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Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Learning and Individual Differences

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/lindif

Constructivism and personal epistemology development in undergraduate 7

chemistry students☆

Michael M. Bargera, , Tony Perezb, Dorian A. Canelasc, Lisa Linnenbrink-Garciad
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Psychology, 603 E. Daniel St., Champaign, IL 61820, United States
Old Dominion, Department of Educational Foundations & Leadership, United States
Duke University, Department of Chemistry, United States
Michigan State University, Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education, United States


Keywords: Students' beliefs about knowledge, or their personal epistemologies, are critical components of the learning
Personal epistemology process. Researchers and educators need to understand how portrayals of knowledge in the classroom shape
Development personal epistemology development. Using a quasi-experimental design, an organic chemistry instructor taught a
Constructivism traditional, lecture-based course and a constructivist-based interactive-learning course. Students (N = 270)
Epistemic climate
completed three surveys assessing personal epistemology and perceptions of constructivism in the classroom.
Interactive learning
Although the interactive-learning classroom did not seem to affect personal epistemology, evidence suggested
that perceptions of a complex learning environment predicted changes in personal epistemology. Students' initial
epistemic beliefs predicted how they perceived the classroom environment. Results also supported an epistemic
alignment hypothesis: students performed better on the final exam when their beliefs matched the course
structure. Findings support an interactive model between students' personal epistemologies and epistemic cli-
mate and highlight the challenges of changing beliefs through single-semester classroom interventions.

Knowledge construction is a central component of education. two types of college pedagogical practices: traditional, lecture-based
Through the process of building knowledge, each learner develops be- classrooms and constructivist, active-learning-based classrooms
liefs about what knowledge is and how it is justified, a system of cog- (Freeman et al., 2014; Friesen, 2011). Many researchers and educators
nitions known as personal epistemology (Hofer & Pintrich, 2002). Stu- have taken a strong stance on which teaching approach is more ap-
dents' specific beliefs about knowledge, also referred to as epistemic propriate in STEM fields based on students' learning and achievement,
beliefs, predict their self-regulation strategies (Bråten, Anmarkrud, but few of these researchers have considered the role of students'
Brandmo, & Strømsø, 2014; Muis, 2007; Muis & Franco, 2009) and are epistemic beliefs in this debate. Assessing epistemic beliefs can com-
also closely interrelated with student motivation (Chen & Barger, 2016; plement existing research on the effectiveness of pedagogical techni-
Bråten & Strømsø, 2004). Students' personal epistemologies also predict ques as an explanatory mechanism or describe how the classroom for-
achievement in various contexts (Bråten & Ferguson, 2014; Dai & mats might affect underlying beliefs that students can carry beyond the
Cromley, 2014; Muis, 2004; Trautwein & Lüdtke, 2007). College course. The current study examines the complex relations between
chemistry classrooms are one such context. For example, under- students' perceptions of constructivist pedagogical practices and per-
graduates who have chemistry-specific epistemic beliefs (e.g., “In sonal epistemology development.
chemistry truth is unchanging.”) that closely match their preferred
general epistemic beliefs (e.g., “I prefer to study subjects where truth is 1. Theoretical background
unchanging.”) tend to receive higher grades in chemistry (Dai &
Cromley, 2014). 1.1. Personal epistemology
Given the importance of students' epistemic beliefs to the learning
process, it is essential to understand the situational factors that might Although there are many ways to conceptualize personal episte-
influence changes in personal epistemology (e.g., Feucht, 2010; Muis & mology (Alexander, 2016; Chinn, Buckland, & Samarapungavan, 2011;
Duffy, 2013). Researchers and educators have debated the virtues of Hofer & Pintrich, 1997), one prominent conceptualization examines

An earlier version of this manuscript was presented at the Annual Conference of the American Educational Researchers Association in Chicago, April 2015.

Corresponding author.
E-mail address: mmbarger@illinois.edu (M.M. Barger).

Received 27 April 2017; Received in revised form 15 March 2018; Accepted 29 March 2018

