We really need to know what we each believe about learning, our personal epistemologies, before we start learning and teaching. Do we really change the way we see, feel, and hear international voices, or do we just make structural adjustments around the edges of our programmes, curricula and induction processes. We build prayer rooms, but do we build bridges? We introduce new cuisine into our refectories, but how often do we break bread together?
There are many excellent projects and studies across higher education that are informing change. Beyond international exchange schemes and recruiting foreign students, I’m keen to see how transformational they really are, or could be. Next week a colleague and I join representatives from nine other institutions for the kick-off meeting in York for the UK’s Higher Education Academy (HEA) 2012 Internationalisation Change Academy. We have proposed something we hope will be supported and encouraged that does not have direct structural change as one of its objectives. Rather we want to invite our colleagues, faculty and students, to pause and reflect on what they believe about themselves with respect to learning, to be aware of their own epistemological beliefs.
We start from the premise that all our students at BPP University College are ‘international students’. Everyone now operates within a global context regardless of his or her subject discipline, his or her nationality, status or mode of study. Our project, entitled Personal Orientation to the International Student Experience (POISE), builds on this intrinsic international context by providing a consistent, supportive and, we suggest, transformative, orientation to study. But this is not something we ‘do‘ to, or for, international students, it is something the whole institution, faculty and students regardless of programmes of study will be encouraged to engage in.
Aims of the POISE project
Taking a toolkit approach, we aim to provide students and faculty, notably but not exclusively those with Personal Tutor duties, with a single instrument that will guide the individual through a reflective self-evaluation of their epistemological perspectives and attitudes and approaches to higher study. Implemented within the provision of student support across the University, and building on a comprehensive system of pastoral care, the intention is to offer a shared language enabling an exchange of perspectives, expectations and frustrations with respect to university study.
Using Marlene Schommer’s Epistemological Questionnaire (SEQ) as a basis (Schommer, 1990, 1993) or an alternative, and conscious of their critics (Clarebout, Elen, Luyten, & Bamps, 2001), as well as with reference to Bennett’s important work on inter-cultural sensitivities (Hammer, Bennett, & Wiseman, 2003) we hope to develop an appropriate instrument. We hope also to borrow from Biggs’s Study Process Questionnaire (SPQ) instruments and design a single, or set of inter-related, instruments within a coherent toolkit (Burnett & Dart, 2000). Engagement with the toolkit, by individual faculty and student, will illuminate some well-documented (but evolving) cultural differences in expectations of study at higher levels. This comprehensive personal ‘audit’ will then form the basis for collegial discussion between students and within tutorial contexts.
We think it will prove invaluable to have faculty members also engaging with POISE, providing them with a common frame of reference, a personal stimulus for professional development and reflection, and encouragement to explore the similarities and differences in epistemological beliefs. Faculty will consequently be supported as they move beyond the anecdotal ‘challenges posed by International Students’ to a greater acknowledgement, and deeper understanding, of the richness of learning and teaching opportunities contained within these different epistemological perspectives. We want to support the idea that it is not necessary for individuals to ‘sacrifice’ their own perspectives in coming to understand an alternative. Rather, they must work towards ‘Third Place Learning’ as a shared alternative, indeed perhaps our institutions are themselves inevitable examples of Third Place Learning (Alagic, Rimmington, & Orel, 2009).
Enhancing the Student Experience
We anticipate that the POISE effect will be greatest where it forms part of an early supportive intervention for all students across a cohort and we’ll be exploring in this project how best to ‘administer’ it. But, we also anticipate that it will have value at each stage of the student experience as the individual adjusts, adapts and develops strategies and techniques for negotiating these different perspectives.
Having faculty and students develop a shared appreciation within learning communities of different approaches to study will hopefully enhance students’ experience as well as providing a common frame of reference for discussing issues arising from different expectations. This matters. It matters because like many HEI’s BPP University College is expanding the range of its provision for international students and along with this extension of provision comes a raft of additional student support services, both academic and pastoral. Increasingly diverse student populations should be seen as positive opportunities for greater international insights being shared by faculty and students and drawn in to the curriculum.
We will be developing an official POISE website as part of the HEA project I due course but I hope also to share my experiences of this project, due for completion by March 2013. I am also exploring the appropriateness of Baxter Magolda’s ‘Epistemological Reflection Model’ (Bock, 2002) and King and Kitchener’s Reflective Judgment Interview (Kitchener, Lynch, Fischer, & Wood, 1993). I would be delighted to hear from anyone with experience of administering these kinds of epistemological belief surveys with their students, and particularly, with faculty.
Alagic, M., Rimmington, G. M., & Orel, T. (2009). Third Place Learning Environments: Perspective Sharing and Perspective Taking. International Journal of Advanced Corporate Learning (iJAC), 2(4), pp. 4–8. doi:10.3991/ijac.v2i4.985
Bock, M. T. (2002). Baxter Magolda’s Epistemological Reflection Model. New Directions for Student Services, 1999(88), 29–40. doi:10.1002/ss.8803
Burnett, P. C., & Dart, B. C. (2000). The Study Process Questionnaire: A construct validation study. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 25(1), 93–99. doi:10.1080/713611415
Clarebout, G., Elen, J., Luyten, L., & Bamps, H. (2001). Assessing Epistemological Beliefs: Schommer’s Questionnaire Revisited. Educational Research and Evaluation, 7(1), 53–77. doi:10.1076/edre.18.104.22.16827
Hammer, M. R., Bennett, M. J., & Wiseman, R. (2003). Measuring intercultural sensitivity: The intercultural development inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27(4), 421–443. doi:10.1016/S0147-1767(03)00032-4
Kitchener, K. S., Lynch, C. L., Fischer, K. W., & Wood, P. K. (1993). Developmental range of reflective judgment: The effect of contextual support and practice on developmental stage. Developmental Psychology, 29(5), 893–906. doi:10.1037/0012-1622.214.171.1243
Schommer, M. (1990). Effects of beliefs about the nature of knowledge on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(3), 498–504. doi:10.1037/0022-06126.96.36.1998
Schommer, M. (1993). Epistemological development and academic performance among secondary students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(3), 406–411. doi:10.1037/0022-06188.8.131.526