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Notes: Fostering epistemological beliefs and conceptual change in chemistry using knowledge building



Citekey: @lam2008

Lam, I., & Chan, C. K. K. (2008). Fostering epistemological beliefs and conceptual change in chemistry using knowledge building. In Proceedings of the 8th international conference on International conference for the learning sciences Volume 1 (Vol. 1, pp. 461–468). Utrecht, The Netherlands: International Society of the Learning Sciences. Retrieved from



Various measures were collected at pre and posttests including epistemological beliefs, conceptual-change questions and online discourse and reflection. Results indicated that experimentalstudents made more gains than comparison students on both conceptual and epistemologicalmeasures. Epistemological beliefs and knowledge-building reflection were correlated withscience learning; regression analyses indicated that knowledge-building reflection and inquirycontributed to conceptual change over and above prior knowledge and epistemological beliefs. (p. 1)


Considerable debates and interests have now been given to examining cognitive and socio-cultural perspectives of learning (Anderson, Reder & Simon, 1997) and conceptual change (Mason, 2007). Traditionally, conceptual change has been viewed from the cognitive perspective emphasizing cognitive conflict (Posner,Strike, Hewson & Gertzog, 1982), ontological shifts (Chi, Slotta & de Leeuw, 1994) and epistemologicalcommitment in knowledge restructuring (Vosniadou & Brewer, 1987). Currently, conceptual change has been examined from the socio-cultural perspective emphasizing enculturation of practice and discursive interactions and social construction of knowledge in the science classroom (Scott, Asoko & Leach, 2007). (p. 1)

Recent research on intentional conceptual change emphasizes the role of learner’s intentions, epistemological beliefs, motivation, and agency in knowledge restructuring (Sinatra & Pintrich, 2003). It also points to the need to design learning environments that encourage learners to integrate goal-directed strategies and to develop metaconceptual awareness for intentional conceptual change. A major related strand that has attracted much attention examines epistemological beliefs or beliefs about the nature of knowledge, knowing and learning (Hofer & Pintrinch, 2003). Increased research evidence has shown how these beliefs can facilitate or constrain student understanding, reasoning, thinking, and science learning. For example, research indicated that a belief about knowledge as certain and simple was negatively correlated with conceptual change learning from refutational text. Students’ immature beliefs about learning and knowledge are related to difficulties in their conceptual understanding (Qian and Alvermann, 2000). Students who hold more sophisticated epistemological beliefs are more likely to consider conflictual and controversial information; epistemological beliefs have been shown as a major predictor of argumentation (Mason & Scirica, 2006). For example, Stathopoulou and Vosniadou (2007) examined the relationships between physics-related epistemological beliefs and physics conceptual understanding amongst 10th grade students. (p. 1)

Whereas it is now recognized that cognitive and situated perspectives are to be integrated (Mason, 2007; Vosniadou, 2007), less attention has been given to how learning environment can be designed to bridge these two perspectives, and how to foster epistemological change and metaconceptual awareness mediated by collective discursive practice. (p. 1)

Research on knowledge building has shown how the approach can help restructure scientific discourse,foster deep understanding, and enhance inquiry-based scientific understanding (e.g., Caswell and Bielaczyc,2001; Lee, Chan & van Aalst, 2006; van Aalst & Chan, 2007). Hakkarainen (2004) analysed young students’written productions in Physics posted to CSILE’s database, and indicated that they engaged in epistemic agencyand pursed explanation-driven inquiry and some of them moved towards theoretical scientific explanation.Zhang et al (2007) examined socio-cognitive dynamics examining epistemic agency of students in advancingtheir science knowledge for 5th and 6th grade students. Vosniadou and Kollias (2003) employed KnowledgeForum to foster the development of discourse and students’ ideas, beliefs, and metaconceptual awareness. (p. 2)

This study investigated the role of knowledge building in fostering conceptual andepistemological changes in the context of Grade 10 chemistry students collaborating onKnowledge Forum in a Hong Kong classroom. The following research questions were addressed: (1) What were the effects of knowledge building on science learning and conceptual change? (2) What was the nature of epistemological beliefs, and what were the effects of knowledge building on epistemological change? And (3) What characterized students’ engagement on Knowledge Forum, and what were the relationships among epistemological beliefs, knowledge-building process and conceptual change? (p. 2)

Method (p. 2)

This study employed a quasi-experimental pre-posttest research design. (p. 2)

Epistemological Beliefs Questionnaire. A questionnaire of 28 items was designed based on earlierwork for elementary school science students (Conley et al., 2004). (p. 2)

Conceptual-Change Questions. A paper and pencil test was administered to both classes to identifyconceptual difficulties, and to assess students’ knowledge structures and understanding of the concepts ofelectrochemistry. The instrument consisted of open-ended items, multiple-choice and true/false items followedby giving reasons for the choices. (p. 3)

