Epistemic Insight Symposium

The Epistemic Insight symposium took place on the 27th October 11:00-17:00 in Somerville College, Oxford.

Symposium Schedule


  • SHARING CONTEXTS: What happens in your country?
  • THEME 1: Primary plus project (Teaching for progression through primary and secondary school)

12:30-13:30 Lunch


  • World of physics
  • Character and personhood (robots, soul and artificial moral agency)
  • Teacher Education

What is Epistemic Insight?

Epistemic insight (EI) is a phrase to refer to ‘knowledge about knowledge’ or in other words students’ scholarly expertise, their appreciation of scholarship and their capacities to be wise about knowledge claims in the real world. The phrase epistemic insight is chosen strategically because of the importance of developing students’ understanding of how scholarship and knowledge work across disciplines/subjects as well as within them. There is an emphasis on encouraging and developing students’ intellectual curiosity and capacities to reason about Big Questions which bridge science, religion and other disciplines. These attitudes and intelligences can be unintentionally dampened and squeezed by subject boundaries and some practices within subject compartments. There is also an emphasis on encouraging students to think critically about the questions they are considering (so not just ‘which is better – science or religion’ – but ‘which is better for what?’)

LASAR has a longstanding interest in epistemic insight motivated by concerns that misconstrued perceptions of the natures of science and religion can constrain intellectual curiosity, affect students’ attitudes towards science and misdirect their developing beliefs about their own reality beyond the science classroom. The Epistemic Insight initiative which LASAR is currently developing is a pragmatic approach to create strategies to help students to make better sense of the messages they receive in different subjects about how scholarship works and how knowledge claims are tested. There is a particular focus on creating mechanisms (such as sharing a question box between classrooms) to enable educators to better develop students’ scholarly self-esteem and characters across subjects. Another example is that we encourage secondary school teachers to discuss how they use common words like ‘evidence’ to see what kinds of messages students are receiving.

The research which led to this focus included studies and workshops in which we asked students to consider broader questions (such as what it means to be human) and also to give their perspectives on border crossing between science lessons and other subjects.

Through this research we identified a number of factors that seem to be affecting students’ progress. These include recipe investigations; emphasis on learning science concepts to pass exams, too little philosophy and history in science education; entrenched compartmentalisation which creates impermeable borders between subjects; science teachers tending to have narrow subject expertise; many RE teachers feeling they lack confidence and/or perceived by students as not authorities on science; competition model in secondary schools between subjects – children asked to choose ‘options’ and subject teacher appearing not to value each other’s subjects; very few people available to students who can talk about both science and religion so for example parents/carers lack confidence in talking about science, religion and how they relate;

The research has also indicated gaps, confusions and some contradictions in some students’ reasoning including that: science is perceived by some as intent on a dream set of proven and limitless scientific facts; there is a notion that in science there is ‘one question to ask, one investigation to do and one right answer to find’, there is also a widely held perception that there are two camps – one of religious people and another of those who see themselves as scientific; some school students also see science and religion as rival epistemologies – one arguing that truth can only be found through science and the other that we are entitled to believe what we want (Billingsley et al. 2016).

The data also suggests that a significant proportion (particularly of girls) feel constrained by entrenched subject compartmentalisation, which is to say that they say they enjoy deliberating on the place of science in the context of bigger multidisciplinary questions. These findings resonate with other research which shows that boys appear to be more interested in the internal coherence of physics (and technology) whereas girls tend to be interested in the wider coherence of ideas and are reluctant to say they understand a concept until they can put it into a broader (non-scientific) context (Stadler et al., 2000). There are many implications of this research – and many questions that deserve further research, such as:

  • How can school science courses more effectively develop children’s appreciation of the relevance, power and limitations of science in multidisciplinary contexts?
  • Would more students be drawn to STEM subjects if students were given opportunities to engage with Big Questions which bridge science, religion and other disciplines?
  • What existing and novel strategies can raise students’ epistemic insight
    • For example can exploring questions – such as “Can science make better humans?” “and “Can laws of nature be broken?” and workshops on the history of science be used to stimulate enquiry and the surfacing of assumptions?
    • What is the impact of an intervention like ‘Permeable classroom walls’ on Year 8-9 (age 14-15) students’ attitudes to their subjects and in particular to science? (LASAR has a list of interventions that may be useful as reference)

Symposium Groups

Group 1: Keith Chappell

·     Mike Poole (UK)

·     Nathan White (UK)

·     João Carlos Paiva (Portugal)

·     Siew Yap (Australia)

·     Matthew Bawden (UK)
Group 2: Martha Pipkin

·     Christina Easton (UK)

·     Emily Dumler-Winckler (USA)

·     Werner Reiss (Germany)

·     Luciano Moreira (Portugal)

Group 3: Manzoor Abedin

·     Daniel Casado (Portgual)

·     Tuomas Manninen (USA)

·     Adrian Brown (UK)

·     Elisabetta Canetta (UK)

Group 4: Mehdi Nassaji

·     Stephen Raynor (UK)

·     Christian Hoegar (Germany)

·     Sharon Fraser (Australia)

·     Monir Ahmed (UK)

Group 5: Zoe Knapp

·     Pablo de Felipe (Spain)

·     Cesar Navarro (Latin America)

·     Judith Hillier (UK)

·     Ben Trubody (UK)


The symposium offered a series of meetings focusing on the questions that were raised during a previous Epistemic Insight meeting held at Oxford in June 2016, in addition to data from LASAR research. Please see the invitation to the June Epistemic meeting more information regarding the background and rationale of the Epistemic Insight Project:epistemic-insight-conferral-june-2016