Amanda Baker, assistant professor in the Iowa State University School of Education, has been awarded the Paul R. Pintrich Outstanding Dissertation Award from the Educational Psychology division of the American Psychological Association.
Baker’s doctoral dissertation, titled “Epistemic Profiles, Dissonance Negotiation, and Perspective Transformation in Postsecondary Service-Learning,” discusses her research on service learning programs — programs that combine community service with instruction — and how student beliefs about knowledge and the need to draw quick conclusions predicted individual outcomes in those programs.
“Service learning programs often aim to help students develop more complex and socially just understandings of issues like poverty, educational inequality, healthcare inequality, and so on,” Baker said in her dissertation. “But that hinges on students being willing to grapple with ideas that might conflict with closely-held beliefs.”
Using a method called latent profile analysis to identify patterns of beliefs and motivation, Baker found that students who thought of knowledge as “simple, certain, and passed down from authority figures and who desired quick conclusions” did not experience the ‘belief change’ that is desired in service-learning programs.
These beliefs and motivations can stem from past experiences, and had an impact on how students engaged in the service-learning process.
“By interviewing students with different patterns of epistemic beliefs/motivation, I found that some students didn’t change their beliefs because, when their beliefs were in conflict with things they learned in class, they were more likely to use strategies that helped them disengage or avoid thinking about that conflict,” Baker said.
“Long-term, I think this has implications for thinking about how we prepare students to engage in and learn from high-impact educational experiences,” Baker said.