The instructional design followed earlier studies using knowledge building in Hong Kong classroom(Lee et al., 2006). A four-phase instructional design was used: (a) Developing a collaborative culture wherestudents were asked to put ideas to the public; (b) Knowledge-building inquiry: Knowledge Forum wasintroduced and students engaged in posing problems, making conjectures and hypotheses, co-constructingexplanations, comparing different theories and explanations; © Deepening and Rise-Above: students deepenedtheir understanding using rise-above notes and synthesized their understanding; and (d) alignment ofassessment: students wrote reflections and e-portfolios identifying and capturing their own and communityprogress in knowledge building in their discourse. (p. 2)

RESULTS (p. 3)

Differences of Science Learning and Conceptual Change for Groups (p. 3)

both classes showed decreases and the Knowledge Forum students showed more decreases in several misconceptions. (p. 3)

Knowledge building students outperformed the comparison students on conceptual change scores in electrochemistry. Analyses of students’ pretest and posttest examination questions indicated no differences. (p. 3)

An independent sample t-test on pretest scores indicated no differences at pretest. (p. 4)

Differences of Epistemological Change for Groups (p. 4)

the experimental students had significantly more changes than comparison students (t (77) = 4.75, p<.01) on overall scores. Further analyses indicated that significant differences were found on certainty-source (t (77) = 4.47, p<.01), and development (t (77) = 5.48, p<.01)indicating that Knowledge Building students made more changes from viewing knowledge as simplistic towards complex notions; and from seeing knowledge as static towards knowledge as extendable. (p. 4)

Relationships among Epistemological Beliefs, Knowledge Building and ConceptualChange (p. 5)

Correlations indicated that epistemological beliefs were significantly correlated with several pre and postscience learning measures (rs = .27 to .34, p<.05) suggesting that EB is linked to science learning. Significant correlation were also observed between knowledge building reflection(metaconceptual awareness) with pretest epistemological beliefs (r = .33, p<.05) and with post EB development(rs = .36, p<.05). These findings suggest that students with more sophisticated beliefs are more likely to engagein deeper reflection. Further, there were significant correlations between knowledge building reflection andinquiry with conceptual change learning (rs =. 39-.46, p<.05). These finding indicate some positive correlationsamong epistemological beliefs, metaconceptual awareness (reflection) and conceptual change. (p. 5)

We also examined epistemological belief as dependent variables to examine what would contribute to its change. Hierarchical regression analyses showed that pretest epistemological beliefs was a significant predictor(R = .51) explaining 26% of variance. We found that the quantitative knowledge-forum collaboration indexcontributed to posttest EB over and above pretest beliefs. Students who participated on Knowledge Forum with high collaboration activities (notes read, notes linked, and keywords) appeared to shift more tosophisticated beliefs over and above pretest beliefs. (p. 5)

Results indicated that prior conceptual-based scores was a significant predictor (R =.48)that explains 23% of variance of posttest conceptual scores. When knowledge-building reflection was added tothe analyses, multiple R increased to .58 that explains another 10% of variance with significant change. Whenepistemological beliefs were added, there were no increased variances explained. These findings indicate thatover and above prior knowledge, metaconceptual reflection on Knowledge Building contributed to conceptualchange. (p. 5)


These findingssupport the increased emphasis on social construction of science knowledge, and specifically it supports thenotion that collective knowledge building mediated by Knowledge Forum have positive effects on learningscience (p. 6)

experimental students now tend to view knowledge not as discrete facts but complex knowledge that does notonly reside in external authority but can be constructed and derived from multiple sources. The findings alsosuggest that knowledge-building students are more likely to hold the view that knowledge is not static butchangeable and extendable over time. (p. 6)

Such beliefs seemed highly consistent with the kinds of beliefs to be fostered in a collaborative knowledge-building community – When students work together to construct new understanding, they would be able to see knowledge as constructed collaboratively and that knowledge can be advanced, improved and extended. There is considerable work on roles of epistemological beliefs in science learning (e.g., Hofer & Pintrinch, 2003). (p. 6)

We extended earlier research to conceptualchange for high-school students in a complex domain of electrochemistry; we examined conceptual changemore systematically designing tasks that tapped students’ misconceptions. (p. 6)

Our results are consistent with earlier research on knowledge building discourse in elementary students’ scientific understanding (Hakkarainen, 2004; Zhang et al., 2007). (p. 6)

For epistemological change, it is interesting to note that the extent to which students engaged in Knowledge Forum collaborative activity (reading and linking more notes) contributed to belief change. It is possible that students who read more and made more links and references to others’ notes might see knowledge as more complex and extendable. (p. 7)

These findings suggest the important role of knowledge-building process contributing to deep conceptual understanding. (p. 7)

Epistemological beliefs were correlated with several measures of preand post-test exam and conceptual-change question scores. We also found that students with more sophisticated beliefs were engaged in deeper reflection and inquiry. These patterns are consistent with current research on roles of epistemological beliefs on learning and conceptual change (e.g., Mason & Scirica, (p. 7)