Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Engineering and Science Education

Committee Member

Dr. Lisa Benson, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Penelope Vargas

Committee Member

Dr. Sandra Linder

Committee Member

Dr. Julie Martin


Students’ beliefs about knowledge and knowing (personal epistemologies) have been shown to in-fluence various aspects of learning including, self-regulated learning, metacognition, and problem solving achievement (Bromme, Pieschl, & Stahl, 2009; Muis & Franco, 2009b, 2009a). Additionally, these beliefs have been shown to be discipline and context specific (Hofer, 2006; Hofer & Pintrich, 1997; Liu, 2011; Chinn, Buckland, & Samarapungavan, 2011). Multiple studies have investigated students’ personal epis-temologies across disciplines and how these beliefs influence aspects of learning; however, little work has investigated the connections between students’ personal epistemologies and the processes they utilize during problem solving. Through a three phase study, this work sought to answer the overall research question, “How do undergraduate engineering students’ epistemic beliefs and need for cognitive closure relate to their activation of components of epistemic cognition during problem solving?” This study investigated epistemic cognition in two unique problem solving contexts, the classroom and research environment. Throughout this work, engineering epistemic beliefs are defined based on Hofer and Pintrich’s (1997) conceptualization and include students’ beliefs about the source, structure, and certainty of knowledge. Epistemic cognition is defined based on Chinn and colleagues’ (2011; 2014) proposed framework that brings work from philosophy and psychology together. This framework suggests considering the nature of students’ aims when approaching a task to determine if they are epistemic (related to gaining knowledge or understanding), as well as the processes students use to accomplish these goals. Phase I (Chapter 2) of the study focused on assessing the reliability and validity of a survey instru-ment designed to measure students’ engineering epistemic beliefs and need for cognitive closure. During this phase, the internal consistency reliability of each construct was assessed and students’ open-ended responses to items were analyzed to further understand their beliefs. Phase II (Chapter 3) aimed to understand the connections between students’ engineering epistemic beliefs, need for cognitive closure, and activation of components of epistemic cognition when solving an open-ended homework problem using a mixed methods approach. This phase revealed similar epistemic cognitions among students in clusters based on their epis-temic beliefs and need for closure. Additionally, it revealed aspects within the classroom that influence how students approach assigned problems. Phase III (Chapter 4) sought to understand students’ epistemic cogni-tions when making decisions in their undergraduate research experiences. The results of this phase revealed how students chose a research topic and the processes students use when making research decisions. The outcomes of these three phases provide a more complete understanding of students’ epistemic cognitions and beliefs related to problem solving in the classroom and research environment. Many of the findings presented in this work have direct implications for both practice and research. Future work will seek to understand how these results translate to other disciplines and students at other institutions in order to push theory and practice further.



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