Saade et al. (2012) describe critical thinking as the mental processes of discernment, analysis, and evaluation applied to information in order to achieve a logical final understanding and/or judgment. Describe your approach to breaking down information into component parts to better understand the characteristics of a statement, concept, or problem. How might outlining help to develop understanding? How do you know when to reach beyond previous experience and seek out other sources of information to enhance your understanding of the work in front of you?Please provide 150 word answer to the above with at least one reference in APA 6th edition format. I have also atatched the article in reference. Reference does not necessarily need to be from the article.Computers in Human Behavior xxx (2012) xxx–xxx
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Computers in Human Behavior
journal homepage:
Critical thinking in E-learning environments
Raafat George Saadé a,⇑, Danielle Morin a,1, Jennifer D.E. Thomas b,2
Concordia University, John Molson School of Business, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Pace University, Ivan Seidenberg School of CSIS, New York, NY, USA
a r t i c l e
i n f o
Article history:
Available online xxxx
Critical thinking
Information technology
a b s t r a c t
One of the primary aims of higher education in today’s information technology enabled classroom is to
make students more active in the learning process. The intended outcome of this increased IT-facilitated
student engagement is to foster important skills such as critical thinking used in both academia and
workplace environments. Critical thinking (CT) skills entails the ability(ies) of mental processes of discernment, analysis and evaluation to achieve a logical understanding. Critical thinking in the classroom as well
as in the workplace is a central theme; however, with the dramatic increase of IT usage the mechanisms by
which critical thinking is fostered and used has changed. This article presents the work and results of
critical thinking in a virtual learning environment. We therefore present a web-based course and we
assess in which parts of the course, and to what extent, critical thinking was perceived to occur. The course
contained two categories of learning modules namely resources and interactive components. Critical
thinking was measured subjectively using the ART scale. Results indicate the significance of ‘‘interactivity’’
in what students perceived to be critical-thinking-oriented versus online material as a resource. Results
and opportunities that virtual environments present to foster critical thinking are discussed.
Ó 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
One of the primary aims of higher education in today’s information technology (IT) enabled classroom, is to make students more
active in the learning process (Ibrahim & Samsa, 2009). The intended outcome of this increased IT-facilitated student engagement is to foster important skills such as critical thinking. Given
the importance of information technology for critical thinking in
learning, it is vital that we understand better the associated key
factors related to: background of students, beliefs, perceptions
and attitudes and associated antecedents, design related to IT in
learning environments, and IT-aligned pedagogical considerations.
In order to learn in the academic environment as well as to perform well later in the workplace, students need the skills to acquire
and absorb knowledge efficiently and effectively. The acquisition,
understanding, and use of knowledge require various learning
strategies, meta-cognitive skills and the desire to use them. When
it comes to scholastic and professional performance, critical thinking is a key skill that individuals need in order to succeed (Johnson
et al., 2010).
Critical thinking (CT) skills entails the ability(ies) of mental processes of discernment, analysis and evaluation (Ibrahim & Samsa,
2009) applied to information in order to achieve a logical final
⇑ Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 514 848 2424; fax: +1 514 848 2824.
E-mail address: (R.G. Saadé).
Tel.: +1 514 848 2424; fax: +1 514 848 2824.
Tel.: +1 212 346 1569; fax: +1 212 346 1863.
understanding and/or judgment. Critical thinking in the classroom
is a central theme in the education field; however, with the dramatic increase of IT usage for teaching and learning, the mechanisms by which critical thinking is fostered and used has
changed. The potential of IT to create and exploit learning opportunities is endless and we have barely scratched the surface. There
has been some studies reported on IT for learning and CT in higher
education (Akyüz & Samsa, 2009; Krumbacak, 2007; Yang, 2008)
but they are scarce. The body of knowledge is relatively small
and limited in context and most of CT type of studies is related
to elementary and high school education excluding the context
of IT usage and CT (Marin & Halpern, 2011).
Considering our information society today, critical thinking is
regarded as the most important skill in order to discern false,
incomplete, obsolete, etc. information. The internet has become
the open medium to hold all types of information. While our
understanding of critical thinking has improved significantly in
the last two decades, a range of views about its complex structure
and many areas of uncertainty and disagreements still remain.
