Teaching Critical Thinking and Team Based Concept Mapping

Teaching Critical Thinking and Team Based Concept Mapping

Dawndra Meers-Scott (Texas Tech University, USA), LesLee Taylor (Texas Tech University, USA) and John Pelley (Texas Tech University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-992-2.ch009
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Critical thinking cannot be fully developed without involvement in collaborative learning activities that elicit problem solving dialogue. Concept maps are effective tools for dialogue because they require decisions about the organization of and the relationships between facts and concepts. This active decision making process develops both long term memory and the ability to apply that knowledge. The authors describe a new method for incorporating scored concept maps into an established collaborative learning method, Team-Based Learning, as a way to improve the effectiveness of individual preparation and for enhancing the problem solving dialogue during group activities. Their new method, Team-Based Concept Mapping, has advantages for students with different personality types and with different backgrounds because it provides greater clarity and precision in the group dialogue. The effect of concept mapping on the interaction between different personality types is discussed and suggestions for future studies to develop this method are offered.
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Collaborative learning is necessary to help students move beyond assimilative learning to become, as described by Mezirow (1991, p. 167), “…critically aware of how and why our assumptions have come to constrain the way we perceive, understand, and feel about our world…” This “critical awareness” by students is revealed to us when we observe the dialogue that occurs during team problem solving. Dialogue allows team members to hear alternative ways of perceiving a situation and to reflect on their own approach to solving a problem. During the collaborative learning process, the individual team members use the critical thinking skills of analysis, interpretation, inference, evaluation, and explanation (Facione & Facione, 1997) to reach decisions that produce a new understanding for all members. New understanding by the students, in turn, converts their “working memory” into long-term memory. Thus, students participating in the process of team problem solving avoid the pitfalls of assimilative learning which simply layers new information onto old understanding. The process of using current knowledge to create new knowledge has been termed transformative learning (Boyd & Myers, 1988), and this functional transformation is accompanied by a parallel anatomical transformation occurring in the brain itself (Zull, 2002). Collaborative learning physically transforms the brain by establishing a greater number of long lasting synaptic connections through the growth of nerve cell dendrites. This physical transformation occurs in two interactive areas of the brain: 1) the temporal area and 2) the prefrontal area. The temporal area accesses existing memory and adds to that memory when new learning takes place. The prefrontal area uses knowledge from the temporal area to establish new possibilities and to make logical decisions about them. The active use of both of these areas of the brain is necessary to develop critical thinking skills thus indicating that the growth of dendrites occurs both in the area of the brain that stores memory and in the area of the brain that uses that memory for decision making (Zull, 2002; Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).

Prior to our research on team problem solving, we discovered that individual preparation for participation in team problem solving exercises is enhanced by concept mapping. This is because the construction of a concept map requires analytic reading through the constant formulation of focused questions (Cañas & Novak, 2006). The back-and-forth process of asking a question (“Where does this go in my map?”) and then answering it (“It is connected here…and here…”) helps the student discover how new knowledge can be organized. This facilitates, in turn, the retrieval of this knowledge during the team dialog when each student must defend their decisions to the rest of the team members. The formulation of a rationale for suggesting new possibilities, or for choosing among optional solutions, requires more than recall knowledge of factual content. Such a rationale also requires an understanding of the meaning of factual content and the construction of a concept map reveals that meaning through patterns and organization.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Transformative Learning: The process of using information received from a teacher and creating new knowledge by using higher order thinking skills.

Sensing Type: A preference for perceiving new information by observing details and facts in a literal sense. This type tends to be uncomfortable when either constructing or interpreting concept maps.

Concept Map: A visual construct composed of encircled concepts (nodes) that are meaningfully inter-connected by descriptive concept links either directly, by branch-points (hierarchies), or indirectly by cross-links (comparisons). The construction of a concept map can serve as a tool for enhancing communication, either between an author and a student for a reading task, or between two or more students engaged in problem solving.

Team-Based Concept Mapping (TBCM): Team-Based Learning with scored concept maps substituted for multiple choice exams. Concept maps become a tool for more effective dialogue.

Team Maturation: A change in the nature of the interactions and dialogue between members of a team over time. Dialogue is more meaningful and effective as members develop trust in each other.

Group Concept Maps: Concept maps constructed through active collaboration among group members. More content and cross-links result due to contribution by different learning styles that bring different knowledge to the task.

Team-Based Learning (TBL): A three step process that progresses from individual learning to collaborative learning by teams in large classroom settings. Requires specific decisions on the same problem by all teams in order to share rationales.

Intuitive Type: A preference for perceiving new information by discovering patterns and relationships in an integrative sense. This type tends to construct and interpret concept maps easily and to include more cross-links in their maps.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: A psychological instrument that determines preferences in normal thinking processes. Provides a self-assessment that indicate constructive strategies for personal development.

Critical Thinking Skills: The ability to solve problems by generating alternatives from existing facts and to prioritize these alternatives with respect to their logical justification and/or human outcomes. Both recall skills and higher order thinking skills are utilized in this process.

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