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The interface between academic knowledge and working knowledge

Implications for curriculum design and pedagogic practice

Author - Dr Anne Murphy


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Features of a paradigm or worldview

A paradigm, based loosely on Kuhn’s original definition (see Kuhn 1962), is broadly defined as a set of practices underpinned by shared epistemology, values and beliefs, habits of reasoning, patterns of judgement and working techniques, with broad agreement on theories and concepts. A paradigm may emerge from an earlier one, may displace an earlier paradigm, or exist alongside a different one. At the macro level of metaphysics, a paradigm defines what can be known and understood. At the meso level of epistemology, a paradigm determines what counts as acceptable, or legitimate, knowledge. At the micro level of ethics and praxis, a paradigm mediates the practices of its own community.

Circumstances, events and actions may cause paradigm shifts in how higher education organises itself and positions itself within the world and may cause paradigms to shift or change. The process of paradigmatic change requires that a new paradigm becomes generally accepted by the power elite as well as by the general body of practitioners, if it is to be sustainable. Paradigms become accepted in higher education generally when the following happen:

  • professional bodies give them legitimacy
  • dynamic leaders adopt and promote them
  • specialised journals and books emerge
  • conferences of like-minded thinkers are organised
  • government agencies grant funding
  • educators include them in their curriculum content
  • they become popular in the media
  • they are no longer regarded as deviant
  • research gives them ‘scientific’ legitimacy
  • they feature in policy documents.

There is a broadly similar pattern in how new paradigms become accepted, integrated and subsumed into higher education practices, often with features as follows. Communication among practitioners and explicit practices ensure that the ‘rules’ of the paradigm become tacitly known. Soon new theories emerge from practice within the paradigm, often resulting in a general shift in worldview. These changes in worldview can impact differently on different academic disciplines both in timescale and extent. It is not unusual for initial resistances to identify anomalies in the old and new paradigms. When a paradigm becomes entrenched it too begins to resist challenges to its assumptions, values and theories. On the other hand, paradigmatic changes can blur boundaries and sometimes generate border-crossings among paradigms, thereby making resistance less necessary. Crises in paradigms can result in paralysis, resistance, or passive acceptance of new paradigms. A new paradigm may not be a cumulative outcome of earlier paradigms, but can represent an entirely different worldview which needs mass persuasion for acceptance. Acceptance of, or surrender to, a new paradigm frees practitioners from continuously examining the assumptions underpinning previous paradigms.

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