Chapter Six Reading

Since I’ve fallen so far behind in my blog posts about Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology by Michelle D. Miller, I decided to go back through my notes and catch up.  Here’s my take on Chapter Six–which I think dethroned chapter five as the most dense chapter in the book so far.  Chapter six is about thinking.

Miller starts out by defining the higher-order thought processes: formal reasoning, decision making, and problem solving.  And the takeaway for me from this chapter was her statement about how we all have a deep-seated predisposition to avoid quantitative reasoning in favor of almost any other method.  And here I thought I was a pillar of logic and reason…  To illustrate this, she cites a scenario of meeting a person in an airport who is dressed in a cowboy hat and boots and who claims to enjoy country music.  Would we assume that this person is more likely on his way home to Los Angeles or Texas?  Statistically, it’s more likely he’s headed to LA, since its greater population increases those odds.  But his attire and his manner–and our related assumptions–might lead us to assume he’s from Texas.

Miller goes on to dissect the idea of problem-solving–citing the travel metaphor of progressing from an initial state to a goal state–and how a well-defined problem varies from an ill-defined problem, and how insight affects problem solving and creativity (which could be a chapter in and of itself, in my opinion).

Miller then goes on to break down analogical reasoning (solving a new problem based on an already-solved problem) into its discrete cognitive processes: completing an access stage, mapping, then inference, and lastly, learning (gaining a deeper understanding of the principles that tie together both problems). Miller advises that instructors actively engaging students in the source problem promotes better mapping and helps prevent the backfire of inappropriate mapping and the resulting misconceptions.  She also suggests that prompting students to devise their own analogies can be effective–with adequate instructor engagement.  Miller adds that emphasizing organization and classification of knowledge and the conceptual interrelationships may accelerate development of expert-like knowledge structures in students.  This idea relates back to an example in an earlier chapter about a basketball expert–who is more efficient at incorporating new knowledge into an existing framework because he or she has a strong understanding of how all the information interrelates.  Experts better understand these knowledge matrices because they can better “see” how everything relates.  Novices have more trouble discerning between important vs. relatively unimportant.

Next, Miller writes about the holy grail of learning: Transfer; and how metacognition promotes transfer.  She notes that self-reflection, emphasizing process over product, depth over breadth, and focus on underlying principles and conceptual structures all help promote transfer.

Critical thinking comes next.  And Miller suggests that critical thinking is similar to transfer and analogy in that it involves applying previously learned strategies to a new problem. She also suggests that students may not necessarily be bad critical thinkers–they just may not know when to apply those skills.  And she adds that the online environment typically promotes more deliberate student reflection over face-to-face instruction, since students have the luxury of being able to think more about their written responses vs. a live verbal discussion.

Miller closes out the chapter with more advice and best practices for tailoring an online course to cater to how students think.  And, like chapter five, this section also read like a recipe–which merits further review later.  She outlines four strategies that incorporate problem-based learning (PBL), using analogies the right way (an important distinction), specifically targeting the thinking skills desired in the students, and using discussion to build higher-thinking.  She also offers some specific advice against potential pitfalls–including instructor modeling of discussions to keep them from meandering into idle chit-chat, making analogy mappings as obvious as possible, and incorporating a strong narrative component in PBL.

The next chapter is about multimedia–which I am looking forward to, since that is my self-proclaimed area of expertise.  I expect to discover that I may not be as much of an expert in that area as I think I am.  🙂


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