Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Preservice Teacher Epistemic Beliefs and Cultures

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Preservice Teacher Epistemic Beliefs and Cultures

Article excerpt


In recent years there has been a growing interest in examining learners' epistemological beliefs and its relationship with their ways of learning. In this study we revealed significant differences in the epistemological beliefs between pre-service teachers from the United States and China participating in a computer-mediated intercultural writing project. Also, data suggested that differences in beliefs of knowledge and learning had influenced the learning process and outcomes of the online interaction between the American and Chinese participants.


As we observe the ways in which we are currently living, working, and learning, we undoubtedly see the interconnectedness of our world. Advances in technologies have especially accelerated the development of interdependence and interconnectedness between people and institutions around the world. Consequently, there is a growing demand for individuals who have the ability to understand and communicate effectively with people in other countries or from different cultures (Taylor, 1994). Consequently, within educational settings an increasing number of classrooms from around the world are coming together to collaborate on joint projects and activities that are facilitated through telecommunications technology (e.g. iEARN). These cross-cultural, transnational initiatives provide students with the opportunity to learn, share, work, and communicate with people from diverse backgrounds and different perspectives. Therefore it is anticipated that these experiences will foster participating students in becoming globally conscious and interculturally competent persons.

Research studies regarding computer-mediated intercultural projects have emphasized descriptive reports which mainly state the objectives of the project, illustrate processes of operationalizing the project using technology, and/or identify factors that may have influenced the successful or unsuccessful implementation of such a project (Kubow & Crawford, 2001; Lu, Diggs, & Wedman, 2004). Hence, these reports serve more as "how to" guides for others. Unfortunately, with the exception of a handful of studies (e.g. Belz, 2002; Cifuentes & Shih, 2001; Merryfield, 2003; O'Dowd, 2003), very few researchers have attempted to study what is it that the students have actually learned or gained from the intercultural experience and even fewer have gone on to examine the students' learning process during their participation in such projects. Furthermore, almost no research has explored students' preconceived attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions, which may have a significant influence on the processes and outcomes of online intercultural collaborations. More specifically, what causes learners to approach intercultural experiences differently? An assumption is that personal epistemology; beliefs about knowledge, how knowing occurs, and how knowledge is constructed (Hofer, 2004), plays a crucial role in learners' behavior and performances during intercultural collaborations. In other words, a learners' approach to intercultural collaborations may be contingent upon his or her beliefs about the world in that beliefs may influence an individuals' decisions and actions regarding issues of what, when, and how to behave.

According to Schraw & Olafson (2002), teachers' epistemological worldviews influence the ways that they make important instructional decisions related to the curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment. Schraw & Olafson describes epistemological worldviews as the collective beliefs about the nature and acquisition of knowledge, in which there are three kinds; realist, contextualist, and relativist. A teacher with a realist worldview assumes that knowledge is acquired through experts and learning is a passive act. In terms of a contextualist worldview, teachers see themselves as facilitators, as learners collaboratively construct shared understanding. …

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