Quantitative Measures of Epistemological Development

To obtain data in large student populations and enable large-scale long-term experiments and comparisons, there have been several different pen-and-paper based measurement methods since the first issue of Perry’s intellectual and ethical model. These pen-and-paper based measurement methods include: Baxter Magolda’s Measure of Epistemological Reflection (MER) (1985, 1987, 1992), Learning Environment Preferences (LEP) and Measure of Intellectual Development (MID) (Moore 1989), King and Kitchener’s Reasoning about Current Issues Test (RCI) (1994), Scale of Cognitive Devleopment (Fago 1995), Schommer’s Survey of Epistemological Beliefs (1990), and Zhang’s Cognitive Development Inventory (ZCDI, 1995, 1997) (note: the latest version, the fourth version of the ZCDI was provided to me by Dr. Lifang Zhang. ZCDI will be discussed separately in 4.3 Application of Epistemological Developmental Theory in Chinese Students section). These different measures have enabled large-scale studies and provided some valuable empirical data about cognitive development across gender, ethnicity, and also other variables such as personality, critical thinking skills, learning styles, and so on. However, most of these scales still require well-trained raters to effectively rank the results because these measures apply narrative-test responses to the pre-defined problems. This design largely limits the possible usage of most of these tests among larger population. Moreover, other limitations exist among some of these scales. For example, the RCI test has consistently provided scores that are more conservative than interview measures (King and Kitchener 2002). In MER, Baxter Magolda used only Positions 1-5 from Perry’s model, in that Position 5 was deemed to be a logical transition and milestone toward relativism (1987). Therefore, she only validated MER in terms of Perry’s Position 1 to Position 5. However, no additional information is available to test the rest of Perry’s positions (Baxter Magolda 1987). The Measure of Intellectual Development was shown to give conservative scores, possibly even one or two Perry positions lower (Pavelich and Fitch 1988).

As I noted at the end of last section, Schommer (1990, 1993) hypothesized a framework named Epistemological Beliefs. This framework uses a more quantitative view than all of the five above-mentioned models. Schommer developed a 63-item questionnaire (Epistemological Questionnaire, EQ) to measure the five hypothesized dimensions. The development of this method has allowed researchers to perform large-scale measurements because so far there are very few survey instruments available to measure epistemological beliefs. Several researchers (Hofer and Pintrich 1997; DeBacker et al. 2008) have expressed a number of methodological concerns with this instrument. First, their factor analysis was performed using 12 subsets of items as variables organized by three educational psychologists prior to piloting (and not the original 63 items) (Schommer 1990). Second, the factor analysis generated four factors (Fixed Ability, Quick Learning,

Simple Knowledge, and Certain Knowledge), which were different from the original hypothesis.

In the literature, there are two other major instruments that were modified from the EQ and have gained attention among researchers: (1) Epistemological Beliefs Inventory (EBI) (Schraw et al. 2002) and (2) Epistemological Beliefs Survey (EBS) (Wood and Kardash 2002).

Researchers have tried to confirm the original framework by Schommer (1990, 1993) to a greater extent by organizing the items according to the original five structures. A 28-item EBI was constructed according to the definition of each epistemic dimension described by Schommer (1990) with seven items adapted from EQ via several pilot studies, content analysis, and revisions (Bendixen et al. 1998; Schraw et al. 2002). Their factor analysis among 160 undergraduates resulted in five factors, labeled as: Simple Knowledge, Certain Knowledge, Quick Learning, Fixed Ability, and Omniscient Authority. The internal consistency ranged from 0.58 to 0.68. Another later study, however, was not able to produce all five factors (Nussbaum and Bendixen 2003). In addition, the sample sizes in these tests were modest; n was usually less than 200. Later, Debacker et al. (2008) used two samples (n1 = 378 and n2 = 417) to test the psychometric properties of both EBI and EBS. They found a slightly better internal consistency and factor loading ratio for EBS than EBI.

Developers of EBS retained Schommer’s items (1990) and tried to find a more stable factor structure among them in response to the concern raised by Hofer and Pintrich (1997). They combined all of Schommer’s 63 items and a related measure by Jehng et al. (1993) and ran a factor extraction of all items. They also tried to examine whether these items would lead to the factors proposed by Schommer and to determine how the emergent factors would correlate with each other. The results among 793 participants lead to a five-factor solution. These five factors were labeled as: Speed of Knowledge Acquisition, Structure of Knowledge, Knowledge Construction and Modification, Characteristics of Successful Students, and Attainability of Objective Truth. Some of these factors’ descriptions were similar to Schommer’s original factors. For example, the Speed of Knowledge Acquisition overlaps with Schommer’s Quick Learning factor. However, some factors seem novel from the original factor list. For example, the Structure of Knowledge and Knowledge Construction and Modification were novel factors that were not clearly identified in the original test run through EQ.

A closer examination of the definition of these five factors has shown that higher scores in the Knowledge Construction and Modification factor relate closely to the participants’ epistemic development from a dualistic view to a more constructivist view. Here is a direct excerpt from Wood and Kardash (2002)’s descriptions of their emergent factors:

(Factor 3) “Knowledge Construction and Modification ” reflected participants ’ awareness that knowledge can be acquired and modified through strategies such as integrating information from various sources, reorganizing information according to a personal scheme, questioning information, and recognizing the tentativeness of information. High scores on this factor reflect the ideas that knowledge is constantly evolving, is actively and

personally constructed, and should be subjected to questioning. By contrast, low scores on this factor reflect a view that knowledge is certain, passively received, and accepted at face value. (p. 250)

For their descriptions, this factor appears reflect the epistemological trend repeatedly observed by Perry (1970), Belenky et al. (1986), Baxter Magolda (1992), King and Kitchener (1994), Kuhn (1991). Although EBS was not developed within Perry’s framework, scores derived under this factor do serve as a useful indication for students’ epistemological development in their knowledge construction and modification. The internal reliability for this subscale was reported in Debacker et al. (2008)’s study as 0.67 (Sample 1, n = 380) and 0.65 (Sample 2, n = 415). Therefore, this subscale will also be used for this work.

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