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Title: Learning Environments for Critical Thinking. The Added Value of Instructional Design Research
Other Titles: Leeromgevingen voor kritisch denken. De toegevoegde waarde van onderwijskundig ontwerponderzoek
Authors: Tiruneh, Dawit Tibebu; R0267405
Issue Date: 22-Sep-2016
Abstract: Promoting the development of students’ critical thinking (CT) is considered as a major goal of higher education. Consequently, identifying effective instructional approaches that can foster CT has been the focus of much research. However, despite the large body of research, there is little evidence to support that the goal of CT development is being realized. Efforts to promote CT development have long been intertwined with controversies over several issues, such as the conceptualization of CT, the instructional approaches to best stimulate the acquisition of CT skills, and the assessment of CT outcomes. It is argued in this doctoral thesis that CT is a complex learning outcome as it involves achieving integrated sets of learning goals, and thus, efforts to stimulate the development of CT may benefit from a systematic and model-based approach to designing learning environments promoting complex learning. The general objective of this doctoral project was to examine the effects of systematically designed learning environments in fostering the acquisition of domain-specific and domain-general CT skills.
Considering CT from a domain-specific and domain-general perspective, three studies were conducted. Based on the assumption that accurate and comprehensive understanding of the development of CT needs to involve the assessment of both domain-specific and domain-general CT skills, the first study focused on development and validation of a domain-specific CT test. The domain-specific CT test (CT in Electricity & Magnetism: CTEM) targeted content from a freshman physics course, namely Electricity and Magnetism (E&M). In order to develop a valid test, the following steps were employed: (1) formulating domain-specific CT outcomes by mapping CT skills included in a standardized domain-general CT, namely, the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment, (2) constructing items in line with the formulated domain-specific CT outcomes, (3) pilot testing (cognitive interviews and small-scale paper and pencil administration), (4) revising the CTEM items based on the pilot testing results, and (5) administering the final version to a relatively large group of respondents. Analyses showed that the CTEM has acceptable internal consistency, high inter-rater reliability, and acceptable convergent validity. The results are reported in Chapter 2.
In the second and third study, the effects of systematically designed learning environments on the development of domain-specific and domain-general CT and course achievement were examined. Distinct learning environments in line with Immersion and Infusion CT instructional approaches were designed based on the First Principles of Instruction model. An Immersion approach to CT instruction assumes that a well-designed subject-matter instruction can foster the acquisition of CT skills which may help students perform domain-specific and domain-general CT tasks, without explicit emphasis on selected CT skills during domain-specific instruction. An Infusion approach, however, assumes that explicit emphasis on CT skills in specific subject-matter instruction is essential for the acquisition of CT skills that may be applied to solve domain-specific and domain-general CT tasks.
First-year students from two universities in Ethiopia enrolled in an E&M course participated in the two interventions. The systematic approach to design the Immersion- and Infusion-based learning environments included the following steps: (a) identifying desired domain-specific and domain-general CT outcomes, (b) designing and developing instructional interventions based on the First Principles of Instruction model, (c) implementing the interventions in ecologically valid instructional settings, and (d) evaluating the effectiveness of the interventions by administering both domain-specific and domain-general CT tests. The instructional strategies in both the Immersion- and Infusion-based learning environments comprised the provision of authentic and contextually relevant learning tasks that were assumed to stimulate CT, repeated instructor demonstrations of solutions to E&M problems, repeated opportunities for students to practice solving meaningful E&M problems (both independently and in small groups), small-group discussions that involved reflecting and defending solutions to E&M problems, and coaching and corrective feedback by an instructor. The Infusion-based learning environment included as an additional layer an explicit emphasis on desired CT skills during the E&M instruction. The Control condition followed the regular E&M instruction that was not designed in accordance with the First Principles of Instruction model. The findings revealed that a systematic approach to designing learning environments based on the First Principles of Instruction model fosters the acquisition of domain-specific CT skills and enhances course achievement. However, neither the Immersion- nor Infusion-based learning environment was helpful in fostering the acquisition of domain-general CT skills. The findings generally demonstrated that domain-specific instructional strategies that comprised the provision of authentic learning tasks, instructor modeling of solutions, opportunities for repeated practice in applying acquired knowledge to solve new domain-specific problems, and instructor feedback and coaching were effective for the acquisition of domain-specific CT skills and course achievement.
This doctoral project reveals that embedding CT instruction in domain-specific courses requires greater clarity about what CT is, what set of CT skills could be targeted in domain-specific instruction, how specific subject-matter instruction could systematically be designed considering CT as an integral part of domain-specific instruction, and how best CT outcomes be assessed. In view of the findings, some considerations for the design of CT-supportive learning environments are identified. A continuing focus on the aforementioned issues is expected to shift the excessive theoretical debates on CT towards resolving the issues of CT development from an instructional design perspective.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Instructional Psychology and Technology
Physics and Astronomy - miscellaneous

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