The Personal Epistemologies of Civil Engineering Faculty

Authors


Abstract

Background

The personal epistemologies of engineering faculty are an important and as yet underinvestigated aspect of engineering education. In this study, personal epistemology is defined as the stances an individual takes on issues related to knowledge and knowing, such as what it means to know, what counts as knowledge, and what makes some knowledge true.

Purpose (Hypothesis)

This research characterizes the personal epistemologies of engineering faculty members with particular emphasis on contributing to the development of a theoretical framework to support and guide future research.

Design/Method

Semistructured interviews explored broad epistemological issues but were individually tailored to ensure open discourse. The interviews were situated in the domain of the participants' own research in civil engineering; this domain provided a familiar and rich research site in which to explore their epistemologies and allowed for richer interpretations through reference to other research linking research practice with epistemology.

Results

The participants expressed a stance that assumed an objective reality and verified the truth of their knowledge through observation, which assumes access to that objective reality. Participants simultaneously evaluated their knowledge based on its truth and usefulness. The participants' discussions reflected their perceptions of the complexity and wide scope of the “real” world – thereby moving beyond simplified categorizations such as positivist, into new and unexplored epistemologies.

Conclusions

The participants' epistemologies are discussed in terms of their implications for engineering education practice and research, as well as personal epistemology research.

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