Relationship between Types of Question Prompts and Critical Thinking in Online Discussions

Relationship between Types of Question Prompts and Critical Thinking in Online Discussions

Jennifer C. Richardson (Purdue University, USA), Ayesha Sadaf (Purdue University, USA) and Peggy A. Ertmer (Purdue University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2110-7.ch011
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This chapter addresses the relationship between types of initial question prompts and the levels of critical thinking demonstrated by students’ responses in online discussions. The chapter is framed around a research study involving discussion prompts that were coded and classified using Andrews’ typology (1980). Students’ responses (n=1132), taken from 27 discussion forums, were coded using the four-stage Practical Inquiry Model (PIM) (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2001). Among the nine question types explored, Critical Incident questions were most effective in generating high levels of student thinking. This was followed by Lower Divergent, Shotgun, and Analytical Convergent question responses that mainly resulted in students achieving the Integration phase of the PIM. Moreover, validation of the discussion prompts provides an updated typology that categorizes question prompts based on the verbal structure of online discussions. This chapter provides important implications for instructors who teach online, especially those looking for general guidelines regarding how to structure discussion prompts to elicit high quality student responses.
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The importance of questions as an instructional strategy to facilitate critical thinking is widely acknowledged in the literature, especially advocating the view that higher level questions can support and raise levels of students’ thinking (Bloom, 1956; Blanchette, 2010; Chin & Langsford, 2004; Dillon, 1994; Ertmer, Sadaf, & Ertmer 2011). Paul and Elder (2001) defined critical thinking as “the intellectually disciplined process of actively conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information gathered from observation, experience, reflection, reasoning or communication as a guide to belief and action” (p. 371). Encouraging students’ critical thinking skills is a common goal of higher education (Arend, 2009). Recent research suggested that online discussions assist students in the development of cognitive skills such as self-reflection, elaboration, and in-depth analysis of learning content (Shaff & Nicholas, 2004). Haavind (2006) emphasized the importance of online discussions for enabling students to explore multiple viewpoints, negotiate meaning, and recognize their own knowledge gaps. Furthermore, online discussions allow students to participate at any time and at their own pace to reflect on issues being discussed. As a result, online discussions can be thoughtful and reflective since students have the time to read others’ posts and synthesize their ideas (Maurino, 2007).

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