Yang (2008) provides a good perspective on those issues between
cognitive scientists, educational researchers and philosophers.
This article entails two important concepts: Web-based learning; and Critical thinking. We therefore present herein a webbased course on the fundamentals of Information Technology at
a university in Montreal, Canada, and we assess in which parts of
the course, and to what extent, critical thinking was perceived to
occur. The course contained two categories of learning modules
namely resources and interactive components. There were five
0747-5632/$ – see front matter Ó 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Please cite this article in press as: Saadé, R. G., et al. Critical thinking in E-learning environments. Computers in Human Behavior (2012),
R.G. Saadé et al. / Computers in Human Behavior xxx (2012) xxx–xxx
different activities and four resources. Critical thinking was measured subjectively using the ART scale (Thomas, 2001). The study
aimed at answering the following questions: (1) Do students
understand the definition of critical thinking? (2) What is the effect
of the learning modules on critical thinking? and (3) What is the
relative contribution of the various learning modules on critical
thinking skills requirements?
Considering the scarce body of research work on CT in virtual
learning environments, this study provides two significant contributions: (1) At a macro level, obtain some understanding on CT
in the online learning context (higher education), and (2) At a micro level, identify the kinds of resources and activities that fosters/
require CT skills. With this knowledge, practitioners (teachers and
online courses designers) can design and implement better online
(web-based) courses by integrating learning tools to foster the
development of CT skills.
This article starts by defining critical thinking (Section 2), and
then goes on to link critical thinking and virtual learning environments (Section 3). In Section 4, the methodology of this research
study is described by elaborating on the study context (describing
the online course as well), followed by an explanation on how CT
was measured and then providing a map on our analysis of results
strategy. In Section 5, we present and discuss the results. We
finally conclude with recommendations to researchers and
2. Critical thinking
According to the Foundation of Critical thinking: ‘‘Critical
thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or
problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his or
her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent
in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them.’’
Every day each one of us makes decisions, generates thoughts,
draws conclusions and evaluates opinions. In general, people tend
to perceive what they want to see, and disregard all facts and evidence which doesn’t associate with their way of perceiving things.
A skilled critical thinker is the one who can acknowledge the difference between logical reasoning and personal opinion. Critical
thinking is an important factor of our life and thinking critically
is considered a hard object to achieve. We all agree that CT is affected by our point of view and how we see things around us.
For example, it’s very likely that the point of view and judgment
about the same issue would be different between two people.
The main goal of using CT in evaluating thoughts and ideas is neither to ignore one’s personal life experiences nor to let him/her
take the outcome as he/she sees without considering other aspects
of the environment; on the contrary, the purpose is to generate a
balanced action, that merges facts and the skills gained through
various experiences, towards continual improvement (Akyüz &
Samsa, 2009; Ayad, 2010). Critical thinking is a type of a cognitive
ability that has a special importance in decision making and judgment processes (Chartrand, Ishikawa, & Flander, 2009).
Critical thinking stems from the ability of higher-order-thinking
(HOT), which has been linked to deep learning. Deep learning can be
defined as ‘‘the intention to extract meaning which produces active
learning processes that involve relating ideas and looking for patterns and principles on the one hand (a holist strategy – Pask,
1976; Pask, 1988), and using evidence and examining the logic of
the argument on the other (serialist).’’ The approach also involves
monitoring the development of one’s own understanding (Entwistle,
McCune, & Walker, 2000)’’. (Entwistle, 2000, p. 2). This definition,
along with those advocated by Chickering and Gamson (1987), Dangel and Wang (2008), Bloom and Krathwohl (1956), and Anderson,
Krathwohl, & Bloom, 2001, led to the definition adopted in other
research which considered higher-order thinking skills such as:
critical thinking, problem-solving, research, and creative idea
generation, and team-building skills (communication skills, work
coordination, and team cooperation – (Thomas, 2001)). These are
the skills that students are expected to acquire through their
university residency, and ultimately to take with them into their
careers. Noll and Wilkins (2002) identified these skills as extremely
pertinent for the information systems (IS) professional.
