What should we attribute to individual minds?

Dr. David Hammer

Psychological scientists, discipline-based education researchers, and STEM educators all have in common that we need, in various ways at various points in our work, to understand and assess what individuals know and can do. Part of the challenge of that is ontological: What things can we attribute as existing in minds? We hit versions of that question all the time, tacitly or explicitly, in various ways and to various purposes, e.g. in constructing models of cognition, designing curriculum or instructional technologies, evaluating students’ progress.

For this conference, I’ll consider that challenge with respect to a student’s work from a course I taught, a calculus-based introduction to physics. Jennifer Radoff was one of the teaching assistants, and “Marya” was in her discussion section. Marya stood out to both of us, first for her anxiety and formula-driven reasoning at the start of the course, and later for having made dramatic progress, both affective and epistemological. Radoff, Jaber, & Hammer (in press) argues Marya showed “meta-affective learning” entangled with progress in epistemological framing. She also showed progress in conceptual understanding, again entangled with epistemology (Hammer, 2018).

I will present excerpts of data from our study to consider what we (as instructors and as researchers) might attribute to Marya—conceptions, reasoning abilities, and epistemologies—and what are only fleeting “soft-assemblies” (Thelen & Smith, 2006) of a system that extends beyond her as an individual. The difference in interpretation has significant implications for instruction and for psychological modeling.