"The centipede was happy quite
 Until the toad, for fun,
 Said, "Pray, which leg goes after which?"
 Which wrought his mind to such a pitch,
 He lay distracted in a ditch
 Considering how to run!'"

— The fable of the centipede and the toad


Epistemic cognition refers to the nature of knowledge and knowing, in terms of both how we construct knowledge and how we think we construct knowledge. The fable of the centipede and toad captures the reality that we often haven't a clue about the former, including why we believe some things and not others, what evidence we use to support our case, and how we go about constructing knowledge. Much of my work focuses on describing the actual process by which students, in interaction with other people and their environments, construct knowledge. My long-term goal is to foster in students a metacognitive awareness of these ideas in order for them to plan their own learning trajectories.

Epistemic and social cognition intersect

In a project conducted in partnership with a graduate student colleague, Jarod Kawasaki, we study how high school students create documentary films about socioscientific issues within the contours of a traditional classroom. In this way, we study how students' thoughts about scientific knowledge are influenced by other aspects of their social environment, including project deadlines, computer problems, and social relationships. Below are a few snapshots from the students' documentaries.

Kawsaki, J., DeLiema, D., Sandoval, W. (2014). The influence of non-epistemic features of settings on epistemic cognition. Canadian Journal of Science, Math, and Technology Education, 14(2), 207-221.

DeLiema, D., Kawasaki, J., & Sandoval, W. A. (2012, July). High school students’ epistemic engagement in producing documentaries about public science concerns. In proceedings of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences, Sydney, Australia. 

Epistemic cognition in science field work

As part of a larger project lead by Professor Charles Goodwin, I study the embodied, situated practices of undergraduate students apprenticing with expert geologists in the field. This work investigates the range of knowledge sources—memory, introspection, testimony, reasoning, and perception—that combine in moment-to-moment interaction for students to generate and justify claims about geological phenomena. In the below still frame, we find a student pointing to a feature of the rock at the same time that he swivels his upper body to respond to the expert's feedback, literally caught between the perception of the environment and the testimony of an expert.


DeLiema, D. (2014, July). Teachers and students’ collaborative work to render pointing gestures intelligible. In C. Goodwin, The intelligibility of gesture as a situated accomplishment. Symposium conducted at the International Society of Gesture Studies conference, San Diego, California.