There are several definitions of critical thinking (and instruments for its measurement), and there seems to be some common
grounds around the ideas of analysis, evaluation, inference, and
interpretation of CT. Follman, Lavely, and Berger (1997) provides
a comprehensive list and associated discussion. The General Education Critical Thinking Rubric used by faculty to assess students’
critical thinking at Northeastern Illinois University, NEIU, 2006,
includes: identifying and explaining issues, distinguishing types of
claims, recognizing stakeholders and contests, considering methodology, framing personal responses and acknowledging other perspectives, reconstructing arguments, interpreting content, evaluating
assumptions, evaluating evidence and, evaluating inferences.
The Center for Critical Thinking, 2004, (Mandernach, 2006) defines, ‘‘Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplines process of
actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/ or evaluating information gathered from, or generated
by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.’’
A lot of research into critical thinking has focused on the development of instruments to ‘‘objectively’’ measure this skill based on
these differences in understanding of what the term means. Research on the impact of course material and technologies, for the
development of CT, is still plagued by the lack of consensus. This
is due to the fact that there are a number of definitions, and instruments stated in various levels of complexities. In fact, most of these
instruments are too complex and time-consuming to complete,
whether onsite or online, thereby introducing a number of uncertainties and noise to the data captured.
In our study presented in this article, we define critical thinking
with simpler constructs as follows: ‘‘critical thinking is the process
of analysis, evaluation, inference, and interpretation of resources
and activities (gathered via online experiences with course material).’’ Students were asked to identify the extent to which they felt
various activities, resources and technologies (Thomas, 2001),
were perceived to support their acquisition of these skills so defined, in an entirely virtual, online course.
3. Critical thinking and virtual learning environments
The aim of all instruction is to lead the learner to take on their
own responsibility for learning, by acquiring the tools and skills for
doing so. The advent of technology has permitted this learning to
take place virtually, that is, outside the traditional brick-and-mortar hallowed halls of learning, in an electronic, distant environment. This distance and electronic format poses challenges
particularly in those aspects of learning that require more higher-level learning (Saadé & Bahli, 2005; Saadé & Galloway, 2005).
While computers are known to facilitate lower levels of learning,
such as rote memorization of facts, measurable through electronically administered and graded multiple-choice questions, yes/no,
and true/false answers, the imparting and measurement of higher-level cognitive skills is more vexing. These require more openended delivery and answers, and may be more problematic in an
entirely online environment, notwithstanding the advances in
technologies such as wikis, blogs, and discussion boards (MacKnight, 2000; Mandernach, 2006; Saadé, 2007, 2010; Saadé &
Please cite this article in press as: Saadé, R. G., et al. Critical thinking in E-learning environments. Computers in Human Behavior (2012),
R.G. Saadé et al. / Computers in Human Behavior xxx (2012) xxx–xxx
Huang, 2009). As with the integration of all technology, merit is
based more on the instructional design of the course than on the
technology employed in, and of, itself.
It goes without saying that critical thinking is an important skill
to foster in students engaged in the learning process, for both their
professional and personal prosperity (Noll & Wilkins, 2002). An
examination of the virtual learning environment literature does
not however indicate consensus on how to foster this skill, nor
with what modes of deliver, nor how demographics may mediate
the outcomes. It is acknowledged that in the online environment,
the challenge is even greater than in the traditional setting. Constraints on the development of critical thinking in virtual environments seems more daunting than in the traditional classroom
setting, due to the lack in the body of knowledge regarding the
integration of creative instructional strategies, such as constructivist learning philosophies, active learning, team-based learning, and
discussion using digital media. MacKnight (2000) expressed an
important pitfall in that ‘‘we fall prey to modern communication
media, which present a world where the prepackaging of intellectual positions and views is so ingenious that thinking seems
unnecessary.’’ On the other hand, some researchers suggest online
can actually help by giving students opportunities for mastery
learning, removal of time-constraints for learning, self-paced
learning, anonymous online discussion, etc. (Benson & Samarawickrema, 2009; Saadé & Kira, 2009; Saadé & Otrakji, 2007).
