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Tammy Clark
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Using Cognitive Flexibility Theory to Teach History

Unit #2

After reviewing information from Unit 2, you should be able to:

  • Define epistemic beliefs
  • Create a survey for your students

Epistemic Beliefs

"In contrast to metacognition, which refers to cogntivie monitoring and self-regulatory processes, epistemic cognition is concerned with the nature and influence of presumably non-domain specific general belief systems related to the acquisition and structure of knowledge" (Jacobson, 1995, p. 304-5).

What does this mean? Epistemic beliefs are, in simplest terms, a learner's beliefs or feelings about learning in general. These beliefs may be acknowledged or subconscious. Therefore, the learner may be aware of their epistemic beliefs or not. Either way, it is believed that these beliefs about learning will ultimately affect how they learn. In terms of cognitive fleibilty theory, a learner may be at a disadvantage if they believe learning is inflexible or aheres to strict rules and norms. "Cognitive flexibility theory also proposes that epistemic beliefs favoring the ovesimplification of complex and ill-structured knowledge contribute to the formation of conceptual misunderstandings at post-introductory stages of learning" (Jacobson, 1995, p.305).


Surveying students' epistemic beliefs

How will you know what epistemic beleifs your students hold? One way to find this out is to survey them. Jacobson and Spiro (1995) surveyed their students by presenting them with negatively and positively worded statements about learning complexity/flexibility that the students rated on a Likert scale (p.317).

Another type of survey you might conduct is one that resembles multiple choice. In each instance, give the student a scenario and then a choice amongst learning statements.

  • For example:
1. You have to write an in-class essay in two weeks about Lexington & Concord.  To prepare you will:
   a.  Get point-by-point instructions from the instructor, read and memorize the text, and write and memorize your outline.
   b.  Gather multiple sources about Lexington & Concord, analyze the viewpoints, and prepare for a multitude of possible essay topics.

Test Yourself

  • Define epistemic beliefs in 10 words or less
  • Create a survey for your students about epistemic beliefs

See possible answers


Begin Unit 3