Epistemic Actions in Science Education

  • Kim A. Kastens
  • Lynn S. Liben
  • Shruti Agrawal
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 5248)


Epistemic actions are actions in the physical environment taken with the intent of gathering information or facilitating cognition. As students and geologists explain how they integrated observations from artificial rock outcrops to select the best model of a three-dimensional geological structure, they occasionally take the following actions, which we interpret as epistemic: remove rejected models from the field of view, juxtapose two candidate models, juxtapose and align a candidate model with their sketch map, rotate a candidate model into alignment with the full scale geological structure, and reorder their field notes from a sentential order into a spatial configuration. Our study differs from prior work on epistemic actions in that our participants manipulate spatial representations (models, sketches, maps), rather than non-representational objects. When epistemic actions are applied to representations, the actions can exploit the dual nature of representations by manipulating the physical aspect to enhance the representational aspect.


spatial cognition epistemic actions science education 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Kirsh, D., Maglio, P.: On distinguishing epistemic from pragmatic action. Cog. Sci. 18, 513–549 (1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Maglio, P., Kirsh, D.: Epistemic action increases with skill. In: Proceedings of the 18th annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (1996)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Kastens, K.A., Ishikawa, T., Liben, L.S.: Visualizing a 3-D geological structure from outcrop observations: Strategies used by geoscience experts, students and novices [abstract]. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Program, 171–173 (2006)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Kastens, K.A., Agrawal, S., Liben, L.S.: Research in Science Education: The Role of Gestures in Geoscience Teaching and Learning. In: Geosci, J. (ed.) (2008)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Broadbent, D.E.: Perception and Communication. Oxford University Press, Oxford (1958)Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Desimone, R., Duncan, J.: Neural mechanisms of selective visual attention. Ann. Rev. of Neurosci. 18, 193–222 (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ballard, D.H., Hayhoe, M.M., Pook, P.K., Rao, R.P.N.: Deictic codes for the embodiment of cognition. Beh. & Brain Sci. 20, 723–767 (1997)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Larkin, J.H., Simon, H.A.: Why a diagram is (sometimes) worth ten thousand words. Cog. Sci. 11, 65–99 (1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Shepard, R.N., Metzler, J.: Mental Rotation of Three-Dimensional Objects. Sci. 171, 701–703 (1971)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Liben, L.S., Downs, R.M.: Understanding Person-Space-Map Relations: Cartographic and Developmental Perspectives. Dev. Psych. 29, 739–752 (1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Goodwin, C.: Practices of Color Classification. Mind, Cult., Act. 7, 19–36 (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Kirsh, D.: The intelligent use of space. Artif. Intel. 73, 31–68 (1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Goodman, N.: Languages of art: An approach to a theory of symbols. Hackett, Indianapolis (1976)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Potter, M.C.: Mundane Symbolism: The relations among objects, names, and ideas. In: Smith, N.R., Franklin, M.B. (eds.) Symbolic functioning in childhood, pp. 41–65. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale (1979)Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    DeLoache, J.S.: Dual representation and young children’s use of scale models. Child Dev. 71, 329–338 (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Liben, L.S.: Developing an Understanding of External Spatial Representations. In: Sigel, I.E. (ed.) Development of mental representation: theories and applications, pp. 297–321. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale (1999)Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Liben, L.S.: Education for Spatial Thinking. In: Renninger, K.A., Sigel, I.E. (eds.) Handbook of child psychology, 6th edn., vol. 4, pp. 197–247. Wiley, Hoboken (2006)Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Uttal, D.H., Liu, L.L., DeLoache, J.S.: Concreteness and symbolic development. In: Balter, L., Tamis-LeMonde, C.S. (eds.) Child Psychology: A Handbook of Contemporary Issues, pp. 167–184. Psychology Press, New York (2006)Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Liben, L.S., Myers, L.J., Kastens, K.A.: Locating oneself on a map in relation to person qualities and map characteristics. In: Freska, C., Newcombe, N.S., Gärdenfors, P. (eds.) Spatial Cognition VI. LNCS, vol. 5248. Springer, Heidelberg (2008)Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Kirlik, A.: The ecological expert: Acting to create information to guide action. In: The Conference on Human Interaction with Complex Systems, Piscataway, NJ (1998)Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Cowley, S.J., MacDorman, K.F.: What baboons, babies and Tetris players tell us about interaction: A biosocial view of norm-based social learning. Cog. Sci. 18, 363–378 (2006)Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    National Research Council.: National Science Education Standards. National Academy Press, Washington (1996)Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Schwan, S., Riempp, R.: The cognitive benefits of interactive videos: learning to tie nautical knots. Learn. and Instr. 14, 293–305 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Magnani, L.: Model-based and manipulative abduction in science. Found. of Sci. 9, 219–247 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Roth, W.M.: From epistemic (ergotic) actions to scientific discourse: The bridging function of gestures. Prag. and Cogn. 11, 141–170 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kim A. Kastens
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lynn S. Liben
    • 3
  • Shruti Agrawal
    • 1
  1. 1.Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University 
  2. 2.Department of Earth & Environmental SciencesColumbia University 
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyThe Pennsylvania State University 

Personalised recommendations