Does epistemology matter for educational practice?

Aczel, James (2002). Does epistemology matter for educational practice? In: Annual Conference of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, 5-7 Apr 2002, Oxford, UK.


Lankshear, Peters & Knobel (2000) suggest that 'The digital age is throwing many of our educational practices and emphases and their underlying epistemological assumptions, beliefs, concepts and substantive theories into doubt'. In particular, because of new technology, educational philosophers must reconsider 'epistemological matters in relation to educational theory and practice' as a matter of 'very high priority'. Of course, philosophers need no excuse at all to reconsider anything; but since Lankshear, Peters & Knobel argue forcefully that 'key elements of the epistemological model that has underpinned education throughout the modern-industrial era' are brought into question by the fact of a 'digital age where more and more of our time, purposes and energies are invested in activities involving new communications and information technologies', it is perhaps worth asking whether the advent of new technology can, in itself, have profound implications for epistemology, and' more fundamentally – how exactly does epistemology 'underpin' or 'underlie' educational practice?
In what follows, the main practical educational questions that I have chosen to consider with respect to issues of epistemology are:
– What should be taught?
– How should it be taught?
– How can one tell what has been learned?
This paper is in four parts. The first part outlines the case made by Lankshear, Peters & Knobel that traditional versions of epistemology must be replaced by a post-modern social epistemology because of changed social practices brought about by new technology; and that educational practice must consequently be reconsidered. The second part of the paper considers some of the claims made about the influences of technology on contemporary knowledge practices. The third part of the paper suggests that the argument offered by Lankshear, Peters & Knobel works as a whole if 'epistemology' is identified with 'accounts of knowledge practices'. The final part considers whether there may be more to epistemology than just social epistemology.

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