An exploration of the characteristics of student nurse personal epistemologies and their relationships to approaches to studying

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    Research areas

  • PhD, School of Healthcare Sciences


This thesis describes an exploration of the relationships between student nurse personal epistemologies and approaches to studying. It presents an argument for the inclusion of concepts from personal epistemology research into nurse education practice to improve both student-oriented teaching activities and student self-oriented metacognitive activities. Furthermore, this study adds to the evidence base for higher education practice and supports interventions to promote the development of students ~ who are aware of how their beliefs about knowledge affect their approaches to studying. The study is underpinned by Schommer's Independent Epistemological Belief System model and a conceptual framework derived from personal epistemology and learning styles literature. Personal epistemology (or beliefs about knowledge) has become of increasing interest to educational psychologists and is arguably a relevant area of study for nurse education to inform our understanding of how student nurses approach learning. Personal epistemology has been defined as; ... system[s] of personal or implicit beliefs about the nature of knowledge and learning as a context or set of assumptions within which their learning and thinking take place. (Paulsen & Wells 1998) An initial quantitative survey was followed by a qualitative constructivist grounded theory study using a sequential mixed-methods design for the purpose of complementarity and expansion of findings. This approach provided a contextualised description of student nurse personal epistemologies and an understanding of how they influenced the way the students approached studying and learning. A pilot study preceded the main study to enable an examination of the measure of personal epistemology (Epistemic Beliefs Inventory, Schraw et a12002) and to provide theoretical sensitivity for the grounded theory study. The quantitative component results from the main study were used to inform the semi-structured interviews in the grounded theory component of the study. The survey sample size was 197 respondents following the pilot study which had 283 responses. Ten students participated in interviews for the grounded theory study. The key findings indicate approaches to studying are mediated by epistemological beliefs, but cannot be separated from the social context in which studying occurs. The effects of beliefs were with regard to: How students perceived their ability to improve as learners; ? How quickly knowledge could be acquired; The medium and process through which that knowledge was obtained. In addition, results indicated sub-communities of students in the sample population held subtly different beliefs about knowledge and study approaches. Implications for nurse education practice are that epistemological beliefs play an important, yet subtle part in how students study and learn. Mechanisms for engagement in the form of activities to raise metacognitive awareness and to support learners in their development as knowers are proposed as recommendations for teaching practice. The implications for further research indicate a need for exploration of how the constructs of personal epistemology can be better modelled and applied to nurse education research. An important area for further study is nurse teachers' epistemological beliefs, how they are expressed in the classroom, and how they extend through the curriculum and the institution. Arguably, this is a relevant and legitimate area for further research because of current issues in nurse education over graduate entry and exit and student attrition rates, which are of international concern.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Jo Rycroft-Malone (Supervisor)
Award dateJan 2011