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Teaching and Learning Resource (TLR)

1. Title

Producing Credible Knowledge Claims

2. Keywords

Claims making; Knowledge claims

3. Introduction

Students are not only 'consumers' of knowledge; they also produce it. This is true irrespective of whether their writing (essays, exam answers, research reports, etc) is based mainly on reproducing material contained in 'secondary' (eg published) sources (with or without significant interpretation or other comment), or on their own 'primary' research findings or intellectual reflections. It is important, therefore, that in addition to being able to evaluate the credibility of works produced by others, students are able to advance their own knowledge claims in as credible a manner as possible. (This is especially important in the environmental field, where the knowledge base is often provisional and uncertain, and knowledge claims are hotly contested.) To do this, they need to adopt a reflective and critical approach to writing in general, and to the presentation of evidence and arguments in particular.

4. Aim

This TLR aims to help students improve the quality of their own academic writing. It is based on an exercise in which students are required to evaluate the authoritativeness of knowledge claims presented a piece of their own work; and seeks, thereby, to help them to produce more authoritative knowledge claims in the future.

5. Learning outcomes

After using this TLR, students should:

6. Pre-requisites

Students should be familiar with the idea that the production of knowledge can be seen as a process of 'making knowledge claims'; and should be able to evaluate the credibility of knowledge claims. (See Section 13.)

7. How to use TLR

The TLR has been designed to be used in two stages. In the first stage, the students should be introduced to the TLR, given the Briefing Sheet (see Section 9) and instructed to undertake some preparatory work. This should be carried out as an individual activity, but could take place during class time or private study. In the second stage, students are required to work in groups and then take part in a whole-class discussion. This should take place during class time.

Stage 1

  1. Introduce the TLR, reviewing the nature of the content, the aims and learning outcomes, and the way in which the TLR will be used. (10 mins)
  2. Give the students the Briefing Sheet and advise them on the selection of a piece of their own academic wring (see Section 9). Direct them to read the Briefing Sheet, and then analyse their own work according to the following instructions:

Stage 2

  1. Divide the class into groups of 4-6 students, and ask group members to share and discuss the evaluations they have produced of their own work. (30 mins)
  2. Ask each group to report back on its deliberations. Specifically, the students should focus on:
3. Conclude the session with a general discussion of issues that have arisen. This might involve asking questions such as:
As described above, the TLR could be used with classes of up to about 40 students. Stage 1 would require 10-15 minutes of class time and, perhaps, an hour of private study. Stage two would require about one and a half hours of class time - depending on the length of the works the students are required to evaluate.

Follow-up activities

This exercise could be repeated with other examples of the students' own work until the learning outcomes have been achieved.

8. Instructions to students

As directed by tutor.

9. Stimulus Material

This TLR involves two items of stimulus material. The first is a Briefing Sheet entitled Producing Credible Knowledge Claims (see Appendix). The second is a piece of academic writing that has previously been produced by the students themselves. The exercise can be undertaken on work relating to more or less any topic - provided that the work is likely to contain a diverse mixture of knowledge claims. This might be selected by the tutor or by the students (subject to the tutor's agreement). If the work is selected by the students, it is probably worth prescribing the approximate length of the work to ensure that the amount of effort involved in this exercise is broadly the same for all students.

10. Degree stage

In principle, this TLR could be used with students at any degree stage - provided that they satisfy the pre-requisite requirements. (See Section 6.) In practice, however, it is likely that students at levels two or three would get more out of the exercise than those at level one.

11. Resource requirements

There are no special resource requirements for this TLR.

12. Preparation

See Section 7.

13. Links with other TLRs

Where students are unfamiliar with the idea that the production of knowledge can be seen as a process of 'knowledge claims making', it is recommended that the Classifying Knowledge Claims TLR be used prior to this one.

Where they are unfamiliar with the contribution that bibliographic citation can make to the credibility - or otherwise - of knowledge claims, it is recommended that the Bibliographic Citation for Authoritative Academic Writing TLR is used prior to this one.

Where students do not know how to evaluate the credibility of knowledge claims, it is recommended that the Evaluating the Credibility of Knowledge Claims TLR is used prior to this one.

More generally, the aims and/or learning outcomes of this TLR are related to those of other TLRs listed in the following 'thematic cluster':

14. Follow-up activities

See Section 7.

15. Recommended reading

None.

16. Users' comments

“Quite challenging - right level for second year students.”
“The seminar was very interesting because I actually got to think carefully.”
“ [The] lecture was interesting but probably the most difficult one of the course.”
“[I learned] how to be critical of sources.”


Appendix

Briefing Sheet: Producing Credible Knowledge Claims

Introduction

This exercise is based on a rejection of the rather simplistic view of knowledge in which it is believed that the 'true' facts of the world (the world as it really is) can be known with absolute and objective certainty. In rejecting this view, we are drawing upon studies of knowledge - including scientific knowledge - that have been undertaken by historians, philosophers and sociologists - amongst others. These studies tend to point to a view of knowledge as being historically and culturally specific. That is, knowledge is determined - in part, at least - by the historical and cultural circumstances under which it is produced. It is, therefore, inherently provisional, uncertain and subject to (actual or potential) contestation. On this view of knowledge, it seems appropriate to talk about the production of knowledge in terms of 'knowledge claims making' - or of 'knowledge claims' being advanced by 'claims makers'. Following from this, we believe it is important that students are able to think critically about the knowledge claims they encounter. This requires them to be aware of the different kinds of knowledge claim that might be encountered, the different ways in which knowledge claims may be based on arguments and evidence, and the different ways in which primary and secondary sources may be offered in support of those claims. Drawing on this knowledge, it also requires students to be able to evaluate the authoritativeness of knowledge claims. (These issues are addressed in three related TLRs: Classifying Knowledge Claims; Bibliographic Citation for Authoritative Academic Writing; Evaluating the Credibility of Knowledge Claims.)

Students as 'Claims Makers'

The view of knowledge outlined above implies that students too can be seen as claims makers when they produce their own academic writing (essays, research reports etc). This is irrespective of whether their work is based mainly on their own 'primary' research findings or intellectual reflections, or on reproducing material contained in 'secondary' (eg published) sources. It is obvious why we would say this in the former case, but less so in the latter. In fact, even a piece of work which purports to do no more than summarise or describe work done by others must in some way entail some degree of novelty or interpretation in the ways in which material from the original source(s) is selected and presented. It is this novel element that means students are making their own claims - even when they might think they are merely reproducing the claims of others.

Following from this, we believe it is important that - in addition to being able to evaluate the credibility of claims produced by others - students are able to advance their own knowledge claims in as credible a manner as possible.


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