Critical Thinking in Online Discussion Forums

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1 Critical Thinking in Online Discussion Forums Research Notes Bob Loser Northern Virginia Community College

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3 Garrison et al. (2000) Summary of the Community of Inquiry (COI) Theory 1. The heart of higher education is collaborative critical inquiry to build and apply discipline knowledge to relevant issues and problems. 2. Asynchronous discussion is an ideal medium for collaborative critical inquiry because it affords full participation in discussion and time for reflection between messages. 3. Collaborative critical inquiry requires the social presence of all participants to support open communication and group cohesion. 4. Collaborative critical inquiry requires the cognitive presence of all participants in a process of problem recognition, exploration, integration, and resolution. 5. Collaborative critical inquiry requires a teaching presence to foster and guide the social and cognitive presence of participants. 3

4 Detailed Elements of the Community of Inquiry Theory Social presence Open and effective communication Group cohesion Projecting oneself socially and emotionally as a real person Exchanging and critically examining information and ideas Working collaboratively toward a common goal Garrison, Anderson, & Archer (2000) See for tips on creating social presence. Cognitive presence Trigger event Exploration phase Integration phase Resolution phase Engagement in critical inquiry through sustained reflection and discourse Identifying or recognizing an issue or problem Examining all aspects of the problem; gathering information; considering knowledge that may be relevant Making sense of data and ideas generated; constructing meaning (new knowledge); identifying potential solutions Building consensus for one solution Involves many aspects of critical and creative thinking Analysis Knowledge transfer; questioning assumptions; brainstorming; creative insights; diverse perspectives; citation Analysis; synthesis; inductive and deductive reasoning Evaluation; informed judgment; warrants and argument; hypothetical reasoning Garrison, Anderson, & Archer (2001) Teaching presence Design Facilitating discourse and direct instruction Management of social and cognitive processes to obtain learning outcomes Planning learning activities and preparing support materials Supporting and guiding the learning process as it happens Garrison (2007) 4

5 Principles for Practice Design Strategies Assign authentic, meaningful, open-ended issues or problems to resolve. (Bain, 2004; Fink, 2003; Garrison, 2007) Prepare students for critical inquiry and collaboration by defining and explaining value. (Garrison, 2007; Palloff & Pratt, 2005) Structure the collaborative inquiry process with clear directions, rubrics, and examples. (Garrison, 2007; Palloff & Pratt, 2005) Facilitation Strategies Insert feedback messages that let students know when they are on or off track relative to the inquiry process (Ambrose et al., 2010) Insert direct instruction messages to aid/reinforce key content understanding. (Garrison, 2007) Use questions to promote deeper inquiry and critical thinking: o Clarification questions prompt better understanding of the problem and related ideas. o o o Evidence questions prompt informed thinking. Linking questions prompt construction of meaning. Hypothetical and cause-and-effect questions prompt virtual testing of ideas. o Summary and synthesis questions prompt consensus and conclusions. (Brookfield, 2005) Insert messages early enough in the process to change behavior. (Ambrose et al., 2010) Model good critical inquiry and social presence practices in your messages. (Palloff & Pratt, 2005) 5

6 Bibliography Abrami, P. C., Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Wade, A., Surkes, M., Tamim, R., and Zhang, D. (2008). Instructional interventions affecting critical thinking skills and dispositions: A stage 1 meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 78, Studies of critical thinking instruction show a positive effect, especially when it is an explicit objective and element of a course, and when instructors have been trained. Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. A review of findings from seven broad areas of research on learning, and the implications for teachers. Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2). A content analysis protocol for assessing teaching presence in course materials and discussion forum transcripts. Arbaugh, J. B. (2008). Does the community of inquiry framework predict outcomes in online MBA courses? International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9(2). Teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence predict perceived learning. Arend, B. (2009). Encouraging critical thinking in online threaded discussions. The Journal of Educators Online, 6(1). A comparison of online courses with discussion used to promote critical thinking shows students report higher use of critical thinking in courses in which 1) discussion was used more frequently and consistently, 2) discussion was a significant element of the course grade (at least 10%), 3) a separate forum was available for socializing, 4) critical thinking was explicitly encouraged, 5) students were given explicit directions for how to participate, 5) instructors posted approximately every 2-10 student postings and purposefully, and 6) instructor comments were neutral regarding ideas, but asked questions and encouraged further thought and discussion. Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Findings from a qualitative study of the practices of exemplary professors. The best teachers create a natural critical learning environment by 1) posing intriguing problems or questions, 2) helping students recognize the significance of the problem, 3) asking students to answer the question or solve the problem using higher-order thinking, 4) helping students answer the question or solve the problem, and 5) encouraging students to ask the next question and continue inquiring. 6

