BBC Breakfast: and World News covered the launch of the Epistemic Insight Initiative. We held and showcased a Big Questions Day on campus at Canterbury Christ Church University. The event involved over 400 students, both from schools and CCCU. Students and visitors participated in lectures, workshops and browsed our exhibition spaces.

At the launch of ‘Future of Knowledge’, Dr Suzanne Dillon, Chair of the OECD Global Forum on the Future of Education and Skills explained with an illustration how teachers can cultivate sparks of epistemic insight in learners at school. The explanation describes making learning more ‘agentic’ and encouraging students to question and to want to understand for themselves.

Dr Suzanne Dillon described student agency as giving purpose to learning when she was interviewed at the launch of the Future of Knowledge exhibition.

Here’s an example of an activity that encourages agentic learning. While students experiment with their ‘spaghetti bridges’ they are testing ideas about the factors that affect when the bridge breaks. At the end of the clip a student exclaims, “I told you!” – These are the lightbulb moments that make teaching a delight.

this hands-on investigation encourages aha moments

Methods and Methodologies

Our research into the future of knowledge and epistemic insight has taken multidisciplinary approaches that are tailored to the groups we are working with and the nature of the questions being asked.  When possible we endeavour to use co-created methods in which we build on the experience of those we are working with to ask the most relevant questions in the most effective ways.  Often this involves working with teachers and other researchers to refine our work through pilot studies.

Examples of our current approaches involve using a customisable internet search tool in exploring scientific themes.  By working with teachers and students, and with their knowledge and permission, we are able to collect data on how this tool is used and customised in real educational settings.  We also use innovative ways to initiate important questions about the future of knowledge at all educational levels.  This includes using AI generated artwork to stimulate conversations between professional astronomers and oceanographers, and PhD students.  Similarly, we have created a range of colourful magazines for primary school to help stimulate conversations around science and knowledge. 

To help manage discussion in controversial subjects we often create films or make use of movies or TV programmes to help create third party perspectives which can be discussed more objectively.  We also encourage the exploration of ways of gaining knowledge in ways that might fall out of the traditional experience of students.  For example, in exploring the potential role of AI in dance we encouraged dance students to engage with electronic sensing equipment to explore their own understanding on movement and dance.

Through each of these, and other methods, we seek always to be agile in our methodology and responsive to new questions as they emerge.

Modelling EI

Throughout our research we maintain a number of common themes relating to our core questions relating to epistemic insight and the future of knowledge.  Over time we have refined these instruments to enable us to produce models of EI based on multiple studies and statistical analysis of the multiple factors that make up our understanding of EI.  Below is a summary of these models which will shortly be published (currently under review).

In one of our research studies which was designed to explore secondary school student stances on the predictive and exploratory power of science we administered a questionnaire to 311 secondary students in England. In this research, using statistical methods such as reliability test, cluster analysis and ANOVA test, we designed a scale to categorise students into different groups, from strongly scientistic to non-scientistic. Our results revealed that 20% of the students in the cohort were strongly scientistic whereas just over 30% were nonscientistic and nearly 50% were neither strongly scientistic nor nonscientistic. This study is published in the Science and Education journal[1].

In a further study we examined whether we can similarly use the above scale for students attending initial teacher education programs (ITE students). Conducting a similar survey among 450 ITE students from 6 institutions in England and analyzing the data indicated that near 25% of the ITE students in our sample were strongly scientistic, whereas more than 40% are nonscientistic and the rest are neither strongly scientistic nor nonscientistic. This result shows that there are even more strongly scientistic stances among ITE students compared to school students. Running the reliability test and the Cronbach’s alpha of 0.70 suggests that we can use the same scale for categorizing ITE students.

In another study, we developed a tool which measures students’ level of Epistemic Insight. In this research we analysed findings from a survey which was conducted among 720 lower-secondary school students in England. In this research, based on our previous studies we suggested a model with three constructs (appreciating power and limitations of science, understanding how different disciplines work together and how to address Big Questions), we also created a construct to find out if schools are Epistemic Insight friendly from students’ point of view. As our model was supported by a number of our qualitative and quantitative studies, instead of exploratory factor analysis, we used confirmatory factor analysis method, in order to check if the model is supported by data. A confirmatory factor analysis, using AMOS statistical package, revealed that the model fits with the data. Having this tool in hand, we now can reliably evaluate school students’ level of Epistemic Insight[2].

[1] Billingsley, B., & Nassaji, M. (2019). Exploring secondary school students’ stances on the predictive and explanatory power of science. Science & Education28, 87-107.

[2] Billingsley, B., Nassaji, M. &; Lawson, F. Towards Designing a tool for evaluating school students’ level of Epistemic Insight. Research In Science and Education, Under review.

Below is a file listing our current and upcoming publications: