’t always, you know, at your fingertips. Technology is.” In summary, as described by Trevor, when asked how technology can make you more knowledgeable, he replied “It’s got everything in there.”
In this context, the Year 9 students’ somewhat naive beliefs about knowledge were focussed on being or becoming knowledgeable and technology was used as a source to become knowledgeable, as a substitute for the teacher. Their reflections indicate that they enact these knowledge beliefs by using technology to “get more knowledgeable” (Harry) or as described by Stuart the “laptop itself enables you to use Google, wiki or like web sites and everything”. The ideas that the students are expressing and their uses of technology suggest an absolutist or simple view of knowledge where authorities have knowledge and pass it onto others (Ulyshen, Koehler & Gao, 2015). In such a scenario knowledge is the property of experts who pass it onto others (Sandoval, Greene & Braten, 2016).
By asking questions, including “digital questions”, the students seem to be verifying the knowledge that they are accessing. In the classroom context, they are placing most trust in the teacher, a necessary strategy given the proliferation of knowledge claims in the modern world (Sandoval, et al., 2016).
The students tapped into trusted networks to source knowledge. The key node in this network was the classroom teacher, expressed very clearly by Harry: “Well, the teacher in like a classroom, the teacher always like knows what they are talking about, whereas, like somewhere else, you don’t really have that teacher.” However, there seemed to be an understanding that the digital nature of knowledge “enables knowledge to change place”. Therefore, the students expressed a belief that knowledge could not only reside in people but as already stated above, could be pulled in from web pages and wikis via Google. In this context laptops were seen as places to “store your work really easily” (Patrick). The group also understood that they could “learn off people that have got that knowledge” (Patrick).
The general view of gaining knowledge to become knowledgeable was voiced succinctly by Patrick: “If we weren’t in a science classroom, I think our main source of, just like say we were outside you know just in the city, our main source of knowledge, if we were to find out something would be technology. But seeing that we are in a classroom, then our main source of knowledge will be the teacher.”
The student participants held tightly to the belief that the teacher was the main source of knowledge. However, this reflective judgment of knowledge (Schommer-Aikins, Brookhart & Hutter, 2000) indicates that they are grappling with multiple sources of knowledge (Ho & Liang, 2015) and indirectly voicing the perception that knowledge can be sourced from various locations. The above conversation indicates that their epistemic cognition is context specific, an idea that is reported in literature (Osterholm, 2009; Sandoval, et al., 2016).
The key idea of teacher as source of knowledge kept arising, as summarised by Harry: “The main source of knowledge in this classroom and probably any classroom is always going to be the teacher. The person who is trying to get you to understand the knowledge.” (Harry). However, he also offered a caveat to this comment by saying, “We are going to become more and more reliant on technology and I think that eventually that’s going to be our source of knowledge.” This is an intriguing comment suggests that students are exploring ideas about the source of knowledge but reflection suggests that they have subordinated their learning to the teacher and perhaps technology. This again results in them using technology to source knowledge.
What is largely absent from the student dialogue is a view of self as a source of knowledge. On only one occasion were external sources challenged when Trevor asked very hesitantly, “Would you be, you would sort of be your own source of knowledge, wouldn’t you?” This suggests the group is exploring a belief continuum that at one end views knowledge as from authority and at the other where knowledge is constructed from reasoning (Ulyshen et al., 2015).
The students found difficulty in discussing the stability and structure of knowledge. When exploring these dimensions Patrick asked: “What is the structure of it [knowledge]? I don’t know if I have thought about knowledge having structure and thinking about like knowledge. There is one thing to have it but not to think about it.” Group interaction did lead to Patrick stating “It’s like what we did sort of in Chemistry. We sort of had our little bits and pieces and then now our end result is this presentation that we are making with the entire… all that chemistry.” These responses again suggest simple views of knowledge (Schommer et al., 2000) supported by later comments from Patrick where he pondered if knowledge in Chemistry was made up of “little bits and pieces”. In general, this discussion was confusing to the students and further questioning did not dwell on these ideas.
