Epistemology – Week 0 Initial Reflections

The following is part of a series of blog posts I wrote while taking an education PhD course on Epistemologies. A summary of all posts in the series is included in this paper: Developing an Appreciative Understanding of Epistemologies in Educational Research: One Blogger’s Journey

As I expect that reading and reflecting upon epistemology will cause my thoughts to deepen and change, I decided that it would be important for me to capture my initial reactions and beliefs. So, without further ado, here is my initial reaction to the weekly questions:

What does “the nature of knowledge” mean? That is, what constitutes “new knowledge”?

A key component of the Ph.D. is the dissertation, and the premise being it is the generation or contribution of new knowledge to the field. But that of course begs the question, “what constitutes new knowledge”. In this weeks class we did talk briefly about how different people view this, and hence we have different paradigms or “world views”. Throughout the course, we will look at the different views, in order to help us figure out what our particular views are.

My immediate thought to what constitutes new knowledge is an artifact. That is, I really want to create an artifact and have that be considered new knowledge – although I’m not 100% I believe that the artifact itself is knowledge. What do I mean by an artifact? In my case, I mean a course – that is the design and delivery of a course which will result in the generation of data. I think the course itself is the knowledge and the data is what we use to describe the knowledge.

What are my epistemological assumptions? How do these assumptions relate to my intended study of mobile learning?

I think this will be an interesting question once I understand what is meant by epistemological assumptions. For starters, I think I will be happier once I can actually say it without stumbling over the syllables. So, that is really my starting point – learning what the words mean and getting used to speaking them.

What new terms did I discover this week, and what areas require further investigation?

As per above epistemological assumptions. In addition, the course syllabus also mentions ontology, axiology, and methodology. Last semester, all these words would have scared me. When I began my course on qualitative research, all the vocabulary was new to me and the words were, frankly, rather scary. Now, although I don’t really know what they mean, I’m more comfortable with the “ology” idea.

PS: I know that I’m not referencing academic sources here – my goal this week is to find this information without overly influencing my current thinking – allowing me to adequately capture my starting point. Once I start reading academic journals on this subject, I’m sure my thinking will change dramatically, and that is what I’m hoping this blog will capture.

This week, I’m going to just look at the definition of these words and try to get used to saying them. Later, I’ll into discovering the deeper meanings.

First lets start with ology – the definition of ology is simply “the study of”. Dictionary.com adds to this as “any science or branch of knowledge”.

Epistemology: Wikipedia says that epistemology is “the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. It addresses the questions:

  • What is knowledge?
  • How is knowledge acquired?
  • How do we know what we know?”

Ontology: This seems to have a couple of definitions. The philosophical definition according to Wikipedia deals with the “the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being in their relations.” Wikipedia also has an information science definition that focuses more on the categorization aspect than the nature of being aspect.

Axiology: According to Wikipedia – axiology is “the philosophical study of value”. It is used in reference to ethics and aesthetics – that is what is right or good and what is beauty and harmony.

Methodology: I like what Wikipedia says here “Methodology is generally a guideline for solving a problem, with specific components such as phases, tasks, techniques, and tools”. That is a nice digestible definition. The problem is, from a research “methods” or “methodology” perspective, it isn’t that simple. I think how the word is used and what actually constitutes a “methodology” is something I’m going to have to figure out.

What has changed this week w.r.t. my understanding of epistemology?

This week I have a better understanding of the purpose of the course on epistemology, and I’m looking forward to exploration of the topic. My ah-ha moment was the idea that I could define what “new knowledge” means to me, and that there is not once accepted meaning – that educational researchers have the ability to choose their world view and that no one view is more valuable or useful than another. I had seen the different world views as an “evolution” in our theory of knowledge, rather than as distinct frameworks which may all apply.

One statement that was useful for me was that we were seeking to determine “our relationship with new knowledge that we create”.

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