independent beliefs about the nature of knowledge (its structure) and demands of the course may explain the conflicting evidence (Dai &
how knowledge is justified (its sources). Philosophers often define Cromley, 2014). Epistemic cognition has been described as “flexible”
knowledge as justified, true beliefs (Greene, Azevedo, & Torney-Purta, and dependent on contexts (e.g., Kienhues, Ferguson, & Stahl, 2016).
2008), but the focus in personal epistemology is on how individuals However, researchers have not yet examined whether this flexibility
think about knowledge themselves. Students generally hold these be- can be adaptive if students come to hold beliefs that match the epis-
liefs implicitly; they may not think about these beliefs until they are temic climate of the context. Following this line of thinking, we propose
explicitly asked to articulate them. Students' beliefs are both domain- that students will learn more when their beliefs match the way that
general (e.g., “all knowledge is unchanging,”) and domain-specific knowledge is portrayed in a particular class. Students beliefs about the
(e.g., “chemistry knowledge is unchanging;” Muis, Bendixen, & Haerle, source of knowledge may direct them to seek or construct knowledge
2006). To some extent, these different levels of beliefs relate in a using different strategies (e.g., memorizing what the instructor says or
hierarchical manner, such that someone who has a domain-general practicing problems on one's own), which would be differentially ef-
belief is more likely to hold a similar domain-specific belief; however, fective depending on how the course is designed. It is therefore possible
individuals can, and often do, hold different beliefs across domains, that students with less constructivist beliefs (i.e., justification by au-
such as chemistry and history (for a review, see Barger & Linnenbrink- thority beliefs) will perform better in more traditional, lecture-based
Garcia, 2017; Muis et al., 2006). college courses (i.e., courses that are more objectivist in nature because
Three beliefs particularly relevant to the debate between lecture- the teacher's lecture serves as the singular truth in the class), whereas
based and active-learning-based classrooms have also received con- students with more constructivist beliefs (i.e., personal justification
siderable attention by researchers studying epistemic beliefs more beliefs) will perform better in a constructivist-based, interactive-
broadly (see Greene et al., 2008; Hofer, 2000; Hofer & Pintrich, 1997): learning context. Instead of describing certain beliefs as availing, we
1) simple/certain knowledge, 2) justification by authority, and 3) per- propose the “epistemic alignment” hypothesis, which suggests that
sonal justification. Simple/certain knowledge involves the structure of beliefs are more adaptive in contexts that call for them. Successful
knowledge, and indicates the belief that knowledge is composed of students are not simply those that hold universally “adaptive” beliefs,
unchanging, unrelated facts, instead of complex, evolving information. but rather are the students whose beliefs align with the demands of the
The belief that chemistry knowledge involves a collection of un- learning context.
changing facts that need to be memorized (e.g., equations and symbols
that are learned through memorization) exemplifies simple/certain 1.2. Mechanisms of personal epistemology development
knowledge. On the other hand, the belief that scientists' understanding
of molecular structures and energetic processes constantly evolves Researchers have long observed that students' personal epistemol-
would not. Both justification by authority and personal justification ogies can change over time (e.g., Kitchener & King, 1981; Perry, 1970;
involve sources of knowledge. A belief in justification by authority im- Schommer, Calvert, Gariglietti, & Bajaj, 1997). Recent work suggests
plies that knowledge is handed down by authority figures. A belief in two possible mechanisms for change, one explicit and one implicit
personal justification means that individuals construct knowledge for (Brownlee, Schraw, Walker, & Ryan, 2016; Lunn Brownlee, Ferguson, &
themselves and therefore can hold different understandings of what is Ryan, 2017). Explicit mechanisms derive from the conceptual change
true. Students with strong justification by authority beliefs would view literature (e.g., Posner, Strike, Hewson, & Gertzog, 1982). When stu-
chemistry teachers and textbooks as the primary sources of knowledge, dents' existing beliefs are directly confronted, this can trigger a dis-
whereas students with strong personal justification beliefs think that satisfaction with current beliefs called “epistemic doubt” (Bendixen &
people might come to different understandings by approaching pro- Rule, 2004). Examples of triggers include learners reading conflicting
blems from different perspectives. texts (Ferguson, Bråten, & Strømsø, 2012) or instructors directly con-
Theoretically, different types of beliefs are considered adaptive or fronting students' epistemic assumptions during class meetings
maladaptive for learning and achievement (e.g., Muis, 2004). The belief (Kienhues, Bromme, & Stahl, 2008). For example, a student may believe
that knowledge is simple/certain, for example, has been described as that experts have all the answers; but, if the student then reads con-
less availing, as it has been linked to lower achievement and learning flicting papers about how scientists disagree on what the healthiest
(Qian & Alvermann, 1995; Trautwein & Lüdtke, 2007). This connection foods are, he or she learns to believe that experts are not omniscient.
has been attributed to students using shallower cognitive processing Alternatively, epistemic change might occur implicitly through stu-
when they believe knowledge is simple/certain (Muis, 2004; Strømsø & dents' experiences with the underlying epistemic assumptions of the
Kammerer, 2016). The evidence regarding the relation between beliefs classroom. In these cases, the conceptions about nature of knowledge
about sources and process of knowledge justification and achievement are not directly presented; students' assumptions may subtly change in
is less consistent across contexts (e.g., Bråten & Ferguson, 2014; Bråten, ways that they are not aware of until they are explicitly asked with a
Ferguson, Strømsø, & Anmarkrud, 2013; Conley, Pintrich, Vekiri, & targeted interview or survey question. For example, a child who goes to
Harrison, 2004). In introductory science courses, it is especially im- a school that allows students to direct their own learning may not be
portant to understand that experts have agreed upon trustworthy, explicitly told that knowledge can be personally constructed, or even
foundational principles and that not every opinion in science is valid hear about “knowledge” or “truth” at all. Nevertheless, such an en-
(particularly if that opinion is not based on reliable scientific pro- vironment implicitly suggests that knowledge can be personally con-
cesses). However, over-reliance on teachers might prevent students structed and is not just handed down by authority figures. Such a child
from learning how to solve problems on their own or discover novel could also develop the belief that experts are not omniscient.
solutions, especially in more advanced scientific study. Furthermore, it A classroom's “epistemic climate” is the amalgam of students' per-
is also important to understand that scientists' knowledge and under- sonal epistemologies, the instructor's personal epistemology, the epis-
standing of scientific principles is constantly being developed, and temic messages in classroom instruction, and the way course materials
therefore scientists might have conflicting ideas that deserve further present knowledge (Feucht, 2010). Within this interactionist model, a
inspection. Accordingly, the most sophisticated approach to the source classroom context that portrays knowledge as complex and originating
of knowledge may be a balance between justification by authority and from multiple sources should lead students to develop similar epistemic
personal justification (Greene et al., 2008). To summarize, beliefs about beliefs. Instructors' personal epistemology leads them to create tasks
justification are not simply adaptive or maladaptive in science, but within the classroom that correspond to those portrayals of knowledge.
depend on how they guide the student to useful or unuseful behaviors Qualitative research has also found that even within the same subject,
in different contexts. the portrayals of knowledge can differ significantly between classrooms
The extent to which students match their epistemic beliefs to the (Hofer, 2004). The structure of a course in turn implicitly provides


