Mitt pedagogiske grunnsyn
My Pedagogical Platform
Jan ole Rypestøl
In the following essay, I reflect on ontology, epistemology, knowledge, and truth, before I present my philosophical paradigm and explain how it influences the way I think about and practice teaching.
1. My Ontological and Epistemological Stances and My Views on Knowledge and Truth
I teach innovation theory in ORG 454 at the University of Agder, and a central finding in innovation studies is that firms seldom innovate in isolation (Fagerberg, 2005). The literature concludes that firms, acquire and source knowledge from several sources and in several ways during their innovation process. The literature further concludes that knowledge is the most important input for innovation and that knowledge comes in several forms, each with different sensitivities to geographical distance and other forms of proximity relevant to knowledge sharing processes (Boschma, 2005; Martin & Moodysson, 2011).
As researchers, we know that our ontological and epistemological stances influence our research as it affects our methodological choices, how we analyse data and how we argue for our findings. In my view, a person's ontological and epistemological stances will influence more than just research, as they reflect the way we think about the world and what can be learnt (and taught) about it.
The concept of ontology encompasses a set of philosophical thoughts and presumptions related to our understanding of what is real or what exists in the world. Arbnor & Bjerke (2009) differentiate between a constructivist and a realist ontology. In this dichotomy, a realist ontology refers to the set of thoughts and reflections that argue that a 'real' and 'true' reality exists independent of our ability to understand and comprehend it. In contrast with the realist stance, constructivists argue that there is no such thing as 'true' reality. Instead, they argue that reality is socially constructed by human minds, and all forms of reality are equally true for the individuals themselves (Arbnor & Bjerke, 2009).
As a researcher and a human, I tend to lean towards a realist ontological stance. I believe (at least now) that a 'real' and objective world exists and that it is possible to gain correct knowledge about what causes and drives incidents and cases. However, what is less clear is how we can come to learn about this reality.
While ontology represents a person's set of thoughts and presumptions about what is real and what exists, epistemology refers to the set of philosophical presumptions that constitute our understanding of the nature and grounds of knowledge. Arbnor & Bjerke (2009) differentiate between subjective and objective epistemology. Subjective epistemology maintains that true knowledge can never be attained because the things we observe are always subjective interpretations of what is going on. The objective epistemological stand contradicts the subjective epistemological approach by arguing that it is possible to obtain true knowledge about reality (Arbnor & Bjerke, 2009).
The first known person to deal with epistemological questions was Plato (428 BC-348 BC) (Eikeland, 2008). Plato and, later, his pupil, Aristotle, realised that one can have impressions of things and that these impressions are a subjective way of understanding the world. However, they also believed that there is some truth beyond impressions, and these impressions do not capture the total depth of reality. Therefore, both Plato and Aristotle wondered about how to access knowledge beyond our limited, idiosyncratic perception of what knowledge is, and this question is, in many ways, a point of departure for modern science. While Plato defined knowledge as 'justified true belief', Aristotle argued that the concept of knowledge is more multifaceted (Eikeland, 2008). Based on the Aristotelian tradition, knowledge can be (1) Epistêmê, which has been commonly understood as the justified true belief described by Plato; (2) Technê, which is commonly understood as practically applied knowledge; or (3) Phrònêsis, which is commonly understood as practical wisdom (Eikeland, 2008).
I agree with Aristotle that knowledge is more than just scientific, justified true belief and that practical applied knowledge and wisdom are important aspects of knowledge. In this regard, I am also fascinated by the work of Olav Eikeland (2008), who presented a more nuanced and multifaceted classification of Aristotelian knowledge forms. According to Eikeland, knowledge appears in seven various ways in Aristotelian dialogues, and from Eikeland, I learned that the concept of knowledge is multifaceted and also influenced by the relationship between the knower and the known.
In his book The New Natural Resource, Garman Johnsen (2016) presented his understanding of the concept of knowledge and how knowledge develops. The central claims in his discussion are: (i) Knowledge is a neutral concept that can be detected regardless of cultural factors, institutions, and subjective interpretations, (ii) that knowledge is not the same as truth, nor is it just fact. Instead, knowledge and truth are connected in such a way that knowledge is considered to be the right understanding of things, and (iii) that knowledge-sorting mechanisms are constituted by open discussions in society, which also indicate that knowledge is a social process.
As a social scientist, this line of thinking about knowledge and truth resonates with my own understanding. Thus, I agree that in the social sciences, knowledge can be understood as what is socially regarded as a right understanding of things. Thus, the definition of true knowledge shifts as we learn more and add knowledge to what we already know.
2. My Philosophical Paradigm
Based on various ontological and epistemological stands, several philosophical paradigms have emerged (for a short overview, see Delanty & Strydom, 2003). Two contrasting paradigms are positivism and constructivism. While positivists advocate for an objective ontology and a dualist epistemology, constructivists argue that reality is a subjectively constructed phenomenon that is shaped 'through interpreting perceptual experiences of the external world' (Jonassen, 1991, p. 10). These contrasting views on reality and how one can come about to learn about this reality manifest in different forms of methodologies. While positivists believe that we, as researchers, can research the real without influencing it or being influenced by it, constructivists argue instead that knowledge is best created through processes of interaction between the researcher and the object of investigation.
