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Fostering Critical Thinking Through WebQuests-Based Collaborative Learning: An Exploratory Cycle of a Design Research Project in Hong Kong English Classrooms

posted on 2020-08-11, 01:34 authored by Weijun Liang
Critical thinking has become a significant educational goal in many parts of the world whilst attracting considerable research attention. However, Asian students are often considered to think less critically compared to their Western counterparts, and no research agenda has been set to interrogate the use of information technology combined with group work to achieve the important educational goal of cultivating critical thinkers in the context of Hong Kong primary English classrooms.

The exploratory cycle of this design research project primarily aims to expand the knowledge base about how primary school students in Hong Kong English classrooms can be supported to foster their critical thinking. To maximise the educational affordances of information technology, the project seeks to design and evaluate a WebQuests-based teaching programme that can support students’ development of critical thinking through collaborative learning.

Methodologically, the current research adopted the methodological framework of design research. Within this framework, both quantitative and qualitative research methods were employed. For the quantitative part, approximately 125 fifth graders from a primary school in Hong Kong were assigned to experimental and control classes. All classes completed a pre-test of critical thinking before the experimental classes were taught with the WebQuests-based programme whilst the control classes received non-WebQuests traditional instruction. At the end of the programme, all student participants of the research completed a post-test of critical thinking. For the qualitative part, in the experimental classes, some focal groups’ classroom interactions were audiotaped, and their written work were collected at the end of the teaching programme. Classroom observation was also conducted with field notes taken. Upon completion of the programme, two teachers delivering the programme were invited to participate in an in-depth face-to-face interview.

The findings suggest that the programme helped students to use Exploratory Talk as a dialogic tool in collaborative problem-solving to exercise their critical-thinking skills and produce quality written arguments. The findings also reveal that students can transfer their reasoned arguments in classroom discussions to their written justifications and that the transfer constitutes a case for “near transfer”. Another major finding is that the WebQuests-based teaching programme helped to enhance students’ critical thinking by guiding them to analyse, evaluate and synthesise a wide range of online materials and information. The insights gleaned from this exploratory cycle provide profound implications for the future cycles of the design research project in terms of data collection and the design of the teaching programme. This study also yields significant implications for pedagogical practice in using educational technology and collaborative learning for critical-thinking cultivation purposes.