Getting the Most out of Asynchronous Discussion Groups: A Focus on Critical Thinking

Article Review 2 – Lori Sowa

When adequately facilitated, asynchronous discourse can be an effective learning tool that is unique to the blended or online classroom. In my brief experience with both taking and co-teaching online courses, I’ve experienced a few variations on how the discourse can be structured. Writing prompts have been a helpful means to focus the discussion, and quantifying the number of expected responses provides direction to the participants as to how much collaboration is expected. Intrigued by a comment from the recently reviewed meta-analysis regarding the inherent advantage of this type of discourse, I decided to dig further into the topic of how to best structure and facilitate online discussion groups.

In Tagging Thinking Types in Asynchronous Discussion Groups: Effects on Critical Thinking, Schellens et al. (2009) studied the effect of requiring students to use specific scripts when they post to a discussion group to describe their underlying thought process. The study included a very small sample size: 35 students from a junior-level undergraduate class on instructional strategies. The class was randomly divided into 6 groups – 4 experimental and 2 control – and required to participate in a discussion group debating different perspectives, possibilities, and limitations of e-learning. Participation in the discussion group was a formal part of the students’ grade, and they were required to post at least five messages over a two-week period. The assignment was identical for each group, except that the experimental groups were required to tag each post using “thinking hats” adapted from those developed by De Bono (1991). As an example, the description of one of the six hats in Schellen’s (2009) article reads:

The blue hat is the color of the sky high above us. This hat stands for a reflective perspective to see whether the right topic is addressed. What is relevant? Defining what to think about and deciding what is to be reached. (p. 81)

At the conclusion of the two-week period, the messages were coded based upon Newman et al.’s scheme (1995) which identified ten critical thinking categories. The authors’ found evidence of critical thinking in both groups, but significantly more positive indicators (and less negative indicators) of critical thinking in the experimental group using the thinking hats.

Overall, the experimental design was rigorous and grounded in sound theoretical context. Coding of the individual posts was performed by two individuals, with interrater reliability tested and found to be reasonable. The sample size was quite small, and thus repeated experiments involving more students over longer discussion time frames would provide more representative results. It would also be interesting to survey the participants about their perceptions of the value of the discussion group, and perform longitudinal studies to see if this method improves the critical thinking of these students in future discussions.

It is difficult to infer the context and wording of the assignment from the text of the article, and what specific guidance was given to the class regarding the expectations of the content of the posts. But just by providing the description of the thinking hats, and the instructions to use the full range of hats, the experimental group was provided with additional instruction and guidance compared to the control group, leading them towards aspects of critical thinking that would then be counted using the model. Requiring that a tag be used each time likely cut down or eliminated irrelevant posts in the experimental group.  This is a good thing overall for meeting the goal of the assignment, but also likely skewed the outcome in favor of the experimental group. Perhaps a better measure of the effect of this specific tagging scheme would have been to discuss the idea of critical thinking in general with the entire class, but then to require only the experimental group to use the thinking hat tags for posts.

Any pedagogical tool used in any classroom must take the audience and the intended learning outcomes into account during the course design phase. The level of direction from the instructor to the students is one of these aspects. Finding the balance between being overly-specific and vague in assignments can be tricky. The results from this study are promising in terms of providing a system that effectively scaffolds students to be intentionally critical in their thinking when posting to online discussion groups. I can see using this or a similar method, particularly for students new to discussion groups, but even for more advanced students.

De Bono, E. (1991). Six thinking hats for schools, Resource book for adult educators. Logan, IA: USA Perfection Learning.

Newman, D.R., Webb, B., and C. Cochrane. (1996). A content analysis method to measure critical thinking in face-to-face and computer supported learning group learning. Interpersonal Computing and Technology, 3, 56-77.

Schellens, T., Van Keer, H., De Wever, B., and M. Valcke. (2009). Tagging thinking types in asynchronous discussion groups: effects on critical thinking. Interactive Learning Environments 17(1), 77-94.

2 thoughts on “Getting the Most out of Asynchronous Discussion Groups: A Focus on Critical Thinking

  1. Owen

    Hi Lori,
    Nice choice for an article. I’m a strong advocate for the asynchronous discussion format, so I especially liked this piece. As I mentioned in my introduction, I took an online course from Oxford and they spent two weeks on learning asynchronous discussion moderation skills. I highly recommend the course if any of you have the time and money.

    https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/X990-1

    You mentioned that “Perhaps a better measure of the effect of this specific tagging scheme would have been to discuss the idea of critical thinking in general with the entire class, but then to require only the experimental group to use the thinking hat tags for posts.” I really liked this idea. I am a fan of cohorts discussing and agreeing on their collective process prior to their collaborative efforts – a way of making sure everyone is on the same page. But, then I got to wondering if this “meta” discussion is an inefficiency whose overhead is another burden on the learners? When does it make sense to spend precious time on the “meta” and when should we just have the students get to work?