My worldview differs from the views of both positivists and constructivists because I argue for a realist ontology and a constructivist epistemology. This combination fits well with the critical realism (CR) paradigm (Bhaskar, 1978; Sayer, 1992, 2000), which argues that a real-world exists independent of theories, perceptions and constructions but, at the same time, acknowledges that 'our understanding of this real-world is inevitably a construction from our own perspectives and standpoint, and there is no possibility of attaining a "God's eye point of view" that is independent of any particular viewpoint' (Maxwell & Mittapalli, 2010, p. 146). CR argues that there is a distinction between transitive and intransitive knowledge: the transitive dimension of knowledge encompasses knowledge captured in theories, models, and concepts, while the intransitive dimension refers to the real objects about which science aims to gain knowledge. Sayer (2000) outlines the difference between the two dimensions when arguing, 'there is no reason to believe that the shift from a flat earth theory to a round earth theory was accompanied by a change in the shape of the earth itself' (p. 11).
As a researcher and a human, I identify myself as a critical realist. CR is a paradigm that, of course, argues for more than what is described above. For example, it views ontology as stratified-covering the real, the actual and the empirical-and understands the world as being the result of the emergence of new phenomena that arise from conjunctions of two or more features or aspects in which individuals are embedded in social structures, cultures, norms, and values. Methodology-wise, CR embraces both qualitative and quantitative methods, as both forms can, in different ways, produce knowledge that can help unmask the real. Also, CR argues that retroduction is an important mechanism for uncovering the real. Retroduction refers to a dialogue between theory and praxis, which is often presented as an abductive research strategy. This openness to including both qualitative and quantitative research approaches and the emphasis on dialogue and retroduction have also influenced my view of my students and the act of teaching, which I will elaborate on in the following section.
3. My Views on Students and Approaches to Teaching
I view students as knowledgeable individuals who are more than just empty glasses that need to be filled. Instead, in my view, students possess a set of assets that have been formed and modified through history from opportunities and restrictions and from the institutional setups in which they have been embedded. Thus, students are a set of knowledgeable individuals that to some extent is able to facilitate their own learning, and they also represent a resource that should be exploited for the benefit of other students, and the teacher. Thus, I find that a successful process of learning manifests when students have both added additional knowledge and grown as individuals from discussions and co-creation processes.
As a critical realist, I appreciate triangulation as a tool for uncovering various layers of the real (Denzin, 1970). I also appreciate triangulation in teaching because I acknowledge that most approaches to teaching have something to offer me as a teacher.
From the behaviourist approach (see, e.g., Woollard, 2010), which has been championed by psychologists such as Watson, Pavlov, Thorndike and Skinner, I learned that expectation, repetition and reward are important mechanisms that can enhance learning. Therefore, I most often start the semester by discussing expectations. I also start each lesson with a short repetition, and I actively use praise and applause to reinforce good behaviour. In my everyday classroom, good behaviour is more so defined by the student's willingness to make an effort and share than the quality of the outcome of that effort. In my view, praise is important not only to encourage students but also to guide them and give structure to their learning. However, unlike behaviourists, I believe that students can also learn from each other if we, as teachers, facilitate such learning. This is more in line with liberationism, which was fathered by Paulo Freire (1970, 1973).
Liberationism argues that students should be viewed as creators of knowledge (Freire, 1970, 1973). I am not practising liberationism to the extent that I facilitate multiple groups that offer deep learning on several subjects and leave it up to the students to choose the group that fills their knowledge gaps, but I do value the knowledge that students possess, and I facilitate group discussions frequently in my teaching. The rationale for organising small discussion groups is to create room for intra-learning processes between students, which complement and extend my own teaching.
Also, I draw from the knowledge offered by the cognitive constructivist Piaget (See, e.g., Richmond, 2013), who argued that everything we know and can know is systemised cognitively in schemas. Assimilation, he argued, takes place when new knowledge fits into schemas that already exist, while accommodation is the process through which old schemas are modified by new knowledge. Based on this thinking, in my teaching, I focus on developing cognitive maps with my students. These maps are used as references when I present new knowledge. Some of this new knowledge can be classified as accommodation knowledge, whereas some forms of new knowledge fit perfectly into the schemas already drawn. I also acknowledge that students have their own ways of organising and structuring knowledge, and I sometimes experience that my cognitive map conflicts with theirs. In such cases, we often have good and constructive overall discussions in class.
Even if students can be guides and teachers for each other, I value the knowledge presented by Vygotsky and the social learning theory (See, e.g., Hausfather, 1996), which argues for the zone of proximal development. According to Vygotsky, there is a distance between what students can learn by themselves and what can be achieved with the support of a guide or teacher. In line with this way of thinking, I expect that my students have done a decent job of acquiring curricular knowledge by themselves and by discussing it with their peers, but I always focus on guiding the students beyond what I can expect them to understand from their own study and from group discussions.
More recently, I have paid increasing attention to connectivism, which is a new approach to teaching established by George Siemens (Siemens, 2017). This approach inspires me to make use of technology in my teaching. Today, I experiment with various platforms and am about to explore how design knowledge can be used more creatively in my own teaching (e.g. through tailor-made illustrations, use of films, tailor-made whiteboard drawings and interactive use of digital platforms, such as chatrooms and breakout rooms in Zoom).
4. Short end reflection
The Uniped course has inspired me to continue developing my teaching and reflection on pedagogical principles, and today I experiment using various approaches to teaching and perform research on my own teaching to further develop my teaching skills. Even if I, as a researcher, have thought thoroughly about some important related questions, I am still not done thinking about my pedagogical stand. Thus, the outlined thoughts and reflections are still under development.
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