Table 3. Some of the kinds of instructional practices and conditions that are likely to stimulate development of more sophisticated epistemological beliefs (From: Miri et al. 2007, Macllellan and Soden 2004, King and Kitchener 2002, Hofer 2001, Southerland et al. 2001, Tsui 1999, Dennick and Exley 1998, Dole and Sinatra 1998, Brown 1997, Terenzini et al 1995, King and Kitchener 1994).

Actively engage students in higher level thinking

•  Raising doubt about the adequacy of understanding about an issue to promote reflective thinking e.g. through analysis of ill-structured and real-life problems. Problem-based learning also increases relevance of the work to students increasing motivation, and assists development of skills for dealing with messy real-life issues.

•  Explicit requirements for students to think about knowledge, evidence, reliability and validity etc. (e.g. through practicing and being taught skills of gathering and evaluating data).

•  Promote reflection and active examination of assumptions about knowledge through extensive participation of students in class and requiring students to work collaboratively, especially when they are given opportunities to reflect on how their knowledge is constructed. Participation and cooperative learning can occur in focused discussions, student-led seminars, problem based learning, role play etc. Discussion around controversial issues may be particularly useful.

•  Students need to be actively engaged in the classroom, not just seen as recipients of transmitted information.

•  Discussion of what counts as evidence needs to be a feature of course design.

•  Students should be required to give reasons for the content of their work as this can reveal the level of sophistication of thinking e.g. by requiring students to relate to the evidence or the source of the information they provide.


Provision of an appropriate environment for promoting engagement with higher level thinking.

•  Teaching needs to stimulate students to ascertain for themselves what is epistemologically confusing or problematic.

•  Instructors need to show respect for student assumptions regardless of developmental level.

•  Students require feedback and support, e.g. at both cognitive and emotional levels.

•  Individuals need to be motivated to process new information.

•  Students need to comprehend information and find it plausible in order to feel some comfort with the task, e.g. use of generally familiar knowledge.

•  Students need to be accountable for their own goal achievements to get beyond surface level engagement e.g. through provision of appropriate rewards and environments that reinforce student expectations that they need to be accountable for their own learning.