Ursula Lucas

  • Developing a reflective capacity: the role of personal epistemologies within undergraduate education

    Ursula Lucas, University of the West of England, UK

    Phaik Leng Tan, University of the West of England, UK

    Session 2e, Tuesday 09.00

    Research seminar

    Theme addressed:

    • Skills development and lifelong learning

    This seminar will present preliminary findings and discuss issues in relation to one part of an on-going research project funded by the Higher Education Academy and the Charitable Trusts of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. The aim of the project is to investigate a particular aspect of the student experience – the role of work-based placement learning in supporting the development of a reflective capacity.

    The project draws on the work of Baxter Magolda (1992, 1999) to examine the relationship between the development of a reflective capacity and a student’s “way of knowing”. The latter is influenced by cognitive development, as well as interpersonal (how one views oneself in relation to others) and intrapersonal (how one perceives ones sense of identity) development. Thus placements, where students have to “act” in a range of roles and make a variety of independent decisions, are highly relevant to examining development in these areas.

    Our initial contribution within the seminar will be to provide an overview of the broader literature within which the project is located. Baxter Magolda’s work represents just one part of a broader research area that focuses on the conceptions that individuals have about knowledge and knowing ie personal epistemologies. This broader literature is best exemplified by the publications within the Special Issue of Educational Psychologist: “Personal Epistemology: Paradigmatic Approaches to Understanding Students’ Beliefs About Knowledge and Knowing” (2004, Vol. 39 (1)). This special issue contains articles by Hofer, King and Kitchener, Schömmer-Aikins, Louca et al and Bendixen and Rule.

    We shall then present preliminary findings. This is a comparative study, using a questionnaire and interviews, of the experience of placement and non-placement students within a business and accounting degree programme. The findings presented will comprise an initial analysis of interviews with fifteen students: ten at the beginning and end of their placement year and five at the beginning and end of their final (post-placement) year.

    Drawing on both the literature and our experience of data collection and analysis within this project, we shall raise a variety of issues for discussion within the seminar. For example, in relation to both ways of knowing and epistemological beliefs:

    • how can they be identified?
    • to what extent may they be contextual?
    • to what extent do they represent stages of development?
    • what are the characteristics of contexts and events that influence or impact upon existing beliefs?


    • Baxter Magolda M (1992) Knowing and Reasoning in College: gender related patterns in students' intellectual development, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
    • Baxter Magolda MB (1999) Creating Contexts for Learning and Self-Authorship: Constructive Developmental Pedagogy, San Francisco, Josey-Bass.
    • Project website: www.uwe.ac.uk/bbs/research/drc/