Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

The Use of Online Discussions to Foster Critical Thinking in a Teacher Education Program

Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

The Use of Online Discussions to Foster Critical Thinking in a Teacher Education Program

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

preparing effective teacher candidates is a challenging and complex undertaking. This is due to the ever changing nature of the classroom. In order to better prepare teacher candidates we must go beyond traditional methods and immerse them in field work to aid them in their process of meaningful reflection and construction of practical knowledge (Perry & Power, 2004). These field experiences help teacher candidates make a connection between theory learned in their teacher preparation program and its practical application in the classroom. Prospective candidates are encouraged to make connections and realize the relationship between the theoretical ideas they are taught and their relevance and function in the classroom. By learning how to reflect within the context of the classroom, prospective teachers have the opportunity to question what they do and think (Brookfield, 1995). It is during this process of reflection in which they think about their practice, that teacher transformation occurs.

Structuring effective modes for communication is essential to our students. By using collaborative online discussions, teacher candidates have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of their learning. This allows them to take a metacognitive approach to their learning and develop ownership over it. This ownership helps students become autonomous, life-long, independent learners who are able to monitor and improve their thinking skills. Consequently, they begin to refine their critical thinking skills and begin to interpret information with new understanding. Sormunen and Chalupa (1994) classify critical thinking as both a process and a product that combines psychological (i.e. metacognitive) and philosophical (i.e., constructivist) reasoning elements. Thus, critical thinking requires both mental effort and the personal discipline to work with complex problems. As such, the new direction for pre-service teachers' development of critical thinking through interactive, collaborative, and critical reflection is essential. An increase in autonomy can be achieved through reflective practice in collaboration with peers. As a result, this collaboration provides a platform from which to develop self-direction and self-responsibility.

In an effort to foster reflective thinking in pre-service teachers, many instructors have used field experiences coupled with a written reflection following the observation (Hatton & Smith, 1995; Lee, 2000). One of the challenges associated with the use of reflection is that students do not make connections between theoretical constructs and actual practice in the classroom (Stuart & Thurlow, 2000; Adams, Shea, Liston & Deever, 1998, Joram & Gabriele, 1997; and Bullough & Gitlin, 1995). According to Bruner the teaching of learning must be inextricably linked to its application (1977). He further contends that "teaching specific topics or skills without making clear their context in the broader fundamental structure of a field of knowledge is uneconomical in several deep senses" (p. 31). Therefore, the need to assist teacher candidates to make these deeper connections is vital to their future success in the classroom.

Often, students tend to focus on superficial aspects of the classroom as opposed to the more subtle nuances that reveal the teachers theoretical orientation, and they also tend to lack critical thinking skills (Szabo, 2002). Critical thinking can be fostered through the use of effective higher order thinking, probing, and reflective questioning skills. It is important to consider that student's learning can occur at different levels; however, teachers must make the effort to help them reach consistently higher levels. As students' schema is validated through previous learning and experiences, learning may be easier at the lower levels of cognition but more difficult at the higher levels of thinking (Anderson, 1999). The integration of critical thinking skills into the online discussions is essential to providing intellectually challenging and relevant learning experiences for students. …

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