Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Epistemology and Where I Fall

Reflections on Instructional Design & Technology
Week 2

Epistemology and Learning Theory Delineated

My underlying convictions as an educator impacted my reading about the foundations of IDT significantly. However, I acknowledge the benefit of broad understanding of learning theory in shaping my views as an instructional designer. Therefore, I have been engaged in epistemology over the last few days as I have studied different theories, methods and models of learning. Epistemology is more about the 10,000 foot view of Education and I feel it's very important to our field. Teachers often discuss the pendulum effect in education where initiatives come and go with regularity and may reappear if you teach for several decades. This effect could be felt less often by teachers if we considered educational theory and historical contexts rather than making decisions only based on our current situations. Epistemology articulates our hunches as educators or highlights fallacies in our thinking.

Epistemic Stances

The topic of racism arises often in my third grade classes. Our community evolves and morphs with each passing year. As a Contextualist, I would disagree with the Positivist whether he/she said minorities were better or worse than the current white majority. I would also disagree with the Relativist who might comment that it depends on which minority you consider or where they are from when you evaluate their character. As a contextualist, I would argue that racism exists due to the context individuals were raised in. In certain cities and among certain circles, racism is highlighted as evil and rooted out. However, in the case of my parents who were from the deep south and lacked educational opportunities, racism was ingrained. A student in my class this year reflected at the end of the year that her perception of white people changed in my class. She was raised in a traditional Asian family to think that all white people were lazy and sneaky.
I remember my Freshman biology class vividly. My church youth group was studying apologetics, or the ability to defend your beliefs. My very talented Biology teacher was requiring our class to write research papers on evolution. At the time, I didn’t believe in evolution. I was functioning in Positivist thinking. As a dedicated student with a lot of respect for my teacher, I wrote a very thorough report on Creationism. My teacher appreciated my conflicting viewpoint and my diligence in researching. I really felt torn about that assignment, but I was probably more engaged in that writing than any other assignment that year. I’m not certain what my instructor’s epistemic stance was, but I believe she was a Constructivist. I think she intended to challenge the thinking of a lot of conservative small-town kids by making us research something that contradicted the teachings of our churches. As I mentioned, she was a great teacher!

Epistemology and Problem Solving

In considering problem solving and learning, I have some very applicable experience. I spent time working with children with special needs who were also English Language Learners. We applied the behaviorist ABC model where instructors study behaviors in order to reduce or increase their frequency. A stands for antecedent, B is for the behavior (what the learner did), and C for the consequence the learner experienced. We might apply this analysis model when a child was a runner or when they had an emotional outburst in class. This behaviorist approach is about outside forces working to program the learner to perform.
In stark contrast, I was preparing to receive a new special education student into my class mid-year this year. I had an orientation with my campus principal, the student, and his parents. We discussed his personal feelings about school, his preferences, and their family goals for their child. My goal could have been like the ABC approach where I programmed him to act in ways that teachers and adults felt more comfortable with, but this goes against my belief about meaningful learning. I set about giving him a vision for the goals he had shared with me and coaching him as he worked to test and implement his own strategies for having a healthy school interaction. In some ways, this constructivist approach to solving problems is more difficult because it involves things we cannot see- a learner’s thoughts and feelings. I didn’t have control of those things as his teacher. However, I felt that the best thing for the child was to give him the motivation and self-efficacy to succeed in our classroom but also in life. My student was very motivated to grow and thrive in my class. Did he have some rough moments? Yes. However, I was there to support him through them and cheer him on when he accomplished his self-defined goals. I didn’t program a human robot, I helped change a boy’s mind about himself!


Driscoll (2012). Psychological Foundations of Instructional Design. In R. Reiser and J. Dempsey's, Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 1-34). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Wilson(2012). Constructivism in Practical and Historical Context. In R. Reiser and J. Dempsey's, Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 1-34). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Hoadley and Van Haneghan(2012). The Learning Sciences: Where They Came From and What it Means for Instructional Designers. In R. Reiser and J. Dempsey's, Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 1-34). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Keller and Diemann (2012). Motivation, Volition and Performance. In R. Reiser and J. Dempsey's, Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 1-34). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Reiser, R.A., and Dempsey, J. (2012). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology. Boston, MA: Pearson.


  1. Hey Heather,

    I would have to agree with your assessment of what your professor thought about your paper " intended to challenge " meaning she wanted you to critically stand your ground. Sometimes we need to be challenged to bring out the best in ourselves. Loved your post!

    Great job

  2. I loved reading your response to all three sections. You approached this assignment from the perspective of your own experiences. Because of that, I found your blog very easy to read. "Epistemology is more about the 10,000 foot view of Education and I feel it's very important to our field." This statement stood out to me because it gave me a different perspective of the concept. I had to really put everything out of my mind and think about this term to actually understand it. This gave me a little nugget of understanding from a perspective I hadn't considered. As for your thoughts on contextualist, I found it interesting. I've grown up in California, Texas, Alabama and DC. You can imagine that my perspective on racism has a very unique view. I love all people that are lovable and tend to ignore size, shape and color. I know that this is not seen in every community or family or individual, but it is the way that I am. I even find myself loving the unlovable because I am patient enough to let them warm up to me as I warm up to them. Your post made me think and for that I appreciate the opportunity to read your thoughts.

  3. Wow Heather- what a great post! I appreciate your response about the writing you did as a Freshman Biology student. Your choice to go forward with the paper you wrote speaks volumes to the maturity that you had as a Freshman. It sounds like this teacher did a fantastic job of challenging her students to go deeper and really delve into who the student is. This reflects a much higher level of thinking. Do you think she did this intentionally? Even though you were functioning in Positivist thinking, you were able to grasp a bigger concept. What a great teacher! I only hope that I challenge my students in such a way!

    1. I appreciate your response Stephanie! My teacher really knew how to shake things up! I think she held very progressive viewpoints for our school and maybe she did not always anticipate how little we had been exposed to. Had she known the intense response many students would have, she might not have assigned the piece, but I am glad she did. I hope you do too! She was talking almost 20 years ago about how, some day, we would rewind live TV. When the DVR came out in college I thought she was such a genius! Thank you again for your response.