The evolution of critical thinking and use of scaffolding in a technology-mediated learning environment
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Recently, much attention has been focused on identifying and developing methods for supporting and facilitating critical thinking in students. Scaffolding is one method that has been used in a variety of settings, ranging from one-on-one tutoring to traditional classrooms for supporting very different learning goals. The effectiveness of scaffolding has led to increasing interest in developing and implementing technologymediated scaffolding for a variety of competencies, including scientific thinking and higher order thinking skills. This study focused on the influence of scaffolding on the evolution of critical thinking skills in a technology-mediated environment. The three main research questions addressed by the study sought to explore: changes in participant perceptions and use of scaffolding, the evolution of critical thinking in each participant over the course of a semester, and influences on the evolution of each participant's critical thinking.|A qualitative design guided data collection and analysis. The study was conducted in the context of an online class on Instructional Design. All students in the class were provided with scaffolding for certain class tasks, and the scaffolding was gradually faded over the semester. Five graduate participants were purposefully selected from the class and interviewed repeatedly over the course of the semester. Data analysis occurred through constant comparison. Major findings indicated that participant use of scaffolding moved from externally directed to internally relevant assimilation, and the change in use resulted from an acknowledgement of individual needs and context. The evolution of critical thinking proceeded through three stages identified as mirroring, distortion, and reconstruction. Each stage was characterized by typical approaches to assimilation of knowledge on instructional design; each stage was also marked by a display of certain prototypical critical thinking skills by participants. Influences on the evolution of critical thinking included prior knowledge, reflection, feedback, project context, and perception of self as learner. Based on the study data and related research and theory, a framework is proposed for describing the coactive evolution of critical thinking and assimilation of scaffolding. Implications for research and practice are outlined.