CEC Theses and Dissertations

Title

An Investigation of Critical Thinking in Synchronous and Asynchronous Computer Conferencing Environments

Date of Award

2000

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences

Advisor

Laurie Dringus

Committee Member

Getrude W. Abramson

Committee Member

Steven R. Terrell

Abstract

Programs that involve teaching and learning at a distance often include the use of computer conferencing as a means to promote discussion and to stimulate higher-order thinking among students. Critical thinking should be considered an important outcome of graduate education yet there is little information available regarding the effectiveness of either synchronous or asynchronous computer conferencing to promote higher-order thinking in higher education. Although it stands to reason that asynchronous discourse would provide students with more time for research, reflection and decision making when compared to synchronous forms of communication, research was needed to provide evidence that this was actually occurring. In this study, content analysis was used to investigate higher order thinking. The primary research question examined whether critical thinking occurred to a higher degree in an asynchronous computer conferencing environment when compared to a synchronous one. Thirty-five students in the Pharmacy Informatics elective course of the Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree program at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) participated in the study. Students completed the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) and the Myers-Briggs Type Index (MBTl) before the study. Students were randomized to four groups and were exposed to two asynchronous and two synchronous online discussions designed to take advantage of constructivist learning theory. These discussions were recorded and the content analyses coding scheme was used to measure cognitive (critical thinking) presence. Results were obtained by coding and examining 3742 synchronous and asynchronous online postings from the instructor and students. Differences between synchronous and asynchronous modes of computer conferencing were assessed in terms of cognitive presence, social presence, instructor participation, and instructor-student interaction, participation by personality type and participation by gender. Student perception of critical thinking in the two different environments was also compared.

Results from the study indicated a significant difference in critical thinking and instructor participation between the two online conferencing environments. No differences in cognitive presence were seen by personality type or by gender. Students were able to perceive that more critical thinking occurred in the asynchronous conferences compared to the synchronous ones. Interrater agreement was reported.

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