and Researching Higher-Order Thinking in a Virtual Environment
University of Manitoba
An innovation in studying
the teaching and learning process has been developed
at the University of Manitoba. Computer-Aided Personalized
System of Instruction (CAPSI) targets questions or problems
within small units of study material to initiate composed
rather than option-based responses. This system integrates
peer review with evaluation by instructor and teaching
assistants. Current research focuses on increasing thinking
levels by students in courses using CAPSI.
The Keller (1968) personalized system of instruction
(PSI) is a method of self-paced learning in which students
proceed through course material at their own pace by
writing unit assignments on study questions or problems
given to the students beforehand. Other students act
as reviewers or tutors by giving feedback on the unit
assignments. PSI is a mastery system since students
demonstrate mastery on a given unit before they can
proceed to the next unit. Research has shown that mastery
learning in general and the Keller system in particular
produce superior learning (Kulik, Kukik and Bangert-Drowns,
Bloom's (1956) taxonomy
in the cognitive domain is a system for categorizing
the thinking levels required by specific questions,
problems, or exercises. Bloom identified six major categories
of thinking: (1) knowledge, (2) comprehension, (3) application,
(4) analysis, (5) synthesis, and (6) evaluation. These
categories are roughly hierarchical. For example, to
be able to creatively put together several basic concepts
to create a new idea (level 5), one must have a good
understanding or comprehension (level 2) of those basic
concepts. Although Bloom’s taxonomy is not the
only possible way to classify thinking levels, it is
widely known and used in education, and therefore provides
a good starting point for teaching higher-order thinking
and studying its development. This paper describes a
method for teaching and studying the teaching and learning
process, called computer-aided personalized system of
instruction (CAPSI; Pear & Crone-Todd, 1999), that
combines Keller's PSI and Bloom's taxonomy. Combining
the Keller system with Bloom’s taxonomy presented
some problems that required a technological solution.
First, the Keller system requires a great deal of routine
administrative work to maintain. Second, adding the
thinking-level dimension increases the administrative
work required. By automating repetitive tasks, computer
technology increases the efficiency of the process.
Perhaps even more importantly, computer technology makes
it possible to study the process in a comprehensive
As originally developed by
Keller, PSI uses students in a more advanced course as reviewers
of assignments by students in less advanced courses. This
made sense administratively, because the more advanced course
provided a source of individuals who had presumably mastered
the material in the less advanced course. With computer
technology, however, a more advanced course is unnecessary.
Each student's position in the course is available instantaneously.
This enables the CAPSI program to use students in the same
course as peer reviewers. An added benefit of using computer
technology is that students do not have to be at one specific
location at one specific time. CAPSI-taught courses at the
University of Manitoba are conducted through the Internet.
An important feature of CAPSI is its quality control
potential. In courses at the University of Manitoba, the
program requires that a unit assignment be marked by the
instructor or teaching assistant or by two peer reviewers.
If two peer reviewers mark it, both must independently agree
that the assignment is a pass in order for the program to
record it as a pass. In addition, all assignments are automatically
recorded to disc for the instructor to sample and evaluate.
There is also a built-in appeal process for arguing the
validity of a given answer. The program is applicable
to any course topic and any set of questions or problems.
The instructor inputs questions or problems and certain
parameters, such as the number of units in the course, the
course credit for each unit assignment, the course credit
for peer reviewing, and whether there are to be examinations
or projects in the course and their respective course credits.
The program then automates all the administrative functions
of the course. Thus, the study material (e.g., text, videos,
lectures) along with the questions, exercises, or problems
selected or generated by the instructor form the basis or
core of the system. The type of learning that students can
acquire from the course will be highly dependent on this
core. If the instructor writes questions that require only
rote learning (level 1, or knowledge, in Bloom's taxonomy),
for example, students will be unlikely to advance above
the rote level. For this reason CAPSI is designed for constructed
or composed solutions or answers rather than option-based
(e.g., true-false, multiple choice) responses. However,
a method for ensuring that students would learn and interact
with the material at the highest possible level of thinking
was still needed. Hence, a modified form of Bloom's taxonomy
was integrated into the system. There were several
reasons for modifying the taxonomy. One is that there are
reliability problems with the taxonomy (e.g, Kotte &
Schuster, 1990). Another is the complexity of the taxonomy,
which makes it difficult to apply. Of course, one would
expect a classification of thinking levels to be complex.
