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JULY 4, 2009

The focus of my literature search was on the following two issues important in my teaching and proposed research:
1)    Approaches in teaching thinking skills (especially explicitly), transformative learning and related issues of critical thinking in novice learners
2)    Approaches to assess learning, especially for thinking skills and for real-life application
I also wanted to look at a variety of perspectives, including philosophical and psychological.

Studying the ERIC Thesaurus descriptors and their interrelationships was very helpful not just for the ERIC search, but for learning about the conceptualizations used in the field of education, which will allow further study of the issues of interest.

1. Sanz de Acedo Lizarraga, M.L., Sanz de Acedo Baquedano, M.T.; Goicoa Mangado T.; Cardelle-Elawar, M. (2009). Enhancement of Thinking Skills: Effects of Two Intervention Methods. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 4 [1]: 30-33
The authors conducted three quasi-quantitative studies in Spanish Secondary Schools of two different intervention methods aimed at enhancing thinking skills. One was an infusion method, where the thinking skills are taught within the classes, and the second was an “instrumental enrichment program”, where the thinking skills are taught in a separate course. The authors found that both programs, but especially the infusion method, increased both thinking skills and subject competency, as judged by several different assessment instruments.
This is a great example of both methods and quasi-quantitative assessment for critical thinking. I was impressed that both methods used – successfully - an explicit (to the students) approach to teaching critical thinking. Method-wise, I would like to learn more about different assessment instruments, and which ones are appropriate for the college level (e.g., one of the tests used is designed for 8-15 year olds).

2. De Wever, B.; Van Keer, H.; Schellens, T.; Valcke, M. (2009). Tagging Thinking Types in Asynchronous Discussion groups. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25 [2]: 177-188
    The authors assess the value for improving critical thinking processes by having students use DeBono’s “thinking hats”. As students posted to an online discussion, they had to identify what kind of contribution they are making – what kind of “thinking hat” they are using. For example the white hat identifies the problem (an early stage of critical thinking, according to Garrison’s framework), while the black hat evaluates different possible solutions (a later stage). The study found that using the thinking hat conceptualization increased critical thinking in general, and problem identification and exploration in particular.
    I was attracted to this study again because it uses a method where the teaching of critical thinking is explicit, as in my own teaching. It is also valuable in that it aims to evaluate critical thinking ability, with painstaking grouping and evaluation of online discussion inputs into critical thinking categories, representing to me an alternative assessment approach.

3. Sadler D.R. (2009) Indeterminacy in the Use of Preset Criteria for Assessment and Grading.  Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 34 [2]: 159-179
    The author identifies problems with the widespread grading practice of open-ended and complex assignments using pre-set and explicit (to the students) criteria. One such problem is the conflict between atomized (“analytic”) grading and a more holistic approach and the problems stemming from a grader’s effort to resolve this conflict.  He identifies the major reason for the problems with preset criteria as due to indeterminacy, a condition where the proposed method (here, preset criteria) is insufficient to give complete solutions to the problem  (assessment of complex work). Considering also the problems with holistic approaches, his proposed solution is active student engagement in the process of evaluation, with anonymous peer grading and exposure to multiple examples of peer work along with instructor evaluation.
    The ideas in this paper are directly related to my interest in promoting and assessing critical thinking. It is curious that the proposed solution further increases the students higher level thinking and metacognition, with some observed benefits such as becoming self-critical and developing the ability to self-monitor – and so can be an example of another potentially successful explicit approach to teaching critical thinking.

As none of the studies I found this week (as in references 1-3 above) compare using an explicit approach to teaching thinking skills to an implicit one, I hope to find such studies in the future.

4. Rowbottom D.P. (2007). Demystifying Threshold Concepts. J. Phil. Educ. 41 (2): 263-270
The author points out problems with the current definition of  “threshold concepts” [TC] and issues in applying the idea of TC to teaching and assessment, in particular the consideration that what may be a TC for one person may not be for another, and that learning a TC is not sufficient for acquiring a concept as an ability.
The importance of this article to me was to remind me of the value of philosophy, in particular the clarification it can bring, even though the short length of this article did not allow the author to sufficiently defend some of his arguments and as a result the article was frustratingly unsatisfying.
In the future, I would like to see if there are any studies of the effectiveness of teaching using TC. The literature I have seen and active learning seminars I have attended operate on the notion that it brings something new and that it is efficacious.

5. The Difference that Inquiry Makes:  A Collaborative Case Study of Technology and Learning, from the Visible Knowledge Project. Reprinted from the January 2009 issue of Academic Commons on  “New Media Technologies and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning,” edited by Randy Bass with Bret Eynon ( Retrieved July 2, 2009, from the Visible Knowledge project website https://digitalcommons.georgetown.ed...09/02/20/bass/
    This publication is a compendium of the research of several groups as part of the Visible Knowledge Project, which aims to capture “invisible learning”, the invisible intermediate processes of the learning process, including both its cognitive and affective components.
    Most striking is the finding that technology can be used to engage novice learners in expert thinking. This is a difficult task that technology may be particularly suited to as it allows access to sources of “undigested” and complex information, and allows one to move at one’s own pace, while focusing on analysis and on the creative, rather than the memorization of material pre-processed by an instructor.
    It would be interesting to find out whether there have been efforts like this one in the biological sciences. I would also like to learn whether there are other educators that explicitly think about different paths from novice to expert, in particular whether the time can be shortened through approaches aimed at improving metacognition and the use of explicit conceptualization of field-specific material.

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