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  2. Voice Truth

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    More importantly, the power that runs the world wants to put a RFID microchip in our body making us total slaves to them. This chip matches perfectly with the Mark of the Beast in the Bible, more specifically in Revelation 13:16-18:

    “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

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    Referring to the last days, this could only be speaking of a cashless society, which we have yet to see, but are heading towards. Otherwise, we could still buy or sell without the mark amongst others if physical money was still currency. This Mark couldn’t be spiritual because the word references two different physical locations. If it was spiritual it would just say in the forehead. RFID microchip implant technology will be the future of a one world cashless society containing digital currency. It will be implanted in the right-hand or the forehead, and we cannot buy or sell without it. Revelation 13:11-18 tells us that a false prophet will arise on the world scene doing miracles before men, deceiving them to receive this Mark. Do not be deceived! We must grow strong in Jesus. AT ALL COSTS, DO NOT TAKE IT!

    “Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name” (Revelation 14:9-11).

    People have been saying the end is coming for many years, but we needed two key things. One, the Third Temple, and two, the technology for a cashless society to fulfill the prophecy of the Mark of the Beast.

    Visit http://WWW.BIBLEFREEDOM.COM to see proof for these things and why the Bible truly is the word of God!

    If you haven’t already, it is time to seek God with all your heart. Jesus loves you more than you could imagine. He wants to have a relationship with you and redeem you from your sins. Turn to Him and repent while there is still hope! This is forever…God bless!

    “EITHER HUMAN INTELLIGENCE ULTIMATELY OWES ITS ORIGIN TO MINDLESS MATTER OR THERE IS A CREATOR…” – JOHN LENNOX

    We all know God exists. Why? Because without Him, we couldn’t prove anything at all. Do we live our lives as if we cannot know anything? No. So why is God necessary? In order to know anything for certain, you would have to know everything, or have revelation from somebody who does. Who is capable of knowing everything? God. So to know anything, you would have to be God, or know God.

    A worldview without God cannot account for the uniformity and intelligibility of nature. And why is it that we can even reason that God is the best explanation for this if there is no God? We are given reason to know or reject God, but never to know that He does not exist.

    It has been calculated by Roger Penrose that the odds of the initial conditions for the big bang to produce the universe that we see to be a number so big, that we could put a zero on every particle in the universe, and even that would not be enough to use every zero. What are the odds that God created the universe? Odds are no such thing. Who of you would gamble your life on one coin flip?

    Is there evidence that the Bible is the truth? Yes. Did you know that the creation accounts listed in the book of Genesis are not only all correct, but are also in the correct chronological order? That the Bible doesn’t say the Earth was formed in six 24-hour days but rather six long but finite periods of time? That the Bible makes 10 times more creation claims than all major “holy” books combined with no contradictions, while these other books have errors in them? The Bible stood alone by concurring with the big bang saying, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1); and says our universe is expanding, thousands of years before scientists discovered these things. Watch a potential life-changing video on the front page of http://WWW.BIBLEFREEDOM.COM with Astronomer(PhD) Hugh Ross explaining all these facts based on published scientific data. He has authored many books, backed even by atheist scientists.

    Jesus came to pay a debt that we could not; to be our legal justifier to reconcile us back to a Holy God; only if we are willing to receive Him: “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23).

    God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten son, so that whoever believes in Him, through faith, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. Jesus says if we wish to enter into life to keep the commands! The two greatest commands are to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself. All the law hang on these commands. We must be born of and lead by the Holy Spirit, to be called children of God, to inherit the kingdom. If we are willing to humble ourselves in prayer to Jesus, to confess and forsake our sins, He is willing to give the Holy Spirit to those who keep asking of Him; giving us a new heart, leading us into all truth!

    Jesus came to free us from the bondage of sin. The everlasting fire was prepared for the devil and his angels due to disobedience to God’s law. If we do the same, what makes us any different than the devil? Jesus says unless we repent, we shall perish. For sin is the transgression of the law. We must walk in the Spirit so we may not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, being hatred, fornication, drunkenness and the like. Whoever practices such things will not inherit the kingdom (Galatians 5:16-26). If we sin, we may come before Jesus to ask for forgiveness (1 John 2:1-2). Evil thoughts are not sins, but rather temptations. It is not until these thoughts conceive and give birth by our own desires that they become sin (James 1:12-15). When we sin, we become in the likeness of the devil’s image, for he who sins is of the devil (1 John 3:8); but if we obey Jesus, in the image of God. For without holiness, we shall not see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

    The oldest religion in the world is holiness through faith (James 1:27). What religion did Adam and Eve follow before the fall? Jesus, Who became the last Adam, what religion does He follow? Is He not holy? He never told us to follow the rituals and traditions of man but to take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23). There are many false doctrines being taught leading people astray. This is why we need the Holy Spirit for discernment. Unlike religion, holiness cannot be created. It is given to us from above by the baptism of the Spirit. Jesus is more than a religion; He is about having a personal relationship with the Father. Start by reading the Gospel of Matthew, to hear the words of God, to know His character and commandments. Follow and obey Jesus, for He is the way, the truth, and the life!

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