Academic journal article Education

Knowing Economic Theory: Applying the Reflective Judgment Model in Intoductory Economics

Academic journal article Education

Knowing Economic Theory: Applying the Reflective Judgment Model in Intoductory Economics

Article excerpt

The lamentable quality of student research papers and projects is a problem familiar to instructors of every discipline. Students, it seems, don't understand what research is about. They just go through the motions, we complain, and rarely present themselves as the future problem-solvers of an increasingly information-driven society. What is more, we often question the appropriateness of our own intellectual and emotional responses when students' work does not meet our expectations. When we closely examine our grievances against student researchers, however, we might be compelled to admit that the list really adds up to one desperate question: Why can't our students conduct research as we do?

Knowledge as a Developmental Process

The obvious answer is that we and our students are in very different circumstances as thinkers, seekers, and shapers of knowledge. The specifics of the distinctions have been explored in various models of cognitive development, including a recent contribution, the Reflective Judgment Model constructed by Patricia M. King and Karen Strohm Kitchener. King and Kitchener's years of study revealed that when subjects are asked to draw conclusions about problems with uncertain solutions, "the way people justify their beliefs is related to their assumptions about knowledge" (King and Kitchener, 1994, p.5). King and Kitchener maintain that the patterns of difference they observed among their subjects are indicators of developmental stages. They posit that an individual's progress through these stages depends greatly upon that person's learning environment, which includes work with assignments designed to foster reflective thinking (King and Kitchener, 1994, pp.228-29).

Because King and Kitchener's study captured so beautifully the reasoning we have observed in our students over the years, we found the Reflective Judgment Model compelling. Naturally, we then felt bound to manipulate our students' learning environment so that we could nurture their capacity to confront uncertainty reflectively. At the same time, though, we heeded King and Kitchener's advice to "Show respect for students as people regardless of the developmental level(s) they may be exhibiting" (King and Kitchener, 1994, p.231). We wondered whether it was possible to construct for an introductory economics course a research assignment that could (1) recognize the developmental character of student reflection (2) take advantage of the perspective achieved in King and Kitchener's Reflective Judgment Model and (3) change the ways students think about research. If it were possible to apply King and Kitchener's model to an assignment, what, we wondered, might students gain from the application? How much of our approach to research can we hope to transmit to our students? Could our familiarity with the Reflective Judgment Model help us to wean students from relying too strongly upon their own empirical experience and upon authority for their responses to problems characterized by uncertainty?

The Theory and its Applications

In our attempt to apply the Reflective Judgment Model we were influenced most strongly by Developing Reflective Judgment, the culmination of King and Kitchener's years of study. Besides knowing King and Kitchener's work, we were also familiar with Barry Kroll's account of his application of the Reflective Judgment Model in a course on the Vietnam War (1992). In addition, Paul F. Haas (1992) has noted the relevance of the Reflective Judgment Model to honors programs and to economics courses in particular.

The Reflective Judgment Model outlines seven stages that describe the strategies that young and mature adults rely upon as they face problems with uncertain solutions (King and Kitchener, 1994, pp. 14-16). The stages present increasingly complex conceptions of knowledge, beginning with a reliance upon empirical experience only, moving through points where knowledge is seen as the domain of authorities and later as idiosyncratic. …

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