students with evidence about how knowledge is created (Barger & reasons include inducing deeper learner understanding of the material
Linnenbrink-Garcia, 2017), eliciting changes in students' epistemic be- (Ruiz-Primo, Briggs, Iverson, Talbot, & Shepard, 2011), replacing
liefs (Muis, Trevors, & Chevrie, 2016). This is evident in one study that competition with collaboration (Springer, Stanne, & Donovan, 1999),
demonstrated that a web-supported, problem-based learning course and providing students with opportunities to resolve cognitive dis-
structure decreased the belief that knowledge is simple/certain sonance (Jensen & Lawson, 2011). Phrases such as student-centered
(Tolhurst, 2007). Students in the same classroom can also interpret the learning, active-learning, interactive-learning, and cooperative learning
instructor's goals around knowledge differently (Hofer, 2004). How- have different, nuanced meanings for different people, but these terms
ever, the role of incoming beliefs in the epistemic climate remains are often used interchangeably in the literature. We will employ the
understudied. Hypothetically, students' beliefs reciprocally influence phrase “interactive-learning” throughout the remainder of the text for
their environment, such that when students' beliefs change, it changes consistency—it constitutes the most accurate description of the learning
how they engage with peers, instructors, and course materials, further environment in this study, which involves actively engaging students in
eliciting epistemic change (Bendixen & Rule, 2004). However, little inquiry-guided problem solving activities in small groups to allow them
existing empirical evidence supports this supposition. to construct a shared understanding of organic chemistry.
One experimental study provided evidence that constructivist ped-
1.2.1. Constructivism in classrooms and constructivist beliefs agogical practices can change epistemic beliefs among undergraduate
One possible type of epistemic climate that instructors establish statistics students (Muis & Duffy, 2013). This study demonstrated that,
incorporates the learning theory of constructivism. Constructivism when compared to a typical classroom, a constructivist classroom led
generally refers to a philosophical viewpoint that assumes no single students to believe that statistics knowledge is complex and can be
objective reality exists (Jonassen, 1991), and that truth must be con- personally constructed. This supports the assertion constructivist
structed (Hodson & Hodson, 1998). Knowledge can be constructed learning environments shape epistemic beliefs and may serve as one
personally by an individual or constructed and shared socially (Driver, way of fostering epistemic change. This prior study and others (e.g.,
Asoko, Leach, Scott, & Mortimer, 1994). In the present study, we refer Brownlee, Purdie, & Boulton-Lewis, 2001) involved interventions that
specifically to social constructivism, because the view that knowledge is explicitly targeted students' personal epistemologies; however, it is not
socially constructed is the theoretical basis for interactive-learning clear whether epistemic development would occur “in a more natur-
classrooms in which students work in small-groups to solve problems alistic constructivist classroom that did not explicitly… foster epistemic
and create an understanding of the material. We specifically focus on change” (Muis & Duffy, 2013, pp. 223–224). For example, a course
students' perceptions of a constructivist class in this study because structure that required students to learn on their own or figure out
teaching from a constructivist paradigm lends itself to a particular answers in teams would implicitly suggest that knowledge is complex
epistemic climate. Some epistemic beliefs align with constructivism, and socially constructed, without explicitly addressing these issues with
such as the personal justification of knowledge belief, while other students. Furthermore, it is unclear from these studies what specific
epistemic beliefs are less aligned with constructivism, such as simple/ aspects of the constructivist classroom led to epistemic changes. Did the
certain knowledge and justification by authority beliefs. opportunity to interact with peers, participating in authentic tasks, the
In practice, constructivism has meant many things in the classroom complexity of the problems presented in class, or some other factors
context (Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, & Chinn, 2007; Kirschner, Sweller, & lead to changes in beliefs?
Clark, 2006), including collaborative and problem-based learning. The studies also did not explicitly test the interactive nature of
Translating constructivist learning theory into pedagogical practices in students' preexisting personal epistemologies with the portrayal of
the classroom often includes several common components, such as knowledge in the classroom. A student's initial personal epistemology
authentic tasks that are comparable to the activities of scientists (like may color his or her interpretation of the epistemic climate. For ex-
working through unsolved problems and conducting experiments), ample, the effectiveness of one personal epistemology intervention
supporting learner ownership of problems within a complex learning depended on whether students already held constructivist views of
environment, and building knowledge with peers (Savery & Duffy, knowledge (Kienhues et al., 2008). Furthermore, students in traditional
2001). For example, in the college setting, instead of an instructor science classrooms who believed that science is socially negotiated
lecturing the majority of the time, class time instead could be devoted were more likely to perceive their classroom as lacking opportunities to
to students engaged in solving challenging problems in small groups. construct knowledge (Tsai, 2000). However, it seems just as likely that
Such an approach creates an authentic task or problem that better re- under the context of a constructivist classroom, more constructivist
flects how scientists do their work (Osborne, 2010) and increases col- beliefs would allow students to perceive (and thus take advantage of)
laborative construction of knowledge between peers (Chi, 2009). This opportunities to construct complex knowledge for oneself. If students
experience may lead students to perceive knowledge in the domain as are in a interactive-learning context, possessing constructivist epistemic
more complex and coming from multiple sources. beliefs should direct students to construct their own knowledge.
Teaching using pedagogical techniques inspired by constructivism
in college STEM courses has become increasingly popular, in part be- 1.3. Current study
cause student populations tend to demonstrate more learning, on
average, in these classrooms compared to traditional, lecture-based The current study sought to improve our understanding of the role
courses (Freeman et al., 2014). As an illustration, Process Oriented of a constructivist-based, interactive-learning environment in epistemic
Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) activities (Farrell, Moog, & Spencer, change. We investigated college students' personal epistemology de-
1999; Moog & Spencer, 2008), which were developed with social velopment in traditional lecture-based and interactive-learning organic
constructivism foundations, have gained momentum in science class- chemistry classrooms. Examining students' epistemic beliefs and per-
rooms; hundreds of published POGIL activities are now available. Ad- ceptions of a constructivist climate enabled us to: (1) investigate whe-
ditionally, flipped classrooms, in which students engage with tradi- ther or not perceptions of the epistemic climate implicitly cause epis-
tional lecture content outside of the classroom and engage in problem temic change and (2) clarify what role learners' initial epistemic beliefs
solving during class time, have received recent attention in college play in the process. Finally, we wanted to examine an epistemic
chemistry (Goldwasser, Mosley, & Canelas, 2016; Canelas, Hill, & alignment hypothesis, postulating that epistemic beliefs differentially
Novicki, 2017; Chase, Pakhira, & Stains, 2013; Fautch, 2015; Hein, predict academic achievement in lecture-based and interactive-learning
2012; Teo, Tan, Yan, Teo, & Yeo, 2014). Researchers have proposed contexts. If the hypothesis is correct, then an individual learner's aca-
many reasons for the advances in the average student's achievement demic achievement to some extent depends upon the degree of
observed after implementation of these types of teaching practices. The matching between the learner's epistemic beliefs and the classroom


2. Method

2.1. Participants

Participants (N = 270) were undergraduates in two sections of an

organic chemistry course at a selective university in the southeastern
United States. The first was a lecture-based format (n = 116, total en-
rollment of 132), and the other section used a problem-based, inter-
active-learning course format (n = 154, total enrollment of 158). At this
university, students typically take an advanced general chemistry
course in the fall of their first year, followed by two semesters of or-
ganic chemistry in the spring of their first year (the context of the
current study) and the fall of their second year as previously described
(Hall, Curtin-Soydan, & Canelas, 2014; Canelas, 2015; Canelas et al.,
2017). The overall sample included 85.1% first-year students and re-
Fig. 1. The conceptual model of the development of personal epistemology via
flected the gender (47.2% male) and ethnic (41.6% Caucasian, 29.4%
perceptions of a constructivist learning environment. These perceptions are
Asian/Pacific islander, 9.3% African American, 5.2% Hispanic, 9.3%
divided into three dimensions in the tested model (see Fig. 2).
other/multiracial, 5.2% did not report) make-up of the university.1 The
demographic characteristics of the lecture-based and interactive-
environment established by the instructor. learning classes are presented in Table 1. The study was approved by
We tested three research questions based on our conceptual model the institutional review board in accordance with guidelines to protect
of epistemic change. (RQ1) Do students' epistemic beliefs, final exam human subjects.
grades, and perceptions of different components of constructivism vary
between interactive-learning and lecture-based classrooms? We hy-
pothesized that the interactive-learning classroom would increase per- 2.2. Procedure
ceptions of constructivism such as having more opportunities to interact
with peers, seeing problems as complex, and authentic scientific tasks. The third author was the instructor for both of the classes, covering
We also hypothesized that students in the interactive-learning class- the structures and reactions of carbon compounds and the impact of
room would subsequently report more constructivist epistemic beliefs selected organic compounds on society. The use of different instruc-
(i.e., higher personal justification, lower justification by authority and tional strategies was not advertised to students. Thus, students were not
simple/certain knowledge) relative to those observed in the traditional, aware of the approaches to teaching when they enrolled for the course.
lecture-based classroom at the end of the course (as in Muis & Duffy, In the lecture-based class, students attended three 50-minute lec-
2013). (RQ2) Is there a reciprocal relation between perceptions of a tures per week and the instructor primarily delivered course content via
constructivist classroom and changes in personal epistemology over the lecture. The instructor used visual aids (e.g., PowerPoint slides, docu-
course of the semester (see Fig. 1)? We hypothesized that the percep- ment camera, and writing on board) while explaining the course con-
tions that the classroom had more constructivist teaching practices tent. Students were also sometimes given time to think about a problem
would predict changes in epistemic beliefs, and that this relation might and then randomly selected to answer a question, but the instructor
be stronger in the interactive-learning classroom. We also expected that delivered a traditional lecture for the majority of class time while the
students' initial beliefs would predict their perceptions of the classroom students took notes. Students were advised to keep up with the course
environment in both classrooms, providing evidence for one possible by reading and doing practice problems for 1–2 h each day outside of
mechanism for how learners' personal epistemology impacts the epis- class.
temic climate (Feucht, 2010). (RQ3) How do epistemic beliefs relate to Students in the interactive-learning class also attended three 50-
achievement in organic chemistry in these different contexts? We ex- minute classes per week. In this case, student-centered, cooperative-
pected support for an epistemic alignment hypothesis: less con- learning activities replaced the lecture; the goal was to spend the ma-
structivist epistemic beliefs predict higher achievement in the lecture- jority of class time with all students actively engaged in inquiry-guided
based classroom, but more constructivist epistemic beliefs predict problem solving in small groups rather than listening passively to a
higher achievement in the interactive-learning classroom (Dai & lecture. The primary mode of instruction for the interactive-learning
Cromley, 2014). class involved working in small groups on POGIL (POGIL; Farrell et al.,
1999; Moog & Spencer, 2008) or Problem Manipulation activities (Niaz
& Robinson, 1992; Siburt, Bissell, & MacPhail, 2011). POGIL uses
Table 1 scaffolded classroom activities and rotating team member group roles
Demographic information: compositions of the lecture-based and interactive- that are carefully designed and faculty peer-reviewed to contain a cycle
learning classes; N-values and percentages by gender and self-reported race. of constructive learning: exploration, concept invention, and applica-
Lecture-based % Interactive-learning % tion (https://pogil.org/about). These interactive-learning activities
class class align with many components of constructivism (Savery & Duffy, 2001).
First, it provides students the opportunity to work with their peers and
Gender Male 40 36 87 61
socially construct understanding of the material. Second, working on
Female 72 64 56 39
Race Black 11 10 14 10 problem solving tasks as opposed to listening to lectures more closely
Asian 41 37 38 27 aligns with what scientists do compared, making classroom activities
White 46 41 66 46 more authentic. Third, the flexibility of the problem-solving tasks
Hispanic 7 6 7 5 should allow students to take multiple pathways to solving problems,
Other/ 7 6 18 13
The distribution of gender across the two sections of the course was unequal. Gender
was controlled in initial analyses but was unrelated to epistemic beliefs (as other re-
searchers have found; Hofer & Pintrich, 1997) and was therefore not included in final


