Abstract: In learning contexts at tertiary level HOTS (higher order thinking skills) are the defining feature of independent self-regulated learners. The thinking skills students bring with them will determine how they manage their learning and how they will perceive the learning experience. Tertiary educators need to be aware of the boundaries of their students' perceptions about learning and the level of students thinking about the processes of learning. This research was concerned with identifying:
An essential stage in the research was the development of the writer's understanding of higher order thinking skills and the evolution of an operational definition of HOTS which would inform teaching practice.
It is argued here that the cultivation of critical thinking and higher order thinking skills (HOTS) is crucial to the realisation of educational goals and success at university. It is therefore important that such goals are clearly articulated and stated as outcomes in undergraduate courses.
Whatever their differences, most theorists take critical thinking to have two components - first, that of cognitive skills and abilities, the 'reasons assessment component', and second, that of attitude, the 'spirit component'.'Reasons assessment' refers to the ability to demonstrate accountability, to reason, judge and generalise. The 'spirit component' is the process of questioning how we think, a disposition which manifests itself in questioning the content and practices of a discipline, and of having the disposition to approach tasks with a critical and enquiring mind.
The equation of higher order thinking skills with reflection is mistaken, as much reflection may in fact be idle daydreaming or mere speculation (Slade, 1995).
Resnick (1987) states that while it is difficult to provide as exact definition, most teachers know what HOTS is when they encounter it. In discussing higher order learning, various theorists have sought to establish criteria to help identify instances of critical thinking (Resnick, 1878; Lipman, 1991). This would appear to one aspect in the provision of a functional definition of critical thinking: if behaviours are to be categorised as critical thinking, there should be criteria established against which such behaviours can be judged. What are the criteria for higher order learning?
Resnick claims that higher order learning is non-algorithmic. There is no one pattern or procedure that must be followed, and no specific heuristic or algorithm can be applied to all situations. Lipman (1991) supports this definition, but adds that higher order learning may utilise heuristics but is not bound by such procedures. Others agree that higher order learning is complex and multi-faceted and that there is no fixed sequence of steps to be followed (French and Fodor, 1992). A further dimension of higher order thinking is that it produces multiple solutions, rather than one fixed answer. Problems may require different definitions, procedures and perspectives. In trying to arrive at a judgement, the learners will have to search for and consider alternatives. There may be many such alternatives to be considered and evaluated. This is supported by Tishman et al. (1993) who state that the quality of open mindedness, the ability to explore alternative solutions is essential to thinking effectively.
In higher order learning, there is substantial agreement that judgement and interpretation are brought to bear on the question. While Lipman (1991) and Resnick (1987) are in accord on his aspect, neither provides exact details of this aspect. Judgement, according to Lipman rests on sound understanding, and can be arrived at by systematic inquiry and deliberation.
For the present study, without entering then polemics of the debate on higher order thinking (Weinstein, 1993), I will adopt the view that higher order thinking skills are meta-level skills. In other words those which involve reflection upon skills of a lower order. This implies that they are not merely thinking skills, but thinking about the thinking process itself, including questioning the procedures and justifying approaches to problem solving. Such a definition is quite different from Sternberg's (1985) view that higher level thinking comprises the mental processes, strategies and representations that people use to solve problems, make decisions and learn new concepts. The researcher's view of higher order thinking skills is similar to that of Paul (1994) who regarded the ability to apply reasoning skills and judgement in areas where there might be a tendency towards egocentric or sociocentric bias as a strong form of critical thinking.
A final point here is that higher order thinking skills are regarded as skills, in the sense that they are teachable and learnable abilities. In addition, higher order thinking skills both the ability to think well and to recognise and evaluate good thinking in oneself and in others.
Examinations test the products, but not the processes of learning, and thinking skills tend to be regarded as secondary to assessments on which grades are valued. Moreover, teachers and students tend to value those skills which are assessed.
It is obvious therefore that students will have a narrow and limited view of the validity of thinking skills and will tend to regard them as subsidiary to written tasks or assignments which are graded.
The course taken by these students was an introduction to educational technology and its application in teaching. The stated aim of the course was as follows:
Identify and make use of design considerations in making decisions about the selection, use and design of educational media. Understand and describe the characteristics of instructional media.As these objectives do not mention any aspect of thinking skills or higher level reflective skills, the first discussion with students revolved around an analysis of the course outcomes and the kinds of approaches and thinking that would be required. Students were able to distinguish clearly these meta level questions from those of course content and assessment. They responded with range of ideas on the sorts of thinking skills they would need to be demonstrate during the course. These were:
Candy, P., Crebert, G., & O'Leary, J. (1994). Developing lifelong learners through undergraduate education. Commissioned Report No. 28. NBEET. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.
French, J. N., & Foder, C. (1992). Teaching Thinking Skills. New York: Garland Publishing.
Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Laurillard, D. (1993). Rethinking University Teaching. London: Routledge.
Lipman, M. (1991). Thinking In Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McCarthy, C. L. (1996). What is "critical thinking"? is it generalisable? Educational Theory, 46(2), 217-239.
National Board of Employment, Education and.Training. (1996). Education and Technology Convergence. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.
Nunn, J; Else, D., Pitt, J. (1995). Computing, communicating and contracting: A first year experience in lifelong learning. In J. M. Pearce and A. Ellis (Eds), Learning With Technology. University of Melbourne, pp. 432-440.
Paul, R. (1993). Critical Thinking. Melbourne: Hawker Brownlow.
Resnick, L. B. (1987). Education and Learning to Think. Washington DC: National Academy Press.
Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of human intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Slade, C. (1995) Higher order thinking in institutions of higher learning. Unicorn, 21(1), 37-47.
Tishman, S., Jay, E., & Perkins, D. N. (1993). Teaching thinking dispositions: from transmission to enculturation. Theory into Practice, 32(3), 147-153.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
Weinstein, M. (1993). Critical thinking: the great debate. Educational Theory, 43(1), 99-117.
|Please cite as: McLoughlin, C. (1997). Thinking about thinking: Giving students the HOTS for learning. In Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Learning Through Teaching, p217-221. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1997. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1997/mcloughlin.html|