All Ireland Society for Higher Education (AISHE), AISHE-C 2008: Encouraging Student Engagement

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Can Cognitive Tools Support Student Engagement in Critical Thinking? -Some Evidence from Asynchronous Online Discussions
Gerry Grogan

Last modified: 2008-07-09


This paper proposes a provisional answer to the question : What do Asynchronous Online Discussions Tell us about how students Engage in Critical Thinking? The paper forms part of the author's ongoing research into the relationship between electronic, cognitive tools and critical thinking. The study is pursued within the context of a theoretical framework which reflects a broad consensus on the nature of critical thinking. The purpose of the research is to determine the mechanisms by which and conditions under which different electronic tool achieve their cognitive effects, and how they can expose strengths and weaknesses in critical thinking.

The research has been designed as a small scale multiple case study set in the real life context of a third level college. The overall design envisages two principal, complimentary methods of data collection, COGITASK and OLD. The COGITASK method is an achievement test, designed as an authentic critical thinking task completed with authentic cognitive tools. The OLD method is an online discussion to which student subjects contribute critical reflections. The COGITASK method is designed to capture objective empirical data about performance on a critical thinking task, the OLD method is designed to capture subjective empirical data about students perceptions of their performance on a critical thinking task.

This paper focuses on the OLD method only. Content Analysis is used to analyse the data. These techniques are supplemented with the cluster of quantitative techniques, known as Exploratory Data Analysis. The paper also provides a discussion on the reliability and validity of the OLD method.

The paper reports on the main findings to emerge from the OLD data. In particular it looks at students' assessments of their critical thinking strengths and weaknesses, it looks at their metacognitive awareness and also their orientation towards the tools that the use. It also contrasts the subjective perceptions of the students with objective performance on tasks. The study makes some recommendations for encouraging student engagement in critical thinking.


Engagement, critical thinking, learning technology, metacognitive awareness