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This paper discusses a small-scale study assessing the extent to which the instructional design of a web-enhanced educational learning environment using a discussion board as a Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) tool facilitated higher-order thinking processes. The study was carried out in an online Physics I module with 38 male and female high school students. Group discussion posts and students’ final analyses were coded and analyzed using the Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2001) Community of Inquiry (CoI) model. Two raters coded more than 300 discussion messages using cognitive presence categories and indicators to determine the level of higher-order thinking processes. Each message was given a number relating to the model’s categories: 1=triggering, 2=exploration, 3=integration, 4=resolution, and 5=social. Each category helped determine the level of social presence. Results suggested that 8% of participant groups’ postings moved to higher levels of thinking processes using authentic learning activities, a CMC discussion board tool, and guidance from a teacher. However, 32% could not move beyond exploration. Over 43% of student postings were categorized as social, an increase over previous studies in higher education. Data also indicated that 50% of all participants scored in the higher-order thinking levels on their final analyses rather than in the discussion thread. Based on these results, this paper concludes that well-designed online learning modules—offering learners authentic learning activities, CMC collaborative tools, prompting questions, and teacher presence—must be accompanied by precise, structured directives for secondary learners to achieve higher levels of critical thinking within collaborative discussion groups.



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