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The influence of post-secondary students’ technology use on their epistemological beliefs, conceptions of, and approaches to learning

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posted on 02.03.2017, 00:46 by Toh, Bee Peng
The rapid advances of Information and Communication Technology (henceforth referred to as ICT) has brought forth many new possibilities for education (Chai, Teo & Lee, 2009b; Deng, Chai, Tsai & Lee, 2014), thus, potentially changing the way we teach and learn (Fatt, 2003; Jimoyiannis & Komis, 2007; Littlejohn, Margaryan & Vojt, 2010). However, as postulated by Eristi, Kurt and Dindar (2012) as well as Yeung, Lim, Tay, Lam-Chiang and Hui (2012), the quality of education (including teaching and learning processes), can only be enhanced when technology is used appropriately under certain conditions. Previous studies have revealed the influence that a student’s beliefs about knowledge can have on the effectiveness of learning (Gurcay, Wong & Chai, 2013; Lim & Chai, 2008). Such studies claim that learners’ epistemological beliefs are essential elements of student learning. Epistemological beliefs include beliefs about what constitutes knowledge, how knowledge is acquired and who constructs or discovers knowledge. Such beliefs may have an influence on views of learning and teaching, such as one’s beliefs about how to approach learning and, thus, about what constitutes effective teaching (Brownlee, Walker, Lennox, Exley & Pearce, 2009; Cano, 2005; Chai, Wong & Teo, 2011; Liang, Lee & Tsai, 2010; Chai, Khine & Teo 2006; Tolhurst, 2007). Given the way that technology can transform the way we access, consume, disseminate and create ideas and information, it seems plausible that technological advancements would transform students’ epistemological beliefs and conceptions of learning. It is also possible that students’ epistemological beliefs and conceptions of learning would shape their use of technology, especially within formal educational settings where there is a focus on acquiring or constructing knowledge (Aypay, 2010; Corte, Op’t Eynde & Verschaffel, 2002; Demirbilek, 2014; Loyens, Remy & Schmidt, 2008; Ogan-Bekiroglu & Sengul-Turgut, 2008; Paulsen & Well, 1998; Dillon & Gabbard, 1998; Tsai & Chuang, 2005; Tu, Shih & Tsai, 2008; Zhu, Valcke & Schellens, 2008). Therefore, the relationship between students’ use of technology, their epistemological beliefs and their conceptions about learning are worthy of investigation. This investigation is particularly important given the proliferation of new technologies over the past two decades and the extent to which educational institutions, including higher education providers, have invested in such technologies (Hew & Brush, 2007; Yap, Tan, Zhu & Wettasinghe, 2008). Using semi-structured interviews, this study examined the relationship between some Singaporean Polytechnic students’ epistemological beliefs, conceptions of, and approaches to, learning and their use of technology. To this end, the research questions were: (i) What is the extent and nature of Polytechnic students’ technology use for learning purposes? (ii) What are the epistemological beliefs surrounding learning with technologies among the post-secondary students, their conceptions of, and approaches to learning? (iii) How does the students’ use of technology influence their beliefs about knowledge, conceptions of, and approaches to learning? This study was situated in a “polytechnic”. This is an institution of higher education that offers post-secondary vocational courses (A Guide to Polytechnic Education, 2015). Using a qualitative approach, this study was conducted with six first year students and six third year students, aged between 17 and 19, from the School of InfoComm Technology in a Singapore Polytechnic. The interview analysis indicated that: (a) the participants’ level of technology fluency was not homogenous; (b) all the participants were frequently exposed to conventional teaching methods; (c) some common approaches to learning were utilised by both groups of students, specifically, all the participants were found to adopt conventional, non-constructivist approaches to learning at least some of the time; (d) despite being raised amid a wide variety of digital technologies, there were students from both cohorts who showed some preference for more traditional teaching methods, as opposed to technology-based learning environments; (e) some students reported only a limited, and rather superficial, use of technology by educators (for example, posting lectures and other materials online); and, (f) contrary to expectations, a tendency for naïve epistemological beliefs did not necessarily appear to decrease as students progressed to senior years. Both naïve and more sophisticated epistemological beliefs were found amongst both first year and third year students. Findings suggested that the evolution of technologies played a noteworthy role in the student’s social life or leisure time, but there was no clear evidence that technologies had significantly transformed the students’ beliefs about knowledge and learning or their approaches to learning within a formal education setting. Although the research is limited by the small sample size, it is significant in that the results uncovered deeper insights into the nature of students’ use of technology, the different aspects of students’ notions of knowledge and learning and the interplay amongst these variables within the context of a Singaporean Polytechnic. This study also contributes to the knowledge base surrounding learning in a technology-based environment by detailing the IT skill levels, epistemological beliefs, learning conceptions and learning approaches of the twelve participants, and the possible relationship between these constructs. The results of this study have several possible pedagogical and policy implications for future practice. In general, more work may need to be done to promote teaching and learning that utilizes constructivist-oriented pedagogies to foster critical thinking amongst Singaporean Polytechnic students, especially in relation to learning with technology.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Nicola Johnson

Additional supervisor 1

Jennifer Bleazby

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre


Degree Type



Faculty of Education