According to William Perry students move through four main stages in their academic careers. The stages, based on this reference, are A. Dualism/Received Knowledge – Answers are either right or wrong and the Authorities know which. B. Multiplicity/Subjective Knowledge – Answers conflict. One is as good as another and everybody has a right to their opinion. C. Relativism/Procedural Knowledge – Some answers are better than others and the student’s job is to evaluate the reasoning behind the solutions. D. Commitment/Constructed Knowledge – Answers have evolved. The discipline (the chosen major) has reasoning patterns and viewpoints that the student has adopted and made his/her own.
With this perspective, the answer to the question, “Will it be on the test?” depends on the Perry stage that a student is in. If Stage A. Dualism/Received Knowledge, a simple yes or no as may be the case is sufficient. If Stage B. Multiplicity/Subjective Knowledge, something along the lines, “There will be a question on this concept which will require a reasoned answer,” could work. If Stage C. Relativism/Procedural Knowledge, try “There will be a question on this concept and the reasoning patterns of this course must be applied for full credit.” If Stage D. Commitment/Constructed Knowledge, this answer would be appropriate, “This is an important concept in our discipline. Understanding it and the history and reasoning behind it is essential knowledge for one committed to this major.”
Our answers to student questions and the levels and phrasing of our assignments need to recognize the stageboth psychological and academic, that our students are in. We also need to recognize that we are instrumental in moving our students to higher, more complex stages of development.