DEVELOPING CRITICAL READING, THINKING AND DISCUSSION SKILLS AMONG STUDENTS AT A MASTERS LEVEL USING VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
Students entering higher education at Masters level often struggle to develop skills of critical reading, discussion and analysis. That lack of skills often affects the quality of students’ written coursework, even if such work shows an extensive knowledge and understanding of the topic. Academic literature suggests that skills, including cognitive ones, are best developed by repetition. However, even though graduate programs usually offer students lectures and tutorials on critical thinking and analysis, they often lack teaching capacity to repeat those activities until a desired level of students’ skills is achieved.
This paper aims to introduce a teaching activity that would allow a repetition essential for developing the desired skills, which would at the same time require minimum teaching resources to support the activity.
The proposed skill repetition activity took a form of generic Quizzes with automotive feedback embedded in Virtual Learning Environment. The students were asked to evaluate several academic articles by answering generic Quiz questions on the following 6 themes: purpose, literature review, objectives, research methods, findings and conclusions of an article. The students received an instantaneous feedback after submitting their answers by being able to see the answers given by their tutors on the same paper. The results were later discussed in class.
The effectiveness of the developed on-line Quizzes were tested at two modules: one core and one elective, which have the same assessment type; summative assignment consisting of 2500 words report. The MSc course in question is delivered by face-to-face teaching at two locations: at one location it is delivered via traditional classroom based teaching, on other — via blended learning. Both cohorts were included.
The success of the proposed approach was judged based on the following criteria:
- students’ performance in their first written submission at the end of the semester compared with performance on the same submission showed in the previous year;
- improvement of individual students’ skills, based on the improvement of their answers in each successive quiz as compared to tutors’ answers;
- a feedback about those quizzes received from the students;
- amount of teaching resources required to support the quizzes.
So far we have only marks for student’s submission for one module, however, the paper will report findings for both modules. The findings revealed that:
- in comparison to the previous year, students’ average mark in their first written submission has increased from ‘good’ to ‘very good’; the spread of marks within the cohort was narrower; the spread of marks between a first and a second supervisor was substantially reduced.
- the results from successive quizzes showed a gradual improvement in individual student’s critical thinking and analysis skills.
- feedback from the students revealed that they found the quizzes activities helpful in developing their skills of critical reading of published literature.
- the amount of teaching resources needed for a continuous support of the quizzes was reduced to a minimum.
The study revealed a value of a proposed activity in developing students’ skills of critical reading, discussion and analysis. Some limitations were also revealed, such as a need for substantial initial teaching resources. It would also be beneficial to replicate a study on a bigger cohort.