Personal Epistemologies as Barriers and Facilitators to Learning by Science and Engineering Undergraduate Students

Welcome to our Site!!

We are an international team doing research on how to improve how students’ learn in post-secondary courses.

Our team consists of 12 members from Canada, one from Korea, one from Turkey, one from Portugal and one from Vietnam.


  1. Prof. Calvin S. Kalman from Concordia University, Montreal, Canada http://physics.concordia.ca/faculty/ckalman.php
  2. Prof. Mark W. Aulls from McGill University, Montreal, Canada Mark.aulls@mcgill.ca
  3. Prof. Bruce M. Shore from McGill, Montreal, Canada Bruce.m.shore@mcgill.ca
  4. Dr. Tetanya Antimirova from Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada antimoro@ryerson.ca
  5. Dr. Marina Milner-Bolotin from University of British Columbia marina.milner.bolotin@ubc.ca
  6. Dr. Elizabeth S. Charles from Dawson College, Montreal   echarles@dawsoncollege.qc.ca
  7. Dr. Juss Kaur Magon from McGill University, Montreal   juss.kaur.magon@mcgill.ca
  8. Dr. Xiang Huang at Concordia University x.xianghuang@gmail.com

In addition  we have the following graduate students actively involved with this research:

Ahmed Ibrahim at McGill University Ahmed.Ibrahim@mcgill.ca

Xihui Wang at McGill University xihui.wang@mail.mcgill.ca

Guopeng Fu at University of British Columbia guopengfu@gmail.com

Wahidun N Khanam at Concordia University wahidun78@yahoo.com


Dr. Ricardo Coelho from University of Lisboa, Portugal rjcoelho@fc.ul.pt


Dr. Gyoungho Lee from Seoul National University, Korea ghlee@snu.ac.kr


Dr.Gul Unal Coban, from Dokuz Eylul University, Izmir, Turkey  gulunalcoban@gmail.com


Dang Diep Minh Tan from Tra Vinh University, Tra Vinh Province, Vietnam minhtaniso@tvu.edu.vn

The thrust of this work

Students pass through gateway courses without the required skills and also student dropout in post-secondary gateway science courses can be very high.

The solution is to change the way students learn.

A study by Huffman and Heller (1995) of 750 university students in a calculus-based introductory physics course shows that most students’ personal (alternative) scientific conceptions ‘‘are best characterized as loosely organized, ill-defined bits and pieces of knowledge that are dependent upon the specific circumstances in question.’’ Until midway through high school, students can be successful at courses by memorizing templates for every situation encountered on an examination. Some students can dismiss the conceptual basis of the problems, because their epistemology is formula driven and they accept calculated answers as a goal in itself. Most studies show that the old ideas stay alive in particular contexts.” Students are reluctant to let go of what is meaningful to them.

In relying solely on lecturing in science courses or using some techniques, such as group activities as a bag of tricks “for enhanced teaching”, faculty members do not promote a holistic approach to science learning, thus preventing students from experiencing science as an important human intellectual adventure. The discrepancy between the personal epistemologies the students bring to their undergraduate science courses and scientific epistemologies that they need in order to succeed in science courses is one of the major problems in undergraduate science teaching. Therefore understanding students’ epistemologies and helping them move along the novice-expert scientific epistemology continuum is an important element in improving undergraduate science learning. Ideally, we want to create a learning environment in which students can not only succeed in undergraduate science courses, but also develop critical thinking and other transferrable skills vital for participation in a modern society.

Pilot studies were conducted in 2010-2011 at two Canadian Universities (Concordia and Langara).  Some aspects of this work were presented as a paper titled  Understanding the Nature of Science and Nonscientific Modes of Thinking in Gateway Science Courses at the 2012 Annual NARST (National Association for Research in Science Teaching) International Conference. There was also a presentation at the World Conference on Physics Education in July 2012 in Istanbul, Turkey. We presented additional  aspects of this work at the 2013 Annual NARST International Conference Abstract NARST 2013 and also at the Sixth Conference of MIT’s Learning Networks Consortium (LINC) LINC June 2013 (Sources of knowledge) . The final report is being presented at the 2014 Annual NARST International.
NARST Conference 2014

In 2011-2012 we began the actual study at Concordia University (Montreal) and Langara College (Vancouver). Three rubrics (REFLECTIVE WRITING RUBRIC, CRITIQUE EXERCISE RUBRIC,  INTERVIEW RUBRIC ) were produced in order to evaluate the reflective writng products, the critiques and the pre and post interviews with each partipant. Presently, we are at the prelimineray data analysis stages of the writing products. This ongoing process involves all our international members.

If you would like to get any further information please feel free to contact any one of our members.




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