Is it graded? Using online discussion forums to develop criticality in thought
conference contributionposted on 25.03.2022, 08:58 authored by Nadya Shaznay PatelNadya Shaznay Patel
The use of an online discussion forum (ODF) is rather common in higher education. However, scholars point to the lack of active participation, critical thinking, and substantive engagement with others (Baran & Correia, 2009). Arguably, without a deliberate instructional strategy, the use of ODF would not lead to collaborative construction of knowledge and deepening of understanding. This presentation aims to share how I sought to develop higher levels of criticality in thought in my engineering students’ forum responses, while demonstrating the application of the critical thinking tools, such that they were able to collaboratively construct knowledge and deepen their conceptual understanding of Engineering leadership.
A total of 54 undergraduates, mostly in Year two, from three sectional groups that I taught participated in this action research study. The content analysis which I adopted to assess the content of my student-student interactions in the ODF was based on the Interaction Analysis Model (IAM) (Gunawardena et al., 1997). The IAM was later developed to understand and describe the processes of negotiating meaning and knowledge co-construction in a collaborative online discussion environment (Lucas et al., 2014). Using NVivo, these interactions were coded using the IAM 5-phase protocol and further coded with the tools of the Paul-Elder (2019) critical thinking framework (CTF).
The findings revealed the impact of the use of the CTF to develop critical thinking and writing skills for students in the module to internalize concepts of engineering leadership. With the CTF tools identified in each other’s forum posts, students were able to offer deeper insights into their analysis of the Engineering leadership cases. In addition, students were able to assess their own, and their peers’, thinking so that they could co-construct new interpretations and knowledge collaboratively. The findings also show that without the extended (in terms of length and criticality) forum posts (Bradley et al., 2008) with elaborations using the CTF, students would only offer descriptive “recall” details from the case studies. Such demonstration of superficial thinking in discussion forums, which lacks criticality, and the lack of substantive engagement with others was a problem many tutors reported initially.
The study found that students were engaged in spontaneous dialogic discussions in the form of repeated extended posts published in the online discussion forums. The deliberate use of the CTF had also contributed to their development of critical thinking skills to deepen their understanding. This presentation concludes with a recommendation for tutors of higher education to make the assessment of students’ critical reflection or critical thinking skills visible for students with a proposed conceptual framework for ODF. If tutors were to make the critical thinking tools visible for students, ODF have the potential indeed to develop critical thinking skills among students who would collaboratively produce content through peer discussions.