making the scientific process seem more complex than a collection of function across multiple domains, including psychology, science, math,
memorizable facts. Most activities were drawn from reviewed and and history (Greene, Torney-Purta, & Azevedo, 2010; Hofer, 2000). The
published literature (Ruder, 2015; Straumanis, 2009), although the original engineering items had been inspected previously by an expert
instructor designed some activities (see Supplementary Materials for an in the field of epistemic cognition and were reviewed by the third au-
example of instructor-designed activities). The instructor and several thor, a chemistry professor, who found the adapted scales relevant to
teaching assistants circulated through the classroom engaging in con- the organic chemistry context. We selected these scales because they
versations with groups of four to six students about the activities in were domain-specific and showed reasonable reliability with a similar
order to prompt or scaffold their thinking about the activities. Prior to demographic of students. There were 17 domain-specific items, which
coming to class, students had access to video lectures and were en- assessed three subscales including simple/certain knowledge (e.g.,
couraged to work on introductory activities related to the problems “Truth is unchanging in chemistry.”), justification by authority (e.g., “If
they would complete in small groups. a chemist says something is fact, I believe it.”), and personal justifica-
Following a previously reported procedure (Canelas et al., 2017), an tion (e.g., “In chemistry, what's a fact depends on a person's point of
independent coder observed five randomly selected classes in both the view.”) at both T1 and T3. Based on the CFA results, we dropped one
lecture-based and interactive-learning sections. During these observa- item from the justification by authority scale (“If you read something in
tions, the coder assessed the amount of time that all students were a chemistry textbook, you can be sure it's true.”) and two items from the
engaged in active-learning activities other than listening or taking simple/certain knowledge scale (“In chemistry, most work has only one
notes. Students in the interactive-learning class spent approximately right answer” and “All chemistry professors would probably come up
63% of class time working actively in small groups compared to about with the same answers to questions in chemistry.”). Thus, the final scale
17% of class time devoted to active-learning in the lecture-based class. included 14 items total (personal justification = 3 items, αT1 = 0.66,
The remainder of the times included students listening and taking αT3 = 0.71; justification by authority = 5 items, αT1 = 0.73,
notes, having tasks explained, and going over solutions. αT3 = 0.81; and simple certain knowledge = 6 items, αT1 = 0.67,
The laboratory sections (once per week), recitation sessions (once αT3 = 0.81). Thus, the personal epistemology scales met the generally
per week), homework assignments, textbook (Organic Chemistry, 5th accepted standard for reliability of α ≥ 0.70 at all-time points except
ed.; Loudon, 2009), course website, and other course materials were for the simple certain knowledge and personal justification scales at
identical in both classes. This included identical online resources such time 1, which were only slightly under the 0.70 rule of thumb. See
as unit plans with learning objectives, online homework problems, results for further details about the validity of the scales.
worksheets for guiding recitations led by teaching assistants, a folder of
student-centered activities, optional lecture videos, PowerPoint slides, 2.3.2. Perceptions of constructivist learning environment
and information about places to get extra help (peer tutoring, chemistry We chose to measure perceptions of constructivism in order to as-
resource room, instructor office hours). Students in the lecture-based sess whether students were able to perceive differences in classroom
class had access to all of the activities that the students in the inter- practices and because we expected students' subjective perceptions to
active-learning class were completing in real time, and they were en- be more predictive of individual belief change than a more objective
couraged to do them on their own for practice as an optional activity. measure. A combination of items used in prior research (Kahle, Meece,
Conversely, students in the interactive-learning class were encouraged & Scantlebury, 2000) and new items representing additional con-
to take advantage of the optional lecture videos when needing clar- structivist practices (Savery & Duffy, 2001) were used to measure stu-
ification about concepts. dents' perceptions of a constructivist environment in their organic
Students completed surveys in their chemistry class at the beginning chemistry classroom (i.e., perceptions of constructivism). The final
(T1), middle (T2), and end (T3) of the semester assessing their epis- measure included 10 items. Students were asked to think about their
temic beliefs about chemistry (T1 and T3) and their perceptions of the current organic chemistry classroom when reading these items. Two
classroom environment (T2). Students completed a final, cumulative items represented the role of peers in the learning process (Con-
exam in the week following the T3 survey. These time points were se- structivism-Peers, e.g. “I learn from my classmates.” α = 0.88). Four
lected to assess students' initial and final beliefs while getting a cross- items measured the extent to which students felt the instructor believed
section of their perceptions of how the class was proceeding in the in the complexity of knowledge (Constructivism-Complex, e.g. “My or-
middle of the semester. The instructor introduced the researchers at the ganic chemistry professor thinks problems can be solved in more than
beginning of the study but was not present while students were re- one way.” α = 0.72). The final four items measured whether students
cruited to participate in the study or while they completed the surveys. found the learning environment to authentically replicate the work of
Students were not compensated for participating. scientists (Constructivism-Authentic, e.g. “My organic chemistry pro-
fessor encourages me to think like a scientist when solving problems.”
2.3. Measures α = 0.77). Overall, the perceptions of constructivism sub scales met the
generally accepted standard for reliability of α ≥ 0.70. A CFA sup-
All items were measured on a five-point Likert scale (1 = Strongly ported the three-factor structure of the perceptions of constructivist
Disagree; 5 = Strongly Agree). Items within each subscale were averaged learning environment scale (see results section for further details).
to create a single score at each time point. We calculated Cronbach's
alpha to determine the internal consistency reliability of each of the 2.3.3. Final exam scores
measures. Generally, an alpha ≥0.70 indicates sufficient reliability Students in both courses completed an identical cumulative final
(Cortina, 1993); however, reliability scores lower than 0.70 may also be exam that was worth a maximum of 300 points (M = 199.8,
acceptable (Schmitt, 1996). We used confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) SD = 44.7). The exam included twenty multiple choice questions (33%
to validate the factor structure of the measures. We report the specific of grade) as well as free-response questions such as essays for ex-
results of the CFA analyses in the results section. plaining concepts, writing mechanisms, and interpreting spectral data
(67%). Given the wide variety of question types and forms of assess-
2.3.1. Personal epistemology ment, this test conformed to norms in the discipline of chemistry and
The epistemic beliefs about chemistry survey was adapted from a was considered an appropriate assessment of students' organic chem-
scale that was previously used in the domain of engineering (“en- istry content and learning gains in both classrooms. The use of the same
gineers” and “engineering” were replaced by “chemists” and “chem- exam, which measured key concepts of general chemistry including
istry”), developed by Barger, Wormington, Huettel, and Linnenbrink- basic knowledge and higher level conceptual understanding, enabled us
Garcia (2016) via combining items from scales that were designed to to directly compare learning in the two classroom contexts. Students


