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«Facilitating Higher-Order Thinking: Synthesizing Pedagogical Frameworks for the Development of Complex and Coherent Conceptual Systems Michael A. ...»

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Computer-Mediated Communication Salomon (1994) described group cognition as a phenomenon which emerges dynamically as a result of individual contributions to a common conversation, and which differs from the sum of its various parts. He acknowledged the importance of individual cognitive processes, which are instrumental in the progress of the group discourse, and he notes that individuals are affected by the contributions of others and by the patterns of results as they emerge. These cognitive residues of the collective effort represent lasting changes to individuals' ways of thinking. Salomon points out that intellectual partnerships support individual cognitive development, and he encourages reciprocal scaffolding, which calls for partners to work together on each problem (rather than patching together individual pieces of work). Computer-mediated communication provides a means for collaborative inquiry, and for the development of group knowledge.

Stahl (2006) claims that technological tools can support and facilitate group cognition, which expands the limits of cognition beyond what is possible for an individual. He stresses the need for understanding how collaborative processes operate, since such understandings aid us in designing software tools to facilitate collaborative learning, analyzing instances of collaboration, and developing theories which address how these processes function and evolve. In particular, we need to understand how to support the formation of collaborative learning groups, facilitate the accommodation of diverse interpretative perspectives, and support the negotiation of group knowledge.

Hewitt (2001, 2003) analyzed how university students interacted in asynchronous online discussions. Hewitt (2001) pointed out that, while the online environment provides flexible possibilities for deep discussion, students typically failed to use techniques of summarization and synthesis to draw together ideas that have been advanced in sequence;

he observed much more branching than converging. Hewitt (2003) remarked that the phenomenon of attention being focused on the latest message in a discussion thread led

the discussions off-topic. Hewitt (2001) made many recommendations, including:

appointing a moderator to summarize the discussion (preferably a student, so that students could learn to develop a deeper understanding of the problem-solving processes and the ways in which ideas may interrelate); augmenting asynchronous computermediated communication with synchronous technologies (such as video conferencing) to make group coordination and negotiating group consensus easier; initiating "how to proceed" online discussions with students at the beginning of the unit before placing them into smaller workgroups in which they will continue to work throughout the semester, with designated and rotating roles (such as "starter," "moderator" and "wrapper"); and separating the substantive content from "meta-communication" of the knowledge-building process to avoid cluttering the work space with messages about due dates, etc., rather than concentrating on the problems and issues under discussion.

Lapadat (2000) stressed the need for advance organization of online discussions, pointing out that the rules for what is acceptable practice should be specified from the outset, and that students should receive technical support and guidance throughout the process. In addition, the topics for the discussions should be pre-established, and instructors who serve to focus the conversation on important issues should moderate the processes. Since many students have shown reluctance to participate, course grading should require participation in class discussions.

De Bruyn (2004) agreed that students generally display a low degree of incentive in the production of progressive online discourses, and designed instruction to support the process. She provided structured learning guides to aid in problem solving and inquirybased learning, and found that students' familiarity with these strategies, and their facility with the online environment, seemed to affect their levels of participation. She recommended that instructors model the desired skills for the benefit of those students who are unfamiliar with the learning environment, that a moderator can help by summarizing the discussions, and that learning objectives be kept in view so that the discussions are clearly focused.

Geelan and Taylor (2001) stressed the importance of open, yet critical, discourse.

They describe the conversational ideal as a process where each student participates hermeneutically in inquiries where they consider the phenomenological experiences of their interlocutors (as well as their own). They encouraged educators and students to understand each other through careful listening that appreciates the sub-text of each message, and to co-construct knowledge and meaning in the context of their respective experiences. The authors recommend that participation be graded through careful assessment of the qualities of individual participation, including the quality of students' assessments of the tutors' participation.

So and Pun (2004) reported on the development of an interactive web-based learning platform for student teachers that incorporates streaming video clips as instructional aids. Using Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language, their application allows for video cases (of teachers conducting classroom activities) to be recalled during an online conference, while a synchronous messaging window provides space for students to analyze the clips, and discuss key points. This type of application may certainly be of use in a great number of pedagogical contexts, and such tools may well aid the development of progressive and critical discourses.

Schrire (2004) conducted an exemplary study of higher-order cognitive development during asynchronous computer conferencing in advanced learners (doctoral students in educational technology). While the results from studying the work of doctoral students may not generalize to other learner populations, and while the discourse analysis methodology she applied may be somewhat difficult to use, her work in analyzing the cognition and interaction parameters in learning conversations is an excellent demonstration of the application of qualitative empirical research to the analysis of learning processes. Schrire examined three computer forums, their component message threads (topics), and each message, in a multilevel analysis of the discourse spaces created in a computer conference. She operationalized the dimensions of interaction (by mapping the relationships of messages to each other) and cognition (using Bloom's Taxonomy, Biggs' SOLO Taxonomy and the Practical Inquiry Model of Cognitive Presence). Higher-order thinking was characterized by evidence of analysis, synthesis and evaluation (from Bloom's Taxonomy), relational and extended abstract reasoning (from Biggs' SOLO scale), and by integration and resolution of problem dimensions (according to the Practical Inquiry Model). Schrire concluded "collaborative processes play an important role in knowledge-building" (p. 498). In particular, synergistic interactions, which occurred when each message in a thread related to most of the other messages on that topic, characterized the collaborative construction of group knowledge, in contrast with instructor-centred or student-centred interactions, in which relatively unconnected messages addressed the main idea under discussion. She also described an intermediate type of interaction {developing synergism, in between instructor-centred and synergistic types) and one scattered conversation thread (where messages hardly related to each other). While the study of the interactions and the cognitive development of small groups of elite students may not provide us with general conclusions applicable to all learners, the ongoing analysis of synergistic collaboration is an important area of research in higher-order thinking.

