Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Operational Definitions for Higher-Order Thinking Objectives at the Post-Secondary Level

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Operational Definitions for Higher-Order Thinking Objectives at the Post-Secondary Level

Article excerpt

Abstract

As a first step toward studying ways to develop higher-order thinking in undergraduate students, we used a modified version of Bloom's taxonomy to assess study questions in two computer-mediated psychology courses. Three assessors developed operational definitions of the thinking levels required to answer study questions (or components of the questions). For each course, there was a high level of independent agreement between these assessors and a second group of assessors who used the operational definitions constructed by the first group to assess the level of each question. This indicates that the operational definitions developed are reliable. Future studies will focus on determining at what level students answer the questions in a given course and generating higher-order thinking by raising the average level at which students answer questions.

Introduction

Post-secondary institutions are places at which the highest levels of thinking are fostered and developed. Thus, a challenge for university educators is developing students' critical, or higher-order thinking about course material. Research might provide a solution to this problem. Before embarking on such research a fundamental question must be addressed: how do we define critical or higher-order thinking? Williams (1999) has argued cogently that operational definitions of cognitive constructs used in education are necessary in order to reliably assess and promote the processes they encompass. A number of definitions of higher-order thinking have been proposed. Some emphasize reasoned argumentation as an essential feature (Newman, 1991a, b; Nelson, 1997), while others include other elements (Bloom, 1956; Carnine, 1991; Hohn, Gallagher, & Byrne, 1990; Paul & Heaslip, 1995).

The most detailed and comprehensive set of definitions that appears to encompass all aspects of higher-order thinking is Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in the Cognitive Domain (1956), which identifies six categories of exam or test questions: (1) Knowledge, (2) Comprehension, (3) Application, (4) Analysis, (5) Synthesis, and (6) Evaluation. The categories are often assumed to be hierarchical, and thus are often referred to as "levels." (It should be noted that Bloom includes subcategories of the six broad categories mentioned above; these subcategories are not part of our focus at this stage.)

As a first step toward studying ways to develop higher-order thinking in undergraduate students, we sought to apply Bloom's taxonomy to study questions in several computer-mediated psychology courses. These courses were taught using computer-aided personalized system of instruction (CAPSI), which is based on the Keller (1968) approach, or "personalized system of instruction" (PSI) (Kinsner & Pear, 1990; Pear & Crone-Todd, 1999; Pear & Kinsner, 1998; Pear & Novak, 1996). PSI-taught courses are typified by (a) short study units that require mastery (e.g., a score of 80% or better) before the next unit may be attempted, (b) restudy and re-testing on a unit when a student fails to demonstrate mastery of the unit, and (c) the use of students who have already demonstrated mastery of the material to provide feedback to students learning the material. Studies show that courses using PSI produce higher examination scores than courses taught using traditional methods (Kulik, Kulik, & Bangert-Drowns, 1990). Moreover, Reboy and Semb (1991) provided evidence that PSI can be effective in generating higher-order thinking. Extending their work seems to require the development of more rigorous definitions of higher-order thinking.

Although Bloom's taxonomy has been widely used in curricula development at primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels (e.g., Coletta, 1975; Frazier & Caldwell, 1977; Freese, 1998; Lipscomb, 1985; Onosko, 1991; Paul, 1985; Willson, 1973), some researchers have reported problems in reliably or consistently applying it (e. …

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