In a similar manner, the groups found difficulty in discussing the speed of learning and ability to learn. In general, the students tended to view speed of learning and ability to learn in terms of working efficiently and using their laptops to administer information. These views were coded as “Learning as Work” in Appendix B. In the context of this discussion Patrick did state “It [the ability to learn] can vary by subjects. Like I know it happens to all of us, but the motivation for you to want to learn changes by the subject and by your interests but the ability to learn, I think that probably stays the same… it’s just whether… people actually take their chances to motivate themselves to do it.”
Although this case study is not focussing on motivation theory, it should be noted that comments about motivation may be linked to tacit knowledge beliefs. For example, students who believe that learning is quick do not invest efforts to delve deep into understanding presented material and believe learning is about memorising facts (Ho & Liang, 2015). These ideas regarding low motivation may suggest simple views of knowledge in the context of this case study.
In this case study, the students were able to talk about speed of learning and the ability to learn in a naive way. They may have also not quite understood the questions as posed or are confusing concepts of information with concepts of knowledge. This is not surprising as schools engage students in discussions on learning but the same is not true about knowledge beliefs (Schommer-Aikins, et al., 2000).
Conclusion and Recommendations
This case study aimed to determine Year 9 students’ beliefs about knowledge and how they think these beliefs influence their use of technology. The collected data indicates that the participants viewed knowledge as something external to themselves. Led by this explicit belief they articulated the strategy of using technology to source knowledge from various locations.
These students found difficulty in expressing views about the structure and certainty of knowledge. It is possible that they do have an understanding of these epistemologies but they were not explicated in the context of the focus group. Additionally, to understand the role of knowledge beliefs on learning is to study actual learning processes, such as how students approach problems or how they select and integrate information (Ulyshen et al., 2015). The methodology used in this case study may not have activated these more tacit understandings.
This case study has provided important insights into how the student participants view knowledge and therefore make use of their technologies to learn. The students demonstrated lack of experience in discussing their epistemic reasoning. Therefore, they should be provided with growth pathways to develop their epistemic reasoning via active discussion and exploration in the classroom setting. Scholarly works suggests that if individuals are aware of their epistemic beliefs, their influence on learning may be magnified (Ulyshen, et al., 2015).
It is important to acknowledge that epistemological research, as an area concerned with the nature and justification of human knowledge, is not a single, coherent field. As an area of expansion, research is shifting away from viewing thinking and knowing as an individual activity to viewing them as fundamentally social activities (Sandoval, et al., 2016). Indeed, the ontological separation of teachers, learners and knowledge is giving way and challenging dominant pedagogies grounded in the model of tabula rasa – that subordinates learning to teaching (Atkinson, 2015). Future research should aim to build students understanding of knowledge that is subject to social discussion, validation and application (Anderson, 2016). Furthermore, networked pedagogies must be developed to reflect the zeitgeist of the 21st century, where digitally connected and social learning consists of the ability to traverse open and digital networks (Downes, 2012) while making meaning of the world.
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- Within the context of our science classrooms what is knowledge?
- Within the context of our science classrooms how do students gain or build knowledge?
- How stable is this knowledge?
- What is the structure of this knowledge?
- What do you believe about the speed of learning in science?
- What do you believe about the ability to learn?
- What does it mean in current contexts of education that knowledge is digitised?
Within the context of each question ask, “How do you think this belief or view influences your use of technology when learning in this Science classroom?”
|Emergent coding from narrative analysis using NVivo software.|
|Code||Description and key words||Number of nodes|
|Technology Beliefs||Discussion on technology and how it assists with learning.||27|
|Technology Uses||Actual uses of technology such as Googling.||24|
|Location of Knowledge||Mentions of where knowledge resides.||2|
|Source of knowledge||Mentions of how students gain knowledge.||6|
|Beliefs about knowledge||Other general opinions about knowledge||32|
|Barriers to Learning||Perceived barriers||6|
|Learning as work||Descriptions of how learning is administered||15|
Ethical Concerns and Recommendations: Narrative Research taken from Keily (2015).
Ethical concerns and recommendations
|Harm to participants:
Physical harm, harm to participants’ development, loss of self-esteem, stress and inducing participants to perform reprehensible acts.
|Harm should be avoided.
Non-maleficence must be a guiding principle.