Burgess (2009), found that integrating WebCT improved reading engagement and critical thinking skills and, Thomas and Morin
(2010) found that critical thinking was supported by online case
study instruction. A significant relationship between GPA’s and
students’ perceived improvement in higher-order cognitive skills
(HOCS) whereby, students with low GPA’s report a lower level of
HOCS than students with high GPA’s, which diminishes as GPA increases. This is similar to what Thomas (2001) refers to as HOTS –
higher-order thinking skills.
4. Methodology
This complex context (critical thinking in virtual environments)
sets the backdrop for the study presented herein which surveys
students’ perceptions of the critical thinking skills they may have
acquired and/or used via an online course resources and activities.
Table 1 below shows the activities, and resources used within the
ART framework employed in the course.
Davis (1989) has shown that system use is tied to user’s perceptions, while Keengwe (2007) and Koohang and Durante (2003)
found that a relationship exists between students’ personal computer proficiency and students’ perceptions of the effect of computer technology to improve their learning. Song, Singleton, Hill,
and Koh (2004) focused on students’ perceptions as a way to improve online or distance learning. Perceptions are, therefore,
important considerations when integrating technology into learning, especially virtual learning. Consequently, the survey used
measures the subjective evaluation of the students’ use and/or
development of critical thinking while interacting with the course
resources, activities and technologies. In the following sections we
discuss the case study used to implement the critical thinking
study, followed by a description on how it was measured.
4.1. Case study context
The purpose of this research was to investigate what observations could be made about students’ acquisition of one aspect of
higher-order learning, namely critical thinking, from the perspective of students’ perceptions and performance in an undergraduate
online introductory computer literacy course. In such a course, stu-
Table 1
ART in a virtual learning introductory computing course.
Course readings – text, book author’s PowerPoint slides
Case analyses
Presentations – written
Discussions – online
Discussions – offline
Feedback – students and instructor
Discussion board, email
File exchange, course notes and project repositories
Software – Visio, Word, PowerPoint
Home/work computer access
dents are required to demonstrate acquisition of lower level skills,
such as remembering concepts as well as keystrokes in software,
and additionally, how to think critically about the problems which
the software is being used to solve. These skills are important for
the careers for which they are being prepared, in an area in which
obsolescence is an ongoing threat in the digital world, given the
speed at which technology changes. Without these skills and the
ability to adapt to new innovations in technology, the student will
be severely disadvantaged.
Students from the John Molson School of Business, Concordia
University, enrolled in an introductory undergraduate course ‘‘Fundamentals of Information Technology and Business Productivity’’
were asked to complete the survey. Out of 958 students enrolled,
four hundred and ninety (490) students completed the survey. Most
students are asked to take this course as part of their Bachelors degree and during their first or second semester of their program. At
the end of the semester students were given a link to the survey
(which was to be completed online) and were told that their participation was on a voluntary basis. They were assured that: the information they provide will be strictly confidential and used only for
statistical purposes; only the results of the statistical analysis will
be used for academic and research purposes and that the purpose
of the survey is to help the designer of the course to understand
the role of critical thinking in the online course and to ameliorate
the course by integrating appropriate tools for critical thinking.
The online course uses a web-based learning management system (LMS) designed with three subsystems: Resource subsystem;
Human subsystem; and Implementation subsystem (see Fig. 1 –
details are found in Saadé, Nebebe, & Mak, 2011). These three subsystems comprise the totality of learning elements and learning
The LMS includes tools that fall under three categories: (1)
learning tools (resource, implementation or both subsystems), (2)
assessment tools (resource, assessment, human or any combination) and (3) support tools (human subsystem).
Due to limitation of space, we will present only some of the features and selected components of the LMS. In line with the architecture shown in Fig. 1, the design of the LMS is based on
defined instructional, administrative and management activities.
We briefly present some of those features as follows:
Generating a course by administrator, and assigning it to an
Instructor managing different roles: Different users such as
teaching assistants and content managers have different roles
and different permissions to different components of the LMS.
