Teaching Critical Thinking Online

By Astleitner, Hermann | Journal of Instructional Psychology, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Teaching Critical Thinking Online


Astleitner, Hermann, Journal of Instructional Psychology


Critical thinking is a higher-order thinking skill which mainly consists of evaluating arguments. It is a purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanations of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, or contextual considerations upon which the judgment is based. As, for several reasons, critical thinking is not integrated within traditional classroom instruction, it is an interesting question, whether critical thinking can be trained with computer-based instruction (CDROM- and web-based teaching). Within a first part, the presented paper offers a narrative literature review on the effects of cognitive tools, of collaborative computer-supported environments, of computer simulations, and of logic-software on critical thinking. Within a second part, two experimental studies are reported. Students were instructed in critical thinking by web-lectures. In experiment 1, one group of students was confronted with audio recordings and an another group with video recording of a lecture dealing with non-formal errors in arguments. Within both groups, about one half of students was presented synchronous organizers (text, figures, etc. on MS-Powerpoint slides), and the other half of students did not get such organizers. Results showed that synchronous organizers influenced subjective evaluations of the learning process and outcome. The modality of the recordings influenced learning transfer favoring the audio condition. In experiment 2, an audio web-lecture with synchronous organizers was compared with traditional text-based instruction. Results showed no differences in scientific analytic reasoning. Discussions were based on cognitive and motivational principles of multimedia learning.

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In the era of the Internet and of information society, "critical thinking" represents a major qualification. In general, "critical thinking" is a mental activity of evaluating arguments or propositions and making judgments that can guide the development of beliefs and taking action. Gilster (1997, p. 87) regarded critical thinking as the most important skill when using the Internet, because the Internet is full of false, incomplete, obsolete, etc. information. Reinmann-Rothmeier and Mandl (1998, p. 33) found in a Delphi-study, that experts from economy and education nominated critical thinking as the most important skill in knowledge management. Kraak (2000, p. 51) saw critical thinking as "an important, perhaps the most important of all present time educational tasks". Within these superlatives, the (not new) appeal to schools is hidden to educate "critical students" (Lang, McBeath, & Hebert, 1995). For achieving this complex goal, schools and teachers have to be assisted from educational theory and research.

Educational research activities showed that critical thinking is significantly anchored within curricula and related teaching goal taxonomies, but that it is not supported and taught systematically in daily instruction (Patry, 1996, p. 63). The main reasons for this shortcoming are that teachers are not educated in critical thinking, that there are no textbooks on critical thinking available (especially for most European countries), and that teachers have no time and other instructional resources to integrate critical thinking into their daily instruction (Astleitner, 1998, 2000a; Petri, 2000). This shortcoming counts a lot, because critical thinking is highly correlated with students' achievements. Frisby (1992) reported correlation coefficients of about .40 with the US-school achievement test (SAT). Also, Yeh and Wu (1992) found similar correlation coefficients with other standardized school achievement tests and grades. Very high correlation coefficients ranging from .45 to .47, or effect sizes larger than 1 were reported for mathematics and science instruction. These correlations have to be considered in educational research, even though they can be explained to some degree with the moderating effect of student's intelligence. …

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