completed the timed paper-and-pencil exam in class over 3 h, with no compared the new model's fit to the configural model using the change
notes or books. The final exam score was not curved and was roughly in chi-square test (Byrne, 2012). Using this approach, a statistically
normally distributed (skewness = −0.44, kurtosis = −0.36). significant change in chi-square test indicates a significantly worse fit-
ting model compared to the configural model. Under such circum-
2.4. Data analysis stances, we examined the modification indices to determine which
specific coefficients should be freely estimated across the two groups.
2.4.1. Confirmatory factor analyses We freed regression coefficients based on the modification indices until
It is important to establish construct validity and reliability of the change in model fit was non-significant compared to the configural
measures used in any study. We used CFA to test the construct validity model. In other words, the aim of this analysis was to find the most
of the hypothesized latent factor structure of the perceptions of con- parsimonious model (the model with the most degrees of freedom) that
structivism and epistemic beliefs scales. The goal was to assure that is not significantly worse fitting compared to the configural model.
observed covariance between items fit a theoretical pattern in which Given rules of thumb related to sample size in SEM analysis (Mueller
covariance between items on a single scale are more related to each & Hancock, 2008), our sample size was relatively small for the path
another than to items on a different scale, establishing construct va- analyses described above (see Limitations for a discussion of this point).
lidity (Hoyle, 2000). We examined fit indices to assess the fit of the CFA However, the path analysis approach is best when examining reciprocal
models (see below for model fit standards). We also examined mod- effects (Keith, 2015), and reduced the number of statistical tests re-
ification indices for evidence of cross loading of items on other factors quired to answer our research questions. To mitigate our potential to be
(Byrne, 2012). A modification index of > 3.84 (suggesting specifying underpowered, we did not include a measurement model in the ana-
the parameter would result in a significant reduction in chi-square) and lyses so there would be less complexity to the model.
a large expected parameter change (EPC) suggests possible cross- To determine the quality of model fit, we followed guidelines uti-
loading with a factor that an item was not intended to measure. We lized in prior research (Pekrun, Hall, Goetz, & Perry, 2014; Trautwein
evaluated the adequacy of items based on these factors and, im- et al., 2012). Accordingly, we considered models to demonstrate ac-
portantly, based on the theoretical structure of the measure (Byrne, ceptable model fit when at least two indicators met the conventions of
2012). We also examined correlations between different measures to good model fit (≥0.95 for CFI, < 0.08 for RMSEA, and < 0.10 for
assess discriminant validity between epistemic beliefs and perceptions SRMR) outlined by Hu and Bentler (1999).
of constructivism. In the path analyses, missing data was handled using Full
Information Maximum Likelihood estimation to fit the models, which
2.4.2. Primary analyses uses all available data instead of excluding participants with some
Each class of students was considered a separate group in the ana- missing data entirely (Raykov, 2005). We used listwise deletion in the
lysis (one group experienced the lecture-based class, while the other mean comparison analyses (MANOVAs and t-test).
group experienced the interactive-learning class.) To analyze our first
research question (RQ1: Do students' epistemic beliefs, perceptions of 3. Results
different components of constructivism, and exam performances vary
between interactive-learning and lecture-based classrooms), we used 3.1. Confirmatory factor analyses
mixed repeated-measures MANOVA to examine any differences be-
tween the groups in their changes in epistemic beliefs over the time- 3.1.1. Epistemic beliefs
frame of the semester. In the repeated-measures analysis, a significant We examined the adequacy of a three-factor model at both T1 and
time × group interaction would indicate differences between the two T3. However, modification indices suggested cross-loading of 3 items
groups in changes in epistemic beliefs from T1 to T3. MANOVA was across the three-factors at T1 and T3 epistemic beliefs. Any model ad-
used to examine mean differences between the groups in their per- justments based on modification indices should be made with the
ceptions of constructivism variables. An independent samples t-test was theory and prior research in mind. Since these three items were cross-
used to examine differences between the groups on final exam scores. loading on factors that were not appropriate given the construct they
To account for multiple tests, we used p ≤ .016 (0.05 divided by three were intended to measure based on prior research, we removed these
tests) as an indicator of a significant omnibus test using the Bonferroni items from the analyses. The final CFA models for T1 (χ2
correction (Howell, 2012). [74] = 142.68, p < .001, CFI = 0.92, RMSEA = 0.068, 90% CI:
For research question two (RQ2: Is there a reciprocal relation be- [0.051, 0.085], SRMR = 0.066) and for T3 (χ2 [74] = 124.95,
tween perceptions of a constructivist classroom and changes in personal p < .001, CFI = 0.92, RMSEA = 0.052, 90% CI: [0.035, 0.067],
epistemology over the course of the semester?) we used path analysis SRMR = 0.054) demonstrated acceptable model fit. We present the
(see Fig. 2). A path modeling approach was most appropriate since this factor loadings for the epistemic beliefs scales in Table 2. Both the
allowed us to examine the reciprocal effects of epistemic beliefs on model fit and factor loadings (all factor loadings were statistically sig-
perceptions of constructivism and vice versa over the course of the nificant and > 0.35), combined with the acceptable Cronbach's alpha,
semester in a single analysis (Keith, 2015). Such an analysis would have provide evidence that our observed covariance matrix aligns with our
otherwise required piecemeal multiple regression analyses, which is theoretical model of these three epistemic beliefs constructs, which
less ideal than using a single model. helps to establish construct validity (Hoyle, 2000).
Finally, to examine research question 3 (RQ3: How do epistemic
beliefs relate to achievement in organic chemistry in these different 3.1.2. Perceptions of constructivism
classroom contexts), we specified a multi-group path model (Byrne, The CFA on the perceptions of constructivism scale supported a
2012). We analyzed the same model specified for research question 2 three-factor structure (χ2 [32] = 71.45.68, p < .001, CFI = 0.92,
(see Fig. 2), but analyzed this model for the lecture-based class and the RMSEA = 0.074, 90% CI: [0.051, 0.097], SRMR = 0.056). While there
interactive-learning class separately in a single path analysis. This ap- was some evidence of potential cross-loading on two items, we decided
proach allowed us to test whether the effects of epistemic beliefs on to retain these items since there was not a strong theoretical rationale
achievement were the same in both classes (Byrne, 2012). We first al- for removing them, and since removing these items would significantly
lowed all coefficients between the two groups (lecture-based and in- reduce model fit. We present the factor loadings on the perceptions of
teractive-learning classes) to vary (the configural model) and examined constructivism scale in Table 3. Again, these CFAs provide evidence
the model for adequate fit. Given an acceptable model fit, we then fixed that our proposed theoretical model reasonably fit the observed cov-
the regression coefficients across the two groups to be equal and ariance matrix, providing evidence for construct validity.


