As with all content, if we are to help students deeply understand new material, we must clearly conceptualize what is to be taught. By wrestling with the content ourselves, we prepare ourselves to react more proficiently to various student views. To move students toward more desired views of learning/thinking, we must first understand what concepts or ideas are part of learning views. Views of learning are very abstract notions, so clearly understanding how we conceptualize the ideas is of utmost importance.
While views on cognition are related to and include epistemological beliefs, views on cognition are better operationalized as how students view learning, knowing, thinking and decision-making and the factors that affect those processes. Hofer and Pintrich (1997) operationalize individual epistemological beliefs using four dimensions including: certainty of knowledge, simplicity of knowledge, source of knowledge and justification for knowing. These dimensions are certainly part of and related to our own constructs, but do not complete our framework for student views on cognition. Furthermore, Hofer and Pintrich note that their dimensions were chosen to explicitly remove “learning” from their framework and focus exclusively on “knowing”. Our interest extends beyond student views on knowing to views on learning and thinking or cognition in general. We want students to consider the learning process, not just the result.
In an effort to expand our framework beyond epistemological beliefs without creating too complex a framework, we have combined simplicity of knowledge, source of knowledge, and justification for knowing into one construct: “how to learn and assessment of learning”. We have combined these constructs because they each are related to the acquisition and judgement of learning. While both source of knowledge & justification of knowing clearly fit within our construct, how simplicity of knowledge fits may not be as clear. Simplicity of knowledge discusses the difference between isolated facts and understanding relations among concepts. We believe this difference is closely related to views on how to learn (i.e.: memorize facts vs. seek deep understanding of concepts). If a student views learning as acquisition of facts, they likely believe that rote memorization and repetition is the best way to learn.
Hofer and Pintrich’s certainty of knowledge aligns closely with our construct, certainty and ambiguity in thinking/knowing as described below. In addition, we have added two constructs, value of time/effort in learning/thinking as well as factors that affect thinking/learning. Each of our constructs is described in detail below. While there is likely much overlap between our constructs and those of previous studies, our goal is not to further delineate students’ views on cognition. Instead, we describe a general framework to guide instruction and our research. Our focus is not the continuation of basic research regarding views on cognition or epistemological beliefs. Rather, this series engages in applied research and seeks to investigate to what extent student views on cognition can be altered through explicit instruction.
Below, each construct of our views on cognition framework is discussed in light of both problematic and desired views. While much overlap and relation exists among constructs, we have identified these distinctions for explanatory and clarity purposes.
Value of time and effort for learning/thinking.
Many students believe that coming to decisions or learning new material quickly is a positive asset. Certainly, in some situations, this is the case. However, we want students to value the role of effort and understand that deep learning takes time. Rather than using intuition for decisions, we want students to carefully weigh the pros & cons of their options.
How to learn & assessment of learning.
Views on cognition must include student views on how to learn. Views on how to learn is intricately tied to assessment of learning. Teachers send a powerful message about learning when exams seek factual recall of isolated facts rather then synthesis or application of ideas. Not surprisingly, many students believe that learning equates to fact collecting to be recalled on later exams. Instead, we want students to understand that learning is an internal mental activity that requires connecting new ideas to old ideas and that demonstration of learning is better viewed as ability to use and apply knowledge rather than recall mundane trivia.
Factors that affect thinking/learning
Rather than believing that learning abilities are innate, we want students to understand that learning can be affected by effort, background, experience, age, etc. We want students to understand that their own thinking is shaped by the social world in which they live. Additionally, decision-making processes fit within this construct. Instead of relying on perceived sources of authority, we hope students develop the view that careful consideration of evidence and reason results in better decision-making.
Certainty & ambiguity in thinking/knowing
Many concrete thinkers struggle with ambiguity and prefer answers to be clear-cut, right or wrong. However, most of life does not involve picking between two extremes, but finding a suitable range of thought along a continuum between extremes. While either/or decisions with a “right” answer may simplify problems/concepts, they do not reflect reality. We hope students will gain comfort with ambiguity and understand that many of the most important decisions are neither clear-cut nor simple.