«Facilitating Higher-Order Thinking: Synthesizing Pedagogical Frameworks for the Development of Complex and Coherent Conceptual Systems Michael A. ...»
A great deal of quantitative educational research has been dedicated to examining the effectiveness of educational interventions with regard to facilitating cognitive development; however, analyses of statistical relationships of specific independent variables with outcome measures provide little insight into how educational processes actually work (or fail to work) in various educational contexts. Few qualitative studies have apparently been undertaken to illustrate the experiences of teachers and learners what they are prepared (or unprepared) to do, what works or doesn't work according to the experiences of those involved, and how learning (or failure to learn) affects individual students. To gain insights into what works well (or does not work well), and to understand how teaching and learning operate with regard to facilitating higher cognitive development, we need to inquire further into the pedagogical processes involved to see not only what interventions were applied, but how they were applied, which aspects of the processes were most and least helpful, and how the processes affected the participants. Quantitative measures are ill-suited to provide insights into these questions;
observations and interviews can provide qualitative data to illuminate the effectiveness of educational processes according to the experiences of those who are actually involved.
I therefore decided (with the encouragement of my faculty advisors) to engage in two qualitative research studies to investigate how education students have been educated in learning and teaching with regard to developing higher-order thinking. I interviewed education instructors across Canada to inquire into their practices; I also conducted a collective case study of several education classes at one university.
3. Study 1 Method Interviews Qualitative data were obtained through semistructured interviews from a purposive sample of post-secondary education instructors at large Canadian universities from coast to coast. Participants were selected according to their positions as instructors of education courses that address cognition. I used university worldwide web sites to identify individuals who had taught courses during the Winter 2007 term, in one of the following areas: educational psychology, educational philosophy, or principles of learning and teaching. I sent fifty-seven letters of invitation by email to thirteen universities in the first week of May 2007, explaining that the purpose of the study is to explore education programs in Canada with particular attention to classes that deal with higher cognitive development.
By the end of June 14 instructors at eight universities (well distributed across the country) had agreed to be interviewed, and had sent their course syllabi to me for my information. The participants were informed of the ethical regulations for this study, which included my promise of confidentiality and their right to withdraw their participation at any time. Interviews were conducted during July and August, 2007; the respondents were encouraged during the interviews to describe their pedagogical views on teaching and learning with regard to higher order thinking (theories and practices).
The following questions were posed to each participant:
What thinking skills do you consider to be of greatest importance in education?
What signs of higher-order thinking do you consider to be important?
Describe the most important considerations with regard to teaching and learning critical and higher-order thinking that affected your design of your courses this year.
What were the most remarkable results that you observed this year?
What were your biggest disappointments?
What did you learn with regard to teaching and learning about thinking, and how might what you learned affect your design or delivery of future courses?
I've studied your syllabus, and I'd like to discuss with you how you approached the
c) Metacognitive self-regulation and self-regulated learning
d) Transformative, emancipative and dynamic theories of learning With the consent of the participants, all of the interviews were recorded on a digital audio recorder, and were transcribed for later analysis. I then produced a one-page summary of each interview; the summaries were sent back to the participants for checking and correction. The course syllabi and curricular materials were examined to see if there were any discrepancies between the interview data and the published course descriptions. The data were then analyzed with respect to their pedagogical relevance in terms of published educational literature on the pedagogical theories, and the practices, of post-secondary education.
Data Analysis Fourteen instructors were interviewed, eleven by telephone and three face-to-face.
The average length of an interview was 29.5 minutes; the transcripts totalled 82 pages (47,448 words). The participants were very co-operative and forthcoming during their interviews, and all of them also responded to follow-up questions. I created one-page summaries of each interview; eleven participants approved the original summaries as accurate representations of their views, and three clarified some points.
After consultation with my faculty advisors to devise a plan for the data analysis, the following procedures were carried out. Two other doctoral candidates (experienced teachers who are well versed in pedagogical theories) worked with me to corroborate the qualitative analyses of the interview data. The method of constant comparison (Strauss & Corbin, 1998; Creswell, 2002) was used; open, axial and selective coding was employed to yield conclusions about what works, in the experience of the participants, with regard to supporting and facilitating higher-order cognitive development with students of education. Grounded theory analysis was applied to discover what the participants thought about this area of their work.
With regard to topics of instruction, analytic induction (hypothesis confirmation/disconfirmation) was employed to see whether the interviewees addressed the topics that were specifically targeted for investigation.
passage that was of pedagogical interest (with careful attention to ensure that no relevant parts of the texts were ignored or overlooked). I explained to my colleagues that the process called for the open codes to reflect the interviewees' words, and their meanings, as closely as possible. I worked together with each assistant to code one interview, discussing every passage and agreeing on every code that we assigned. After having coded one interview together with each assistant, I observed them as they each coded another interview, and we then discussed all of those codes until we agreed on all of them. After that, each assistant observed me coding an interview, and all the codes were again discussed until agreement was reached on every one. After six interviews had been completed in this fashion (and every passage, and every code, had been agreed by two reviewers), I coded the last eight interviews and submitted all of the codes and the source texts to my teammates, who examined them closely and made notes of questions or disagreements (which we resolved in a subsequent meeting).