Minimise disturbances both to subjects themselves and to the subject’s relationships with their environment.
Develop strategies to keep records anonymous and report findings. Use pseudonyms to participants cannot be identified.
Work to ensure field notes do not disclose participants’ identities.
Ensure participants have a voice when dialoguing with researcher.
The safety and confidentiality of the researcher should also be considered.
Put in place data protection procedures.
Seek informed consent.
Carry out worthwhile and potentially beneficial work (beneficence).
Stage the interview so that the participant, not the researcher, gains as a result of the research.
|Lack of informed consent:
Participants not fully aware of study and cannot make an informed decision about inclusion in the study or not.
|Supply student participants and their guardians as much information as possible (See Bryman 2014, p. 153) so that they can make an informed decision regarding participation in the study.
Make use of a study information sheet and consent form. For example, as offered by Bryman (2014, p. 141) so as to obtain explicit consent to collect narrative information.
Participant to actively sign and return a consent form.
Researchers represent their work as something other than what it is. This is ethically questionable and can also bring social studies into social disrepute.
|Avoid deception or covert approaches as these violate principals of informed consent.
Do not permit researchers or collaborators to pursue methods of inquiry that are likely to infringe human values and sensibilities. (Bryman, 2014, p. 143).
Participation must be voluntary and fully informed.
|Invasion of privacy:
Information that is public enters the public domain
|All participants have a right to privacy.
Negotiate permission to return to the field, if necessary, to seek additional data and validate emerging patterns from the narrative data.
Structure the research to ensure confidentiality and anonymity.
Use pseudonyms in place of actual participant names.
Take steps to ensure that location of research site is not identified.
All records to be kept confidential by storing and archiving raw data on a local computer with password protection.
Student consent form
I agree to participate in the above research project and give my consent freely.
I understand that the project will be conducted as described in the Information Statement, a copy of which I have retained.
I understand I can withdraw from the project at any time and do not have to give any reason for withdrawing.
I consent to:
- Participate in a short focus group along with three other students ☐
I understand that my personal information will remain confidential to the researchers.
I have had the opportunity to have questions answered to my satisfaction.
Print Participant Name: – ___________________________________
Guardian and student information sheet
INFORMATION FOR RESEARCH PARTICIPANTS AND GUARDIANS
You are invited to participate in a research project called Student Knowledge Beliefs that is being undertaken by SIMON KEILY as a part of his Master of Education degree at Charles Sturt University.
PURPOSE OF THE RESEARCH
The purpose of this research is to gather data via semi-structured interview that will help the researcher to develop an understanding of student epistemological beliefs. The results of this case study will help the researcher to develop an understanding of how middle years students view knowledge.
How teachers make use of technology in classrooms is effected by their beliefs about pedagogy, technology and knowledge beliefs. The voice of the student is often missing in studies that explore how these beliefs impact technology integration into the classroom. Therefore, this short case study aims to gather information regarding student beliefs, with a specific focus on how they view knowledge and how they think these epistemological beliefs effect how they use technology in the classroom.
Your involvement in this study is entirely voluntary. If you decide to participate, I will ask you to take part in an interview that will take no longer than one hour at a mutually convenient place and time. During the interview, you will be asked questions about how you view knowledge and how these effect your use of technology. The specific context will be the science classroom. With your permission, the interview will be audio-taped and you will be sent a transcript of the interview for verification.
POSSIBLE RISKS, INCONVENIENCES AND DISCOMFORTS
All information collected in this research will be treated with the strictest confidence and will be destroyed when I have completed my studies in this subject. You will be not be identified by name, and no details that may identify you will be used. Pseudonyms will be used in the research report, which will be submitted to my lecturer at university as an assignment. The results may be published on an online forum, for example as a blog post, but in a form that participants cannot be identified.
You are under no obligation to agree to participate in this research. If you do agree to take part, however, you are free to withdraw at any time and without providing your reasons. In the event that you decide to withdraw your participation, any data collected from you will not be used and will be discarded.
Your signature below indicates that you have read this consent form, had an opportunity to ask any questions about your participation in this research and voluntarily consent to participate. You will receive a copy of this form for your records.
Name of Participant (please print):______________________________
Name of guardian (please print): _______________________