Promoting critical thinking using ICTS
Leslie Davis, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Problems with critical thinking (CT) integration may begin with student attitudes, such as sitting passively in a classroom (Seker & Komur, 2008) or using simple comment markers “such as ‘mm mm’ and ‘uh huh’” during face-to-face interactions (Guiller et al., 2008, p.197). Students feel anxious about speaking in front of each other (McLoughlin & Mynard, 2009) or intimidated when put “on the spot” to express their opinions (Guiller et al., 2008, p. 196). Chinese second language learners, for instance, are “reluctant to express and substantiate critical evaluations” due to cultural precepts for authority and saving face (Galetcaia & Thiessen, 2010, p.118). Still, as most students begin the learning process, they view teachers as experts who possess the correct answers and knowledge to which students aspire (Lodewyk, 2009).
Simultaneously, educators may hold beliefs that affect how they integrate CT skills. For example, teachers might inadequately model CT if they perceive a loss of control or a threat to their personal or professional esteem (Lodewyk, 2009). Teaching methods that focus on providing only facts that support one central thesis can also add to poor CT performances (Angeli & Valanides, 2009). Moreover, educators often believe that high-CT interventions are more effective with high-achieving students than with low-achieving students who may become easily frustrated by the CT goals (Zohar & Dori, 2003). In examining teacher higher order thinking, Zohar (2006) explained that educators, like students, do not instantaneously incorporate knowledge and become innovative thinkers; that changes in teachers’ knowledge do not necessarily affect classroom practice.
Role of ICTs
Student participation in an online discussion forum (ODF) may be affected in numerous ways. “The online medium provided students with time to reflect on their ideas” (McLoughlin & Mynard, 2009, p.154). The time delay in ODFs sustains a more comprehensive discussion, and enables greater critical reflection “without the on-the-spot pressure” of face-to-face communication (Arend, 2009, p.12). As well, students see the opportunity to share explorations and reflections as a direct benefit of posting online (Szabo & Schwartz, 2011). Matheson et al. (2012) found that students value the alternative perspectives, noncompetitive attitudes and, more effectively, documented exemplars of other student’s comments and CT skills. While fostering CT skills may prove to be a substantial goal for educators, an ODF “affords students the time for thoughtful analysis, composition, negotiation, and reflection as their discussion of an issue evolves” (Yang et al., 2005). The personal reflections of preservice teachers in Szabo and Schwartz’s (2011, p.90) ODF study revealed how the CT skills of future educators progressed from posting basic CT skills to eventually demonstrating higher order “creative application of theories to real-life situations.”
Educators, consequently, must assume the challenge of creating a learning space where CT is appreciated and where all students are engaged and supported in their endeavor to develop CT skills and dispositions (Yang et al., 2005). For example, by encouraging and modeling CT in an ODF, Chiu (2009, p.49) took on a shepherd-researcher role to provide affective and cognitive support to help Chinese students deal with cultural norms.
Specifically, instructors of ODFs need to promote a “critical inquiry environment for students by asking questions that can prompt the desired level of thinking” (Bai, 2009, p.162). By modeling Socratic questioning, for instance, teachers are promoting CT skills by illustrating a deeper exploration of ideas and comments (Cheong & Cheung, 2008). Instructional intervention should be consistent to prod learners to critically interact (Yang, 2008). Yet, Yang et al. (2008) found that students significantly improved, and maintained, their CT skills in structured ODFs, where course expectations are explicit and instructors “started to model and challenge learners’ CT skills at the beginning…rather than in the middle of the semester.” Such scaffolding must extend to all the objectives of the activity: Klisc et al. (2012) found that explicit expectations for the discussion, and how the postings would be graded, had a significant impact on student performance in the ODF. McLean (2005) found that by using a CT model in conjunction with computer conferences, instructors could better assess the varying skills being demonstrated by students that may, in turn, help to design more flexible and effective online CT activities.
Overcoming the obstacles
In their study of CT in a virtual environment, Mandernach et al. (2009) commented that results may be affected by the novelty of learning online, but once educators and learners become more comfortable with this format, they may fully realize the theoretical objectives.
Additionally, Sendag & Odabasi (2009) noted that effective facilitation does not necessarily mean constantly providing direct responses or immediate corrections for every posting, Instead, what seems to encourage CT are probing and purposeful questions to lead students to demonstrate higher level thinking, discussions, reflections, and support. It is important that teachers be able to monitor ODFs for potential problems, such as discussions being dominated by a few individuals or becoming too inappropriate, without disrupting the free exchange of ideas and opinions (Arend, 2009). While some students may feel that such a lack of a strong instructor presence is unhelpful, too many teacher interventions or an absence of neutrality may actually impede the flow of CT (Arend, 2009).
Finally, some may argue that face-to-face discussions are more conducive to brainstorming (Guiller, 2008), yet in Bai’s study (2009) most instances of CT occurred in the exploratory phase, which includes brainstorming. Guiller (2008), however, advocated a blended approach and concluded that a few initial face-to-face sessions, to spark new ideas and confirm understanding, would benefit subsequent online discussions where students could focus on higher order skills.
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