Fig. 2. The initial model with all pathways shown. The initial two-group model constrained means and path coefficients to be equal across classes. Correlations
between variables are not shown to reduce visual complexity.

3.2. Descriptive statistics and correlations Table 3

Standardized factor loadings for perceptions of constructivism.
Descriptive statistics, including means and standard deviations for 1 2 3
each of the classes, are presented in Table 4. Correlations among the
variables are presented in Table 5. The correlations between epistemic I talk with my classmates about how to solve problems. 0.72
I learn from my classmates. 0.92
belief and perceptions of constructivism were small (rs ≤ 0.3), which
My organic chemistry professor asks questions that have 0.50
suggests discriminant validity between the two sets of measures. more than one answer.
My organic chemistry professor thinks problems can be 0.59
solved in more than one way.
3.3. RQ1 My organic chemistry professor encourages us to develop our 0.57
own problems to solve.
My organic chemistry professor encourages us to find and 0.68
We examined differences in changes in personal epistemology from
understand patterns on our own.
baseline to the end of the semester using repeated-measures MANOVA. The assignments serve a larger purpose than just busy work. 0.51
The multivariate test indicated a non-significant time × class interac- My organic chemistry professor encourages me to think like a 0.56
tion indicating there were no significant differences between the two scientist when solving problems.
groups in their change in personal epistemology over time (Pillai's I understand how new concepts in organic chemistry relate to 0.52
my previous knowledge.
Trace = 0.01, F [3, 190] = 0.93, p = .430, η2 = 0.014). The process behind solving organic chemistry problems is 0.56
We used MANOVA to examine mean differences between the groups very important.
in their perceptions of constructivism. The multivariate test indicated
significant differences in perceptions of constructivism by the two Note. 1 = Constructivism-peers. 2 = Constructivism-complex. 3 = Constructivism-
groups (Pillai's Trace = 0.33, F [3, 219] = 35.362, p < .001, authentic. All factor loadings are statistically significant at p < .001.
η2 = 0.33). The univariate tests indicated there were significant

Table 2
Standardized factor loadings for epistemic beliefs CFA models at time 1 and time 3.
Time 1 Time 3

1 2 3 1 2 3

All experts in chemistry understand the field in the same way. 0.39 0.58
Truth is unchanging in chemistry. 0.62 0.72
Principles in chemistry are unchanging. 0.50 0.69
Most of what is true in chemistry is already known. 0.41 0.59
In chemistry, what is a fact today will be a fact tomorrow. 0.55 0.67
Chemists' knowledge of the facts about chemistry does not change. 0.53 0.65
If my personal experience conflicts with ideas in a chemistry textbook, the book is probably right. 0.36 0.42
If a chemist says something is a fact, I believe it. 0.67 0.78
Things written in chemistry textbooks are true. 0.59 0.62
I believe everything I learn in chemistry classes. 0.78 0.76
If a chemistry professor says something is a fact, I believe it. 0.60 0.82
In chemistry, the truth means different things to different people. 0.71 0.83
In chemistry, everyone's knowledge can be different because there is no one absolutely right answer. 0.53 0.52
In chemistry, what's a fact depends upon a person's point of view. 0.66 0.68

Note. 1 = simple/certain knowledge. 2 = justification by authority. 3 = personal justification. All factor loadings are statistically significant at p < .001.


Table 4 when compared to the students in the lecture-based class. There were
Descriptive Statistics for Groups in the lecture-based and the interactive- no mean differences between the groups in either changes in epistemic
learning classes. beliefs over time or final exam score. Overall, this pattern of findings
Lecture-based class Interactive-learning class was contrary to our first hypothesis. We elaborate on this further in the
discussion section below.
n M SD n M SD
3.4. RQ2
Time 1
Simple certain 114 2.29 0.47 145 2.44 0.51
knowledge We hypothesized that constructivist perceptions would predict
Justification by 114 3.46 0.50 145 3.56 0.55 changes in personal epistemology (see path analysis results in Fig. 3).
Indeed, perceiving a complex environment predicted decreases in
Personal justification 114 2.86 0.66 143 2.91 0.73
Time 2
simple/certain knowledge (b = −0.18, p = .018, β = −0.18) after
Constructivism peers 93 3.73 0.82 133 4.44 0.55 controlling for initial epistemic beliefs. In other words, perceptions that
Constructivism 93 3.84 0.55 131 3.48 0.62 the learning environment was complex predicted a decrease in the
complex belief that knowledge is a collection of unchanging facts. However,
Constructivism 93 3.99 0.42 131 4.00 0.53
learning from peers and perceiving class problems as authentic did not
Time 3 relate to changes in epistemic beliefs.
Simple certain 81 2.33 0.54 120 2.50 0.65 We also hypothesized that students' initial personal epistemology
knowledge would predict their perceptions of the classroom environment. As ex-
Justification by 81 3.50 0.57 120 3.59 0.56
pected, beliefs in simple/certain knowledge predicted lower percep-
Personal justification 81 2.92 0.70 120 2.92 0.72
tions of an authentic learning environment (b = −0.21, p = .002,
End of semester β = −0.23). Therefore, if students started the semester believing that
Final exam grade 110 200.49 40.20 143 199.56 48.07 knowledge was a collection of unchanging facts, they perceived the
classroom as less relevant to real world problems. Also in line with our
Note. Means that significantly differed between classes are bolded. hypotheses, personal justification predicted higher perceptions of
complexity (b = 0.12, p = .038, β = 0.14). In other words, believing
that people construct knowledge for themselves was associated with

Table 5
Correlations between all measures in study for students in the lecture-based and interactive-learning classrooms.
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

1. T1 SCK 0.04 −0.13 0.07 −0.15 −0.12 0.34 −0.03 −0.10 −0.10
2. T1 JA 0.33⁎⁎ −0.12 −0.11 0.29⁎ 0.07 0.02 0.52⁎⁎ −0.04 0.18
3. T1 PJ −0.17† −0.28⁎⁎ 0.12 −0.08 0.01 −0.03 −0.16 0.34⁎⁎ 0.10
4. T2 peers −0.16 0.11 −0.15 0.21† 0.29⁎ −0.18 −0.12 0.18 −0.10
5. T2 authentic −0.20⁎ 0.07 0.15 0.49⁎⁎ 0.49⁎⁎ −0.26⁎ 0.37⁎⁎ 0.16 0.15
6. T2 complex −0.22⁎ −0.04 0.30⁎⁎ 0.36⁎⁎ 0.51⁎⁎ −0.35⁎⁎ 0.00 0.25⁎ −0.12
7. T3 SCK 0.63⁎⁎ 0.38⁎⁎ −0.26⁎⁎ −0.12 −0.19† −0.26⁎⁎ 0.23⁎ −0.21† 0.08
8. T3 JA 0.40⁎⁎ 0.72⁎⁎ −0.35⁎⁎ 0.16 0.08 −0.08 0.50⁎⁎ 0.12 0.31⁎⁎
9. T3 PJ −0.07 0.00 0.54⁎⁎ −0.11 0.09 0.18† −0.05 −0.19† −0.04
10. Final exam 0.00 −0.02 0.28⁎⁎ −0.06 0.14 0.04 −0.09 −0.10 0.21⁎

