Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences


Brian Belland


Epistemic beliefs are individuals’ beliefs about the nature of knowledge, how knowledge is constructed, and how knowledge can be justified. This study employed a mixed-methods approach to examine: (a) middle and high school students’ self-reported epistemic beliefs (quantitative) and epistemic beliefs revealed from practice (qualitative) during a problem-based, scientific inquiry unit, (b) How do middle and high school students’ epistemic beliefs contribute to the construction of students’ problem solving processes, and (c) how and why do students’ epistemic beliefs change by engaging in PBL.

Twenty-one middle and high school students participated in a summer science class to investigate local water quality in a 2-week long problem-based learning (PBL) unit. The students worked in small groups to conduct water quality tests at in their local watershed and visited several stakeholders for their investigation. Pretest and posttest versions of the Epistemological Beliefs Questionnaire were conducted to assess students’ self-reported epistemic beliefs before and after the unit. I videotaped and interviewed three groups of students during the unit and conducted discourse analysis to examine their epistemic beliefs revealed from scientific inquiry activities and triangulate with their self-reported data.

There are three main findings from this study. First, students in this study selfreported relatively sophisticated epistemic beliefs on the pretest. However, the comparison between their self-reported beliefs and beliefs revealed from practice indicated that some students were able to apply sophisticated beliefs during the unit while others failed to do so. The inconsistency between these two types of epistemic beliefs may due to students’ inadequate cognitive ability, low validity of self-report measure, and the influence of contextual factors. Second, qualitative analysis indicated that students’ epistemic beliefs of the nature of knowing influenced their problem solving processes and construction of arguments during their inquiry activities. Students with more sophisticated epistemic beliefs acquired knowledge, presented solid evidence, and used it to support their claims more effectively than their peers. Third, students’ self-reported epistemic beliefs became significantly more sophisticated by engaging in PBL. Findings from this study can potentially help researchers to better understand the relation between students’ epistemic beliefs and their scientific inquiry practice.