O'Neill (2004) has described some benefits of telementoring in the context of a knowledge society. Working with Bereiter and Scardamalia's Knowledge Forum team at the University of Toronto, he has developed the notion of open mentoring, the maintenance of a relationship between one mentor and several high school students in an open forum where all messages are available for view to all participants. In a context of collaborative knowledge building in a community of learners, O'Neill has extended the principle of one-to-one mentoring (originally adapted from face to face meetings to be used in telecommunicative support) to make mentoring a group activity. Trained mentors, whose job is to support the processes of collaborative inquiry into ill-structured and complex problems (associated with student projects), can thus serve as models for students, who can use the opportunity to learn how to support each other in working together.

O'Neill studied 112 science and biology students in grades 9 and 11 who participated in group telementoring. He reported that, not only were students receptive to the possibilities offered by group mentoring, but also the mentors "felt that they had learned more about teaching and themselves through telementoring" (p. 190). He also noted that students learned to appreciate the support that they could get from observing their peers' progress, and that the mentors spontaneously facilitated this last process by advising the students to learn from their classmates' exemplary work.

Taylor (2004) analysed the work of forty-four teachers who were learning to use Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in their classrooms. Taylor performed careful assessments during a year-long case study, and (while she admits that the results of her qualitative analyses are not suitable for generalization), she reports having observed a great deal of improvement in her students' understandings, and applications, of critical pedagogy in this context. She characterizes their discourses according to epistemological sophistication (in a typology reminiscent of the one provided by Kuhn, 2001), where Stage 1 is uncritical acceptance of assertions (about ICT), Stage 2 reflects problematization (characterized by reflection, questioning and

acknowledgment of complexity), and Stage 3 thinking is evidenced by deeper reflection:

conditional and complex thinking, critical engagement, theorizing and predicting. Taylor reported that, with practice in creating discourses about ICT and pedagogy, students learned to appreciate the subtle pedagogic distinctions and complexities, which reflect better and worse practices. The learning process was evaluated as comprising three processes: personalization, learning how theoretical and practical issues evidenced themselves in students' thinking and in their practices; increasing pedagogical sensitivity, distinguishing and dealing with the complexities in observable events which signalled effectiveness or problems; and contingent thinking, recognition of the situated nature of issues and problems, and dealing with the deeper relationships of various (personal, social and institutional) elements.

Taylor drew some important implications about teacher education from the results of her study. First, she pointed out that "planning for learning in the area of ICT needs to be informed by understanding of how student teachers learn as well as the desirable endpoint for this learning" (p. 54). We need to understand how understanding develops before we can train teachers to facilitate the process. The teachers, by reflecting on theories of ICT even as they integrated the methods in their practices, gained pedagogical insight into how their students learned. In addition, while student teachers may begin to learn their trade before they graduate, teacher education should continue "into their first few years of teaching" (p. 54).

Related Research Constantinou and Papadouris (2004) have provided an interesting example of the possibilities for using technology (in this case, digital video of preservice teachers who were learning physics) to study learning in situ. The idea of producing video recordings of cognitive development in its dynamic form (observable actions over time) is consistent with the notion that qualitative research in education should focus on producing detailed records of the processes (and the contexts) of learning in action (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005;

Winn, 2002; Young, 2004). The authors examined how eight preservice elementary teachers learned to make sense of observational data, and how they learned to change their ideas about physical principles, by videotaping them as they carried out detailed and systematic observations of electric circuits, and worked together to build consensuses on how to interpret their results.

Constantinou and Papadouris described a sophisticated theoretical framework for learning in physics upon which they based their analyses, which stands as an example for those who are concerned with studying higher-order thinking and cognitive complexity in any discipline. The dimensions of the descriptive system are: the experiences upon which observations are based; the concepts, or representations, which structure and organize our discourses; epistemological awareness, the mental perspectives according to which conceptual frameworks are constructed; the reasoning skills which are used to evaluate ideas and observations on the basis of prior understandings; and (positive) attitudes, which determine motivation and engagement to the tasks at hand. To this list, I would add metacognitive self-regulation (which includes self-monitoring, self-evaluation and self-correction; Bandura, 1986; Facione, 1990), explanatory skills (Facione, 1990), and interaction skills (Ennis, 1987).

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