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Using CMC tools without connections to theory and instructional design has resulted in difficulty in achieving higher levels of critical thinking. This study assessed the extent to which the instructional design of a web-enhanced educational learning environment using the specific CMC discussion board tool facilitated higher-order thinking processes. The study was carried out in a secondary Physics I online module with 38 honors and college preparation male and female high school students. Group discussion posts and final analyses data was coded and analyzed using the Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2001) Community of Inquiry (CoI) model. Two raters coded over 311 discussion messages using the 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 , and 4=resolution , plus an additional category of 5=social to determine the level of social presence. The results of the study found that 8% of participant groups' postings were able to move to higher-levels of thinking processes through the use of authentic learning activities, CMC discussion board tool, and teacher presence, however 32% could not make it past exploration. An even higher percentage of 43% of student postings scored in the social category, which is much higher than previous studies in higher education. Data results also indicated that 19 out of 38 that is 50% of the participants were able to score in the higher-order thinking levels on their final analyses rather then in the discussion thread. A well-designed online learning module offering learners authentic learning activities, CMC tools to collaborate, prompting questions, and teacher presence must be accompanied with precise structured directives for secondary learners to achieve higher levels of critical thinking within collaborative discussion groups.



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