To begin the second phase of data analysis ("axial coding"), I downloaded the open codes and source texts from HyperRESEARCH™, and I used Excel™ to label the codes according to common themes (categories). I listed all of the open codes interview by interview, and I sorted the codes for each interview to broad categories. Then I created diagrams that showed all of the open codes for each interview, category by category, and I inserted links in the diagrams to denote connections and interactions.
I performed the final axial coding (identifying sub-categories) by re-examining all the open codes, category by category, and (wherever necessary) examining their contexts in each interview. I then divided the categories into sub-categories (and further divided the sub-categories into more specific items). I presented the results of these tentative analyses to my coworkers, who each took half of the codes and examined each categorization. We discussed all discrepancies between our ideas on this process, and we finally agreed on categories, sub-categories, and finer distinctions that reflected each open code according to the contexts of those codes in their respective interviews.
Results Interviews Summaries of the 14 interviews are presented in Appendix A. Table 3 describes (in brief) the fourteen courses that were investigated. The instructors' teaching experience ranged from five to thirty-nine years. Thirteen of the fourteen had ten or more years of experience; at least eight had twenty years or more in teaching. There were five classes in educational psychology, three in philosophy of education, and six others, which covered various principles of teaching and learning. The courses had approximately 875 students in total.
The summaries of the fourteen interviews are presented in Appendix A.
Most of the students were preservice teachers; while Instructor 1 did not teach many preservice teachers, I decided that this fact was not ultimately relevant to the aim of investigating the contents, methods, and results of education courses, so these interview data were included in the analyses.
Categories Nine hundred ninety-one open codes were assigned to the fourteen interviews.
Initial axial classifications of the open codes (with reference to the contexts described in their respective source transcripts, and with regard to their pedagogical interest) resulted in the emergence of six broad categories (themes) of interest, all of which were represented by data from all fourteen interviews. Topics of instruction were specifically targeted for investigation; aside from this category, five other classes of material emerged according to their pedagogical relevance: learning objectives, methods of instruction, challenges, outcomes, and instructor's positions. Table 4 provides definitions for these categories, as they were ultimately applied in this process of classification. Eliminating the duplication of open codes in any single interview (and discarding a half dozen which were eventually deemed irrelevant) ultimately resulted in eight hundred three open codes in the six categories. The codes were then assessed for the purpose of sub-categorization, to allow for finer-grained analysis of the interviews. The following sections, and the Discussion below, present my syntheses of the results from all of the interviews.
The tables in the sections that follow present all the sub-categories, and the further divisions of the sub-categories, that were specified by more than one interviewee.
Topics Instructors were specifically asked about five particular subject-matter areas (critical thinking, critical dispositions, metacognitive self-regulation, epistemology and transformative or emancipative learning); a number of other topics of instruction were also mentioned during the interviews.
Table 5 depicts the sub-categories of the Topics category; these represent subject matter areas that were presented in the courses. The number of participants who included these subjects in their courses (maximum of fourteen) is represented by the frequency statistic in this table and all of the tables that follow. Table 3 also presents the specific topics within the four major sub-categories.
The number of topics mentioned by the participants ranged from three to six. Two respondents mentioned six topics: Instructor 13 (science education) covered all of the topics being directly investigated in this study, including aspects of thinking skills, critical dispositions, epistemology, philosophy of science, self-directed learning and transformative learning. Instructor 1 (teaching educational psychology) talked about critical thinking, epistemology, metacognition, ontology, philosophy of science and emancipative learning.
Nine respondents reported that they discussed aspects of epistemology, however, only two of them had included this topic in their syllabi (one as a supplementary reading, and one as a term of interest), and only one of them (Instructor 10) claimed to have addressed the topic other than superficially. Transformative and emancipative learning were seen as distinct by four of the interviewees who treated these topics; only Instructor 2 introduced both these theories in the classroom.
Six participants (including four of the five educational psychologists) talked about metacognition, while nine discussed self-regulation, only one of which (Instructor 3) emphasized the subject of self-correction. Reflecting on these numbers, I can only echo the sentiments of Instructor 12, who shared, "I wish that more teachers were in this [teaching thinking skills]." It may be that many (and perhaps most) education students could benefit from instruction, and practice, in self-monitoring, self-evaluation and selfcorrection.
Eight instructors included critical dispositions as course material.
On the subject of self-transformation, it is also apparent that transformative and emancipative theories of learning (while propounded by some instructors) are not at the centre of the pedagogical mainstream; a minority of the respondents acknowledged the potential value of understanding these ways of thinking about learning.
Instructors 1 and 13 included work on the philosophy of science (which is related to epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge and knowing) as a means of promoting higher order thinking. With regard to epistemology, only one educational philosopher claimed to have delivered substantive instruction in the subject (while eight others said that they mentioned it, but briefly).
Objectives The instructors described many and various learning objectives; the subcategories and the specific objectives are shown in Table 6.