However, it seemed better to simplify the taxonomy and make
it more reliable for the purpose of integrating it with
CAPSI. It is anticipated that refinement and elaboration
of this modified taxonomy will result from research on its
use within the CAPSI program.
as currently used with CAPSI is as follows:
Flowcharts were constructed
constructed that permitted the thinking levels of both questions
and answers to be assessed with good reliability (Crone-Todd,
Pear, & Read, 2000; Pear, Crone-Todd, Wirth, & Simister,
in press). This has set the stage for research on ways to
raise the level of thinking at which students respond to questions
in CAPSI-taught courses.
knowledge: the answer is word-for-word or closely
paraphrased from the study material.
the answer is in the students own words.
a concept is applied to a new problem or situation.
Examples would be illustrating a concept with a new
example (e.g., one not in the study material) and
applying an equation to a new problem.
breaking down a concept into its parts. This occurs
when, for example, one compares and contrasts two
or more concepts.
integrating two or more concepts to form something
new. An example would be combining several styles
of painting to produce a new style.
providing reasoned argument for or against a given
position. An example would be an argument considering
the pros and cons of cloning research from an ethical
perspective or from a scientific perspective.
The first foray into investigating
increasing thinking levels in student answers consisted
in providing students with the modified taxonomy, the thinking
level required by each question, and a system of bonus points
for each question answered above the level outlined (Crone-Todd,
2001). For example, if a question asked for an example of
a concept without specifying that the example had to be
original (i.e., not in the study material), this question
would be considered to be at level 2. Thus, if a student
gave an original example this would be answering at level
3, and therefore would be answering above the level of the
question. This procedure successfully increased the levels
at which students answered the questions. This shows that
students are able to increase their demonstrated thinking
levels. Using CAPSI as an instrument for probing
students’ thinking levels in a course, we are in a
position to study variables thought to be important in helping
students advance their thinking levels. For example, we
might use CAPSI to examine whether some study materials
and media are more effective at promoting higher-order thinking
than others are. Research issues that can be examine include:
Are textbooks that are written in a manner that initiates
thinking or leads the reader through the discovery process
more effective in facilitating higher-order thinking than
those that present a comprehensive coverage of factual material?
Are lectures or discussion groups, or some mixture of the
two, more effective at promoting higher-order thinking?
Are live presentations more effective than videos? Are face-to-face
discussions more effective than on-line discussions? These
are questions that need to be answered as we advance into
the technological age of education. Another important research
area concerns the questions, exercises, and problems in
a course. Research questions that might be studied here
area include: What is the most effective proportion of each
category of thinking level? For example, a large proportion
of evaluation questions (level 6) might be detrimental because,
given the hierarchical nature of the taxonomy, students
may not be adequately prepared to successfully address questions
at the highest level. What is the most effective way of
sequencing the question levels for a given unit in the study
guide? For example, would higher-level thinking be more
effectively promoted by having students answer all rote
questions (level 1) first, then all comprehension questions
(level 2) next, etc., or would interspersing the levels
be more effective? The information obtained by research
on these issues would likely be applicable to courses taught
with various other methods, not just those taught using
CAPSI. The social milieu in of a CAPSI-taught course also
provides a rich source of variables that may have an impact
on higher-order thinking. In that milieu are the students,
acting both as learners and as peer reviewers, and the instructor
and (if there is one) teaching assistant who oversee the
system and perform evaluative and feedback functions. Research
shows that, overall, students perform their peer-reviewing
duties effectively (Martin, Pear & Martin, in press
a) and that there is a large amount of compliance with feedback
that students as learners receive from other students as
peer reviewers, and from the instructor (Martin, Pear, &
Martin, in press b)). There is, however, considerable room
for improvement, and research is in progress on this. Analysis
of archived data shows that students in a CAPSI-taught course
receive much more substantive feedback on their work than
would be possible in a course taught by traditional methods.
This interactive nature of CAPSI fits a social constructivist
model of knowledge generation through interaction with others
(Pear & Crone-Todd, in press). Much of the knowledge
generation occurs on the part of the peer reviewers, who
find (often to their surprise) that reading other students
answers or solutions and commenting on them initiates their
own learning and higher-order thinking. Another important
area of study, therefore, is on the effects of the peer-review
component of CAPSI in the development of higher-order thinking.
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Paper to be presented at the 13th International
Conference on College Teaching and Learning. Jacksonville,
Florida. April 9-13, 2002.