Note. Correlations between variables for students in the lecture-based class are located above the diagonal and those for the interactive-learning class are located
below the diagonal. SCK = simple/certain knowledge; JA = justification by authority; PJ = personal justification. T2 variables are components of perceptions of

p < .10.

p < .05.
p < .01.

differences between the groups on constructivism-peers (F [1, perceiving the classroom as more complex. Contrary to our expecta-
221] = 58.71, p < .001, η2 = 0.21) and constructivism-complex (F [1, tions, justification by authority beliefs positively predicted perceptions
221] = 19.65, p < .001, η2 = 0.08). The group in the interactive- of an authentic learning environment (b = 0.13, p = .040, β = 0.16).
learning classroom was, on average, significantly higher on con- The belief that knowledge comes from authorities was related to per-
structivism-peers when compared to the lecture-based class group (see ceiving the classroom as more relevant to real world problems.
Table 4 for mean values). However, the lecture-based class group had Finally, when combining both classes, T1 personal justification
significantly higher mean constructivism-complex scores compared to predicted final grade (b = 15.33, p = .001, β = 0.24). However, when
the interactive-learning group. analyzed across the two classes, this relation did not hold for both
Finally, we used an independent samples t-test to examine any groups. We review this finding in the next section.
differences in the average final exam scores. Results indicated that the
two groups did not perform differently on the final exam (t 3.5. RQ3
[251] = 0.16, p = .870, d = 0.02; see Table 4 for means).
In sum, mean group differences were observed in perceptions of After following the multi-group modeling procedure described
constructivism-peers and constructivism-complex by the students in the previously, a multi-group model with freely estimated regression paths
lecture-based and interactive-learning classes. On average, the group of from T1 personal justification to final exam score and from T3 justifi-
students in the interactive-learning class reported more learning with cation by authority to final exam score while leaving the remaining
peers and perceived the teacher as creating a less complex environment regression paths constrained to be equal across groups was most


Fig. 3. The final model of personal epistemology devel-

opment across both courses. Only the paths between T1
personal justification and final exam grade and T3 justi-
fication by authority and grade differed between students
in the lecture-based and interactive-learning classrooms.
All other paths were thus constrained to be equal across
groups. Unstandardized path coefficients are shown.
Final exam grades were graded on a scale of 300. Non-
significant paths and correlations between variables at
each time are not shown to reduce the complexity of the

Table 6 an interactive-learning course on perceptions of constructivism, per-

Model fit statistics for nested multi-group path models. sonal epistemology development, and final exam grades. We identified
three components of constructivism as perceived by students in the
parameters classroom: opportunities to learn from peers, an instructor who portrays
complexity, and an authentic learning environment. The interactive-
M1: configural model 112 22.11 18 0.99 0.04 0.04 learning classroom increased perceptions of peer interaction.
M2: fix all regression 85 66.99 45 0.94 0.06 0.09
Surprisingly, students in the interactive-learning classroom reported
M3: free T1PJ → grade 86 61.03 44 0.96 0.05 0.08 that the instructor provided fewer opportunities to solve complex pro-
M4: free T3JA → grade 87 57.85 43 0.96 0.05 0.08 blems relative to the lecture-based classroom. Perceiving classroom
tasks as authentic was not affected by the class type. In this case, the
Note. Final model is in bold. Δχ2 (25) = 35.74, p > .05. interactive-learning classroom did not directly change personal episte-
mology or grades. Despite these unexpected findings, the second and
parsimonious (Δχ2 [25] = 35.74, p > .05).2 The final model, shown in third research questions provided an opportunity to examine the crucial
Fig. 3, met the criteria for acceptable fit (χ2 [43] = 57.85, p = .06, relations between constructivist practices in the classroom, personal
CFI = 0.96, RMSEA = 0.051, 90% CI: [0.000, 0.082]; SRMR = 0.079; epistemology, and achievement.
Hu & Bentler, 1999). Table 6 presents model fit information for each Perceptions of constructivist practices in the form of complexity in
model in each step of our analysis. In the lecture-based classroom, T3 the classroom predicted changes in the belief in simple/certain
beliefs in justification by authority (a less constructivist belief) posi- knowledge, and all of students' initial epistemic beliefs predicted their
tively predicted final exam score (b = 22.82, p = .005, β = 0.33). A perceptions of a constructivist classroom environment. The perception
one-unit increase on the T3 justification by authority scale corre- that the classroom afforded opportunities to take ownership of complex
sponded with approximately a 23-point increase (7.6%) in final exam problems seemed to be a key ingredient for epistemic change. Those
score. The relation between T3 justification by authority and final exam who perceived class materials as complex reported lower non-con-
score was not statistically significant in the interactive-learning class- structivist belief of simple/certain knowledge by the end of the seme-
room (b = 3.81, p = .684). However, in the interactive-learning class- ster.
room, higher scores on beliefs in personal justification (a more con- The results also provided novel evidence that students' beliefs play a
structivist belief) at the beginning of the semester positively predicted role in the epistemic climate. In line with the interactive epistemic
final exam score (b = 22.96, p < .001, β = 0.35). Specifically, a one- climate model (Feucht, 2010), we found evidence that initial personal
unit increase in T1 personal justification corresponded with approxi- epistemologies predicted students' perceptions of the classroom en-
mately a 23-point increase (7.6%) in final exam grade in the inter- vironment. Whereas previous research found that students in a tradi-
active-learning class. There was no such relation in the lecture-based tional classroom with more constructivist beliefs found their classroom
class between these two variables (b = 6.78, p = .26). These findings environments to afford fewer opportunities to construct knowledge
support the epistemic alignment hypothesis, which we elaborate on (Tsai, 2000), the current study mostly found that students with initial
further in the discussion section. constructivist epistemic beliefs reported more practices aligned with
constructivist learning.
4. Discussion First, students who initially believed that knowledge is complex and
evolving rather than simple and certain were more likely to find their
This study adds to the broader research literature on the interplay classroom tasks as authentic. Second, students who started their class
between students' beliefs, the epistemic climate of the classroom, and believing that knowledge is self-constructed (high personal justifica-
achievement under different contexts. First, we examined the effects of tion) were more likely to perceive class activities as complex. Perhaps
believing that knowledge is self-constructed makes knowledge por-
The value of the modification indices for freeing the path from T1 personal justifi- trayals in the classroom seem more complex since this belief orients the
cation to final grade and the path from T3 justification by authority to final grade were student to thinking about how multiple individuals play a role in
very close in value, suggesting each would equally improve model fit equally if freed. creating that knowledge. In both cases, having more constructivist
Therefore, we freed both paths to reach our final model.


