Designing Effective Question Prompts to Facilitate Critical Thinking in Online Discussions

By Peggy A. Ertmer, Ayesha Sadaf and David Ertmer.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This study examined the relationships between the level and structure of question prompts and the levels of critical thinking demonstrated by students’ responses in 19 online discussions. Discussion question types were classified using Andrews’ typology (1980) and question and response levels were classified using Bloom’s taxonomy (1956). Ninety-two discussion prompts and the associated transcripts of students’ responses from 19 discussion forums were coded and classified using Bloom’s taxonomy. The results of our comparison between question types (Andrews) and question levels (Bloom) failed to show a direct relationship, suggesting that instructors can use similar question types (e.g., brainstorming) to facilitate different levels of critical thinking. In general, higher levels of questions were found to facilitate higher levels of students’ responses. Among the nine Andrews’ question types, analytic convergent, focal, and lower divergent questions resulted in the greatest percentage of responses at the highest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy while general invitation and brainstorm questions resulted in the greatest number of responses at the lowest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Implications are provided for instructors who are looking for general guidelines regarding how to structure online discussion prompts to elicit high quality responses.

Keywords: Online Discussions, Question Prompts, Critical Thinking

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.1-28. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.314MB).

Dr. Peggy A. Ertmer

Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA

Dr. Peggy A. Ertmer is a Professor of Educational Technology in the College of Education at Purdue University. She specializes in instructional design (ID) and educational research. Her scholarship focuses on the impact that student-centered instructional approaches and strategies have on learning outcomes. She is particularly interested in the impact of problem-based instruction on higher-order thinking skills; the adoption of student-centered, problem-based learning approaches by k-12 teachers; and strategies for facilitating higher-order thinking and self-regulated learning in online, problem-based learning environments. Most recently, Dr. Ertmer has examined how students’ problem-solving skills are shaped through their engagement in case-based learning. Dr. Ertmer has published scholarly works in premier national and international journals including the American Educational Research Journal, Journal of Educational Psychology, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, and Educational Technology Research and Development. In addition, she has co-edited 3 editions of the ID CaseBook: Case Studies in Instructional Design and is the founding editor of a new journal, the Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, published by Purdue University Press.

Ayesha Sadaf

Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA

Dr. David Ertmer

Associate Professor, Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA


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