Epistemological Reflection (Baxter Magolda 1992)

Continuing on the same main line of epistemological development, Baxter Magolda based her research regarding epistemological development on Perry’s model. Also, when combining the concerns raised by Belenky et al. (1986) about women’s role and gender dimensions in epistemological development, she explored a gender-inclusive model of epistemological development for young adults from 18 to 30 years.

Using both interviews and the Measure of Epistemological Reflection (MER), which she developed via a series of studies (Baxter Magolda 1985, 1987, 1992; Baxter Mogolda and Porterfield 1988), she conducted a longitudinal study following 101 participants (51 men, 50 women) through their college years. She was able to continue following 70 out of the 101 participants in their post-collegiate phase. She was even following 39 of 70 participants by year 12. Out of these 39

participants, 16 were involved in advanced education (11 with a master’s degree, 1 with a PhD degree, and 4 with other degrees, e.g., JD). The eight years’ of research data regarding the post-collegiate participants extended Perry’s original work to the post-collegiate population.

Using grounded theory, Baxter Magolda (1992) named the following four perspectives in her Epistemological Reflection Model: Absolute Knowing, Transitional Knowing, Independent Knowing, and Contextual Knowing. Gender-related patterns were identified within all but the last perspective. Gender-related patterns convey that each gender uses one pattern more than the other. However, these gender-related patterns are not exclusive to one gender.

Absolute Knowing: Receiving or Mastering Knowledge Learners who employ this perspective regard knowledge as absolute and certain. They learn the knowledge from authorities who know the truth. More women than men used the pattern of Receiving Knowledge. This pattern is parallel to Received Knowledge in Belenky et al.’s women’s ways of knowing, in which learning takes place via listening and acquiring information. More men use the Mastering Knowledge pattern, which is similar to the experiences of male participants in Perry’s study, where learners actively engaged in activities, debating, and quizzing of peers.

Transitional Knowing: Impersonal and Interpersonal Pattern Learners maintain the either-or thinking about knowledge in some disciplines, like mathematics and physics, as satisfactory, yet view knowledge in some other disciplines, like the humanities or social sciences, as uncertain. Within this perspective, these learners then focus on developing an understanding instead of acquiring knowing in these areas where knowledge is perceived as uncertain. Impersonal and Interpersonal Patterns were identified as gender-related patterns. More men use the Impersonal Pattern; more women use the Interpersonal Patterns.

Independent Knowing: Individual and Interindividual Pattern Learners with Independent Knowing believe that knowledge in itself is uncertain. Every individual thinker has his or her own viewpoints. Peers are encouraged to share views. Peers are also viewed as a source of knowledge along with authorities who are no longer viewed as the only resource for knowledge. Again, Individual and Interindividual patterns were identified from Baxter Magolda’s findings to capture the gender-related patterns. Felder and Brent (2004) suggested that these two patterns are comparable to Belenky et al.’s Separate Knowing and Connected Knowing under the Procedural knowledge in women’s ways of knowing.

Contextual Knowing: Learners with this perspective are able to judge the nature of knowledge based on evidence existent within different contexts. Learners both exercise thinking and compare different perspectives and ideas. Learners with this perspective believe that “some ideas are more valid than others” based on reasoning through available evidence (Baxter Magolda 1992, p. 170). Contextual knowers “think through problems,” “integrating knowledge,” and “apply it in a context” (Baxter Magolda 1992, p. 170). This perspective is very similar to the last positions of Perry’s model (starting from Position 5 up to Position 9). It also parallels Belenky et al.’s Constructed Knowledge. No gender-related patterns were identified here because of the small number of participants. Baxter Magolda commented that it was possible that gender-related patterns converged at this position, in part because contextual knowing exhibits characteristics of both “connecting to others,” which is the focus of the interindividual pattern, and “thinking independently,” which is the focus of the individual approach.

Baxter Magolda’s Epistemological Reflection model continued along the same main thread that was laid out by Perry. Built upon Perry and Belenky et al.’s former work, Baxter Magolda proposed a gender-inclusive model as a possible model of an epistemological development trajectory based upon a longitudinal study. Differing from Perry’s male, elite college student population or Belenky’s et al.’s female-only participants with a diverse educational background, Baxter Magolda focused on both the college-educated male and female participants. In this sense, Baxter Magolda extended the original Perry model and combined this with the gender perspective proposed by Belenky et al. and proposed a more gender-inclusive model.

However, it should be noted that participants of this study came from the same Midwestern university. The members of the population were mainly white (97 %) and mostly from middle-class families. Therefore, the extent to which this trajectory can be applicable to other races or ethnicities remains unclear.

Baxter Magolda extended the population into the body of post-collegiate young adults. Some of these individuals received advanced degrees, although only one of the participants obtained a PhD degree. This study may render some useful implication, yet still, the extent to which the epistemological developmental patterns can be similarly considered applicable to the doctoral-level students is unclear.

Finally, Perry’s model focused on students from a liberal art college. Belenky et al.’s female participants came from a variety of educational levels and backgrounds. Baxter Magolda’s participants were from a university with a liberal arts focus. None of these original studies focus on students with an engineering education background. The implications and applications of these epistemological models in engineering education will be discussed in Sect. 4.1.

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