beliefs predicted students seeing more constructivist practices in the might also explain why our intervention was not effective in changing
classroom, as hypothesized. However, justification by authority (a less beliefs. A one-size-fits-all approach to classroom interventions might be
constructivist belief) predicted higher perceptions of authentic pro- particularly ineffective since students bring different beliefs to the first
blems, contrary to expectations. Given the surprising nature of this day of class.
result, the small effect size, and the non-significant zero-order corre-
lation in the interactive-learning class between these two variables, 4.1. Limitations
future research will need to replicate and explicate this finding.
To answer our third research question, we tested whether the re- The lack of strong findings for the intervention may also be due to
lation between beliefs and achievement depends on the structure of the weaknesses in the methodological design. It may be that the single
classroom. We found some support for the epistemic alignment hy- instructor was actually sending constructivist messages to both classes;
pothesis. Students who began the semester with more constructivist this could wash out the potential effects from the structure of the in-
epistemic beliefs (i.e., higher personal justification beliefs) fared better teractive-learning class itself. Though using the same instructor was
on the final exam in the interactive-learning class, but not in the lecture- useful to control for likely instructor effects on the classroom environ-
based class. Conversely, students who ended the semester with less ment (Roth & Weinstock, 2013), it may have reduced the strength of the
constructivist beliefs (i.e., higher justification by authority beliefs) in potential effects of being in an interactive-learning classroom. Re-
the lecture-based classroom achieved higher scores on the same final searchers might also consider blinding instructors to the objectives of
exam. These results suggest that “adaptive” epistemic beliefs only future interventions, given that the opposite problem could occur if
benefit performance in cases where the epistemic climate of the class- instructors attempt to directly change students' beliefs.
room aligns with an individual student's own epistemic beliefs. These Likewise, the use of identical assessments in the course may have
findings are in line with recent findings that personal epistemology dampened the effects of the course structures. Students in both classes
alone does not predict achievement, but rather that a match between may have focused on the knowledge that would be required on the
students' epistemic beliefs and the epistemic context of the classroom is exams, and so they may have not been as affected by the day-to-day
key (e.g., Dai & Cromley, 2014; Fruge & Ropers-Huilman, 2008). An epistemic climate. However, it is difficult to compare achievement in
open question is whether levels of students' achievement reinforce be- two separate classes if the same assessment is not given. It may be
liefs that match the epistemic climate. In other words, students who important to assess other learning and achievement outcomes (e.g.,
develop a belief that is adaptive in one classroom (e.g., justification by achievement in future courses to assess long-term learning) if the exams
authority in a lecture-based classroom) may then carry that belief into cannot be equated across two contexts.
future classes. This is a particularly important question, given the The current study is only able to shed light on development of
findings that incoming students' beliefs frame their perceptions of the personal epistemology in the context of introductory undergraduate
epistemic climate, which in turn might lead to epistemic change and organic chemistry. Personal epistemology has domain-specific compo-
play a role in learning. nents (Muis et al., 2006) and changes as students learn more about a
There were some unexpected findings regarding the effects of the topic (Greene et al., 2008). Prior domain knowledge was also not as-
intervention on students' perceptions and beliefs. The finding that stu- sessed in this study and having more domain knowledge may play a role
dents perceived the interactive-learning classroom to be less complex in more sophisticated epistemic cognition (Ferguson & Bråten, 2013).
was inconsistent with expectations. One interpretation is that requiring Students with greater domain knowledge may also be more able to
knowledge construction of less knowledgeable students necessitates a perceive the complexity in problems. Furthermore, students might be
simplification of the material (Kirschner et al., 2006), suggesting a gap more likely to change their beliefs in a more elementary course (e.g.,
between constructivist theory and constructivist practice. Alternatively, general chemistry) or in a subject in which they have no prior experi-
it is possible that students' perceptions differed from reality. The in- ence. Initial beliefs may play a stronger role in students' perceptions of
teractive-learning classroom may have been objectively more complex, the classrooms in advanced coursework because students become more
but it was perceived by learners to be less complex. POGIL activities are committed to their beliefs over time. Future research will need to in-
extensively reviewed by multiple instructors to effectively scaffold vestigate these possibilities in a broader range of topics with varying
students from their existing knowledge to more complex ideas (Farrell levels of expertise.
et al., 1999; Moog & Spencer, 2008). It seems plausible that class ac- Future research should carefully consider issues of measurement.
tivities seemed less complex because the interactive-learning format Epistemic belief measures often do not meet the criteria of being reli-
and well-designed activities made organic chemistry seem less difficult, able and valid (DeBacker, Crowson, Beesley, Thoma, & Hestevold,
as evidenced by students' self-reported gains in understanding concepts 2008). Even though the measures of epistemic beliefs used in this study
(Canelas et al., 2017). Even if this was the case, perceptions of com- demonstrated similar reliability and fit to other established measures
plexity predicted changes in personal epistemology. Therefore, re- (e.g., Greene et al., 2010), concerns about measurement cannot be ig-
searchers need to keep an open-mind to the possibility that interven- nored in future research. Using a Likert-type scale assumes that one end
tions may have unintended consequences (see also, Kienhues et al., of a continuum is more adaptive, when in fact it may be that moderate
2008). levels of endorsement are ideal (e.g., a balance of beliefs that knowl-
Furthermore, prior work has demonstrated that epistemic beliefs edge is justified by authority figures whom may also differ in their
can be changed through intervention, but the current intervention did opinions; Barger et al., 2016; Greene et al., 2010). Supplementing
not change students' beliefs. It may be that specifically targeting epis- surveys with in-depth interviews or more fully revising measures to
temic beliefs is critical to initiating change (Brownlee et al., 2001; Muis better reflect beliefs relevant to different domains of study might help
& Duffy, 2013). In the present intervention, messages about the nature to address these issues (Greene & Seung, 2014). Researchers might also
of knowledge were only implicit to the course structure. Future studies consider a broader range of beliefs about knowledge (e.g., Chinn et al.,
should compare classrooms with explicit epistemic messages and 2011). For example, this study did not assess beliefs about whether
classrooms that do not explicitly send messages about knowledge. For collaboration can create knowledge, which may be particularly im-
example, instructors might explicitly address beliefs by directly con- portant in an interactive-learning course. Future research might also
fronting students' beliefs, such as using a refutational text (Gill, Ashton, improve on the assessment of perceptions of constructivism, as there
& Algina, 2004) or by using specific linguistic cues (e.g., “This is un- are few established measures for students' perceptions of their class-
decided in the field;” “I'm not the only source of answers.”) that expose rooms' epistemic climate.
the nature of knowledge in the discipline (Barger & Linnenbrink-Garcia, Finally, a larger sample size would have been more ideal for our path
2017). The importance of students' initial epistemic beliefs found here analyses. Some of our lack of significant findings may have been due to


decreased power due to our relatively small sample. Future research Provost's Office that funded researchers' salaries while the analyses
should include a larger sample to test similar models, which would also were being conducted. Andrea Novicki and Randy Riddle are thanked
enable the testing of a full SEM model rather than the path model and thus for their efforts in leading the 2013–14 Flipped Faculty Scholars group.
would enable us to also account for measurement error. Even so, we de- We also thank Andrea Novicki for careful monitoring of the use of class
tected significant effects despite a relatively small sample. time as either student-centered or lecturer-centered.

4.2. Implications Appendix A. Supplementary data

These results provide several preliminary insights for research and Supplementary data to this article can be found online at https://
practice. First, learners' personal epistemologies do play a role in the doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2018.03.006.
classroom environment. As the field moves towards a contextualized
view of epistemic cognition (Chinn et al., 2011; Sandoval, 2014), this References
serves as a reminder that individual differences in students' incoming
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