Please cite this article in press as: Saadé, R. G., et al. Critical thinking in E-learning environments. Computers in Human Behavior (2012),
R.G. Saadé et al. / Computers in Human Behavior xxx (2012) xxx–xxx
Fig. 1. Knowledge architecture of the LMS.
For example, at the beginning of a semester, an administrator
gives authorizations for a professor to access a course. Professor
then can manage content related to that course, such as define a
TA for the course.
Delivering content via various modes of communications: Publishing content via announcements, lectures, and providing
other relevant instructions. Students will be automatically
reminded when learning content is published.
Interactive learning modules/tools: Interactive tools are the
most important components for students’ learning. These
interactive tools can be standalones or connected to other
components. The LMS provides many learning tools, such
as EISEL, for students to understand course related
Structured and unstructured discourse: The LMS may provide a
forum-based environment for students, TAs and instructors to
communicate and discuss relevant subject matter and cases
with each other. Participation is monitored by the LMS.
Reporting: In the LMS, academic report services help instructors
to create a feedback mechanism for students and allows students to check their activities compared to the average of the
Support tools: Synchronous as well as asynchronous environments are created through the use of support tools to foster
questions and answers. This is an integral part of the learning
activity. For example, a question center provides an environment for students/TAs/professor(s) to collaboratively generate,
answer and evaluate question-answer sets.
Please cite this article in press as: Saadé, R. G., et al. Critical thinking in E-learning environments. Computers in Human Behavior (2012),
R.G. Saadé et al. / Computers in Human Behavior xxx (2012) xxx–xxx
Based on the pedagogical design, the LMS can include any number of available learning, assessment and support tools. The following is a description of the type of tools used in the course used for
this study:
(1) Learning tools include a set of learning objects (with measurable learning outcomes), such as the educational information system for enhanced learning (EISEL). EISEL is the
most mature and used tool in the LMS. Learning with EISEL,
students go through the three system-guided following
steps (repeated for many teacher defined subject matter):
Pre-Test, Review resources, Practice related content, and
Post-Test. Students first are evaluated on how much they
know in a specific topic via the pre-test. They are then
allowed to review and study the material related to the
topic. When they are ready, students are allowed to practice
the content using an interactive random generator multiplechoice and true-or-false engine. When students feel that
they achieved the learning goals of the specific topic, they
then complete a post-test to evaluate how much they have
learned in this process. The system then opens access to
the next topic or subject matter.
(2) Assessment in the LMS includes tools for formative assessment, summative assessment, and self-assessment. These
three types of assessments are used as quizzes (throughout
the semester with the goal to ensure that students actually
read the course content as per the suggested schedule), as
practice (such as in EISEL and pre-practice exam), and as
summative with the goal to test knowledge gained.
(3) Support to students is done through an innovative centralized question center with private and public zones that
may also be conFigured to operate in synchronous and asynchronous modes. The dynamic question center is an asynchronous environment where students ask questions that
they have to categorize. Based on the category of question,
different teaching assistants (content, technical, professor,
etc. . .) are assigned to the categories to answer. The questions
can be labeled private (only student and professor sees) or
public (everybody sees the question and answer). Question–answer sets can also be rated for importance which controls the first page content view. Filters are easily available on
the first page. Vtutor is the synchronous part of the support
tools. Using VTutor office hours, unstructured tutorials and
structured sessions can be held and even recorded. The
Course Reporting Tool is a knowledge-base connected to an
email server which sends messages and reports based on
rules. The CRT runs in real-time throughout the semester.
Measuring critical thinking levels would benefit both the
instructors and students. The educational system as a whole
should focus on developing critical thinking applications. Although
the CCTST is a very good tool, we decided not to use it because it is
rather lengthy and students already have many activities to perform in the course.
4.3. Survey
A survey methodology was used for data collection. The course
was offered completely online without any face-to-face interaction
with the professor or the teaching assistant. At the end of the
semester, students were asked to respond to the survey as candidly
as possible. The survey used in this study is based on an instrument
developed by the third author. Students were instructed that there
were no