Session 2. Discuss Epistemology

2 hours

Different paradigms – perspectives on reality and knowledge – imply different ways of doing research. With reference to their own disciplines, ask students to trace the connections between:

  • ontology (what is knowledge?)
  • epistemology (how can I know reality?)
  • methodology (how do I go about finding out?)
  • methods (what techniques do I use?)

Preparation for you, the facilitator
The session must be highly interactive, even conversational. Draw students into the issues, intervening in the discussion with definitions, information or clarification, as necessary.

Your objectives are to:

  • establish or reinforce basic concepts in research, different methodologies, quality criteria, methodological norms, and factors that inform decision-making in research
  • introduce students to a mental map and appropriate concepts to navigate different methodologies and methods that they will encounter as researchers
  • sensitise students to the importance of making and justifying decisions to ensure quality in research
  • demystify the philosophy of science and methodological constructs in such a way that students can apply them
  • introduce participants to basic research paradigms

For your presentation (Step 2):

  • Read James Scotland: Exploring the philosophical underpinnings of research: relating ontology and epistemology to the methodology and methods of the scientific, interpretive, and critical research paradigms.
  • Use or adapt the diagram showing The interrelationship between the building blocks of research.
  • Use or adapt the table Perspectives of reality and knowledge have implications for research approaches.

By the end of the session, students can:

  • discuss epistemology and the links to methodology
  • describe the epistemology of their own discipline
30 minutes1. Discuss questions about knowledgeSmall groups
30 minutes2. Present answersFull group
15 minutes3. Present: Implications of perspectives for researchFacilitator
45 minutes4. Discuss the epistemology of each disciplineTeams by discipline
  • Step 1. Discuss questions about knowledge
    30 minutes
    Organise students into at least five mixed-discipline groups and assign questions for each group. If you have more than four, some groups can discuss the same set of questions.

    Group 1
    • What is ‘knowledge’?
    • What are we trying to know and why?
    • What is ‘research’?

    Group 2
    • How do we know what we (think we) know?
    • Can knowledge be value free?

    Group 3
    • Whose knowledge counts?
    • What do we use the knowledge for?

    Group 4
    • What is ‘evidence’?
    • Is there a difference between ‘evidence’ and ‘proof’?
    • Does ‘evidence’ count, and why?

    Group 5
    • What types of research are commonly used?
    • What is ‘the best’ type of research?

  • Step 2. Present answers
    30 minutes
    Each small group presents their answers to the full group. Explain that they should not repeat or duplicate if they have the same answers, add only new ideas.

  • Step 3. Present: Implications of perspectives for research
    15 minutes
    Begin by consolidating the ideas emerging from students’ presentations. In your presentation:
    • show the links between ontology, epistemology, methodology and methods
    • present different research paradigms
    • outline the epistemology and methodology that link to each paradigm

  • Step 4. Discuss the epistemology of each discipline
    45 minutes
    Students return to their disciplinary teams and begin the process of applying these concepts to the research that is conducted in their discipline. In the final session in this series, each disciplinary team will present the main points from this discussion.

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