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“Seeing Things Differently”: Using Diverse Representations to Promote Epistemic Diversity and Fluency

Fluency in the application diverse epistemic approaches can help individuals develop a deep understanding concepts. By combining multiple ways of interacting with an idea, learners deepen their understandings. In this session, participants will experiment with an approach that can help learners develop epistemic diversity and fluency in both in-person and online contexts. The approach is based on research on a teacher professional development program conducted before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Markauskite and Goodyear (2017) described epistemic fluency as being “flexible and adept with respect to different ways of knowing about the world” (p. 1). They identified epistemic fluency as a skill critical to engaging in complex professional work and dealing with complex problems. When individuals can switch between different ways of knowing, they can see things in new ways that offer new solutions.

I conducted a teacher professional development program designed to support addressing a problem-solution space from different epistemic perspectives. Four junior high school teachers selected a problem of practice of importance to them. Together, we explored their problem from many different perspectives, what one teacher called “seeing things differently.” In this context, we explored the use of four basic epistemic approaches which I introduced to the teachers as mindsets: analytic, creative, empathetic, and aesthetic. By combining these mindsets, including creating representations of the problem space based on each, teachers were able to see the problem-solution space in ways that afforded new action, akin to what Markauskite and Goodyear (2017) described as epistemic agency.

For example, the teachers were concerned about how to support learner engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic. We applied an analytic mindset by reviewing empirical research about student engagement and creating mind maps of key ideas. One teacher came across research that focused on “relatedness,” that learning engagement can be increased through feelings of connection to others. Viewing the problem space from this perspective provided a new way to view the problem—instead of a focus on student engagement in general, we could consider how to build relatedness amongst students and teachers, something difficult to do but extremely important when teachers and students were physically separated.

An empathetic approach describes coming to know or understand through others’ emotions and experiences. For example, the teachers called students to ask them about their experiences with remote learning. The teachers were surprised to find students enjoyed talking with the teachers and expressed gratitude for the phone calls. They liked to know that they were being heard. This offered another dimension of relatedness: being sure that students not only are heard, but know they are heard.

A creative mindset, where we explored the problem-solution space through divergence, metaphor, and redescription, included finding pictures that could represent relatedness. One teacher found a picture of eggs in an egg carton, leading to a view of relatedness as being an equal member of a peer group. Supporting students in group work, where every student has a part to play, might then increase relatedness.

Finally, an aesthetic mindset is coming to know through personal feelings and experiences. One teacher wrote a poem about a time he felt relatedness during a marching band rehearsal. The poem was a powerful description of feelings of relatedness. For example, the phrase “a sea of sweaty bodies cinched by kinship at the shoulder” helped us experience what relatedness might feel like, something we could strive for when designing for relatedness.

Exploring the idea of relatedness from different perspectives helped teachers develop a deeper understanding of the concept. A similar approach might be effective for helping any learner come to personal understandings of a complex concept.

In this session, we will explore some of the tools and approaches I used to help the teachers in my study practice epistemic diversity and fluency. For example, we used an online bulletin board to collect representations of the concept from each epistemic perspective. The bulletin board allowed us to group our insights in various ways, allowing for unique combinations of ways to think about relatedness. By creating representations and reflecting from diverse epistemic perspectives, and combining the ideas in multiple ways, learners can deepen their understanding of complex ideas.

Markauskaite, L., & Goodyear, P. (2017). Epistemic fluency and professional education: Innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-4369-4