7 Beuchot, A., & Bullen, M. (2005). Interaction and interpersonality in online discussion forums. Distance Education, 26(1), The number of interpersonal messages correlates positively with the amount of interactive content of discussions. Brookfield, S. D. (2005). Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. A classic for instructors on why discussion is an important element of teaching, how to initiate discussion, how to keep it going, and how to deal with issues that may hinder it. Brookfield, S. D. (2011). Teaching for Critical Thinking: Tools and Techniques to Help Students Question Their Assumptions. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. A handbook for instructors that defines critical thinking from an adult education perspective, examines critical thinking traditions across different disciplines, provides a variety of strategies and techniques for teaching critical thinking skills within and across disciplines, and suggests ways to handle common pitfalls. Celentin, P. (2007). Online education: Analysis of interaction and knowledge building patterns among foreign language teachers. Journal of Distance Education, 21(3), Student discussions can exhibit all phases of inquiry and result in integration and creation of new knowledge, depending on intensity of interaction in the integration phase (building on ideas stated by others). The level and style of tutor participation is important to the achievement of higher levels of meaningful learning. Facione, P. A. (1990). Critical thinking: A statement of expert consensus for purposes of educational assessment and instruction. Research findings and recommendations. Newark, DE: American Philosophical Association. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED315423) A consensus definition of critical thinking developed by a panel of experts using the Delphi method. Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. A guide for designing college courses that are meaningful and memorable. Garrison, D. R. (2007). Online community of inquiry review: Social, cognitive, and teaching presence issues. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(1), A review of research related to the COI framework and discussion of construct validity and methodological issues. Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer. W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet in Higher Education, 2(2-3), The seminal article presenting the community of inquiry (CoI) framework. 7

8 Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking and computer conferencing: A model and tool to assess cognitive presence. American Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), A content analysis protocol for assessing cognitive presence in discussion forum transcripts. Garrison, D. R., & Arbaugh, J. B. (2007). Researching the community of inquiry framework: Review, issues, and future directions. Internet and Higher Education, 10( ), A review of research related to the community of inquiry theory. Garrison, D. R., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: Interaction is not enough. American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), Students adopt a deep learning approach in a course with required critical discourse and high teaching presence. Hill, G. W (1982). Group versus individual performance: Are N+1 heads better than one? Psychological Bulletin, 91, A review of research on group productivity shows that group performance is generally superior to the performance of the average individual in both quantity and quality. Mandernach, B. J., Forrest, K. D., Babutzke, J. L., & Manker, L. R. (2009). The role of instructor interactivity in promoting critical thinking in online and face-to-face classrooms. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(1). Students in a course with no discussion participation by the instructor scored lower on a subsequent critical thinking task than either students in a course with high discussion participation by the instructor or students in a face-to-face course with high discussion participation by the instructor. Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of evidencebased practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. Retrieved from: In a meta-analysis of studies comparing classroom and online instruction, online instruction was slightly more effective than classroom, and hybrid even more so. This effect was strongest when online conditions supported expanded time on task and opportunities for collaboration. Meyer, K. A. (2003). Face-to-face versus threaded discussions: The role of time and higherorder thinking. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(3), The bulk of postings in threaded discussions fall into the exploration phase, but integration and resolution also occur. Students cite increased time on task and 8

9 increased time for reflection as advantages of online discussion, and immediacy and energy as advantages of face to face discussions. Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2005). Collaborating Online: Learning Together in Community. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. A practical guide for online teachers for designing and facilitating collaborative learning activities. Picciano, A. G. (2002). Beyond student perceptions: Issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course. Journal of AsynchronousLearning Networks, 6(1). Both perceived social presence and number of postings correlated positively to performance on a written case study assignment designed to assess integration of multiple perspectives, but not to performance on an objective multiple-choice examination. Richardson, J. C., & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students' perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(1), Students with high perceptions of social presence also show high perceptions of learning and satisfaction with the instructor. Rourke, L., Anderson, T., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing social presence in asynchronous text-based computer conferencing. Journal of Distance Education, 14(2), A content analysis protocol for assessing social presence in discussion forum transcripts. Scriven, M. & Paul, R. Defining critical thinking: A draft statement for the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking. Retrieved October 6, 2011 from A definition of critical thinking. Shea, P., & Bidjerano, T. (2009). Community of inquiry as a theoretical framework to foster epistemic engagement and cognitive presence in online education. Computers & Education, 52, Students perceptions of their instructors teaching presence skills and their own social presence skills account for 70% of the variance in their perceived level of cognitive presence. Students appreciate instructors judicious participation in discussions that helps keep participants focused on relevant topics. Shea, P. J., Pickett, A. M., & Pelz, W. (2003). A follow-up investigation of teaching presence in the SUNY learning network. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(2). Student perception of learning and satisfaction correlate with perception of all three aspects of teaching presence (design, facilitation, and direct instruction). 9

10 Swan, K. (2002). Building learning communities in online courses: the importance of interaction. Education, Communication & Information, 2(1), Student perceptions of learning and satisfaction correlate with clarity and consistency of course design, contact with instructors, and active and valued discussion. Williams, E. A., Duray, R., & Reddy, V. (2006). Teamwork orientation, group cohesiveness, and student learning: A study of the use of teams in online distance education. Journal of Management Education, 30(4), Teamwork orientation and group cohesiveness predict team-based student learning. 10

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