Boldrin, Angela (2007) Costruire conoscenza attraverso internet: attivazione della metacognizione epistemica nella ricerca on-line di informazioni. [Ph.D. thesis]
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Information searching on the Web has become a routine, even among young students (Brem, et al., 2001; Clark & Slotta, 2000; Hess, 1999; Tsai, 2004; Windschitl, 2001). Dealing with a huge amount of information requires not only to recognize what is more pertinent and useful, but also to compare, evaluate and often integrate different or contradictory knowledge, transmitted by more or less authoritative sources. The ability to select, assess and interpret on-line information is influenced by our more or less naïve beliefs about knowledge and knowing (Hofer & Pintrich, 1997, 2002), namely epistemic beliefs. Given the changing nature of the task requested by individuals when they navigate on the Internet, it becomes relevant to situate and analyze epistemic awareness as a part of metacognition (Kuhn, 1999, 2000; Kuhn & Weinstock, 2002; Hofer, 2004). Moreover, it is important to examine epistemic beliefs in action, that is when they are activated in a context, in this case the context of on-line searching on the Web.
Study 1. Forty-six university students from the Faculties of Psychology and Engineering are involved. The aims of the study are to examine: a) whether students spontaneously activate epistemic reflections during on-line information searching about a controversial topic; b) whether there are evidence of different epistemic profiles; c) whether higher levels of prior knowledge, need for cognition and argumentative reasoning promote the verbalization of more sophisticated epistemic comments and influence how students navigate on the Net; d) whether these individual differences promote Web-based learning. Findings reveal that most students express epistemic reflections on the source, justification and simplicity/complexity of knowledge, although at different levels of sophistication. The selection of information is mainly influenced by the credibility of websites. A few students evaluate the veracity of what they find on the Net. Finally, more sophisticated epistemic comments are related to a higher level of need for cognition.
Study 2. Sixty-four high school students are involved. The aims of this second study are to examine: a) whether students younger than those involved in study 1 verbalize spontaneous epistemic reflections; b) whether there are differences in their epistemic profiles; c) whether individual differences previously investigated affect their verbalization of epistemic comments of different sophistication, as well as Web-based learning. Results show that high school students mainly express epistemic reflections about the source, justification and simplicity/complexity of knowledge, showing the same epistemic patterns, identified in university students. However, unlike the previous study, findings reveal that more sophisticated epistemic comments are related to higher prior knowledge and that higher argumentative reasoning skill promotes learning through the Web.
Study 3. Eighty-three middle school students are involved, with the aim to investigate: a) what epistemic reflections affect on-line information searching of younger students; b) whether knowing which theories explained a scientific controversial topic influences epistemic evaluation in context, as well as students' choice of the more convincing theory/ies; c) whether individual differences in self-regulation skills and in general epistemic beliefs about scientific knowledge affect epistemic evaluation during on-line searching, as well as Internet-based learning. On the one hand, findings show that most students select and evaluate the credibility of the sources on the basis of naïve epistemic criteria but, on the other hand, they reflect on the changing nature of knowledge and judge the veracity of information even through sophisticated epistemic standards. Unlike the previous study, prior-knowledge only affect students'choice of the more convincing explanation/s. In addition, a more effective learning approach and more sophisticated general epistemic beliefs about scientific knowledge are related to more advanced epistemic reflections in context. Overall these learner characteristics promote learning.
Conclusions. The examination of how students manage and evaluate epistemically the information available with a simple click of the mouse can contribute to understanding metacognitive processes that are still scarcely investigated. Finally, it is posited that, in educational context, Internet as an epistemic tool can promote the development of more sophisticated views of knowledge and knowing.
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