Historical understanding, personal epistemology, and the educational experiences of students at a suburban high school : a case study
Stepien, William Charles
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The purpose of this study, which is presented in the context of the “culture wars” in the United States and the personal experiences of the researcher, was to examine the question: “How do students at a homogeneous, suburban high school describe the relationship between their historical understanding, personal epistemological beliefs, and their learning experiences?” To investigate this question, four more specific questions were studied: What are the epistemological beliefs of selected students at this school? How do selected students at this school determine the historical significance of events in United States history? What relationship exists between student epistemological beliefs and beliefs about historical significance? How do student descriptions of their learning experiences relate to their historical understanding and epistemological beliefs? For this qualitative case study, data were gathered from five individual meetings with twelve students over the course of one school year and subsequent summer. In order to collect data regarding student beliefs about historical significance, personal epistemology, and the relationship between these two areas, students completed the Measure of Epistemological Reflection, participated in a historical flash card activity, and participated in three semi-structured interviews. Results from these data suggested that students exhibited low epistemological levels when considering academic learning, while exhibiting higher epistemological levels when considering situations more related to their own interpersonal and intrapersonal development. These results were also consistent in student historical thinking, as participants exhibited a largely uncritical view of the story of United States history and low epistemological levels when considering historical topics that have been studied in school. As students were asked about personal or family connections to history or historical events that they had experienced themselves, some students demonstrated more sophisticated epistemological beliefs. Analysis of student educational experiences revealed that participants perceived a largely positivist orientation to school knowledge. The study then connects these findings to relevant theory and research in the fields of personal epistemology, social studies education, curriculum design, and Instructional Technology. Directions for future research are provided, and the dissertation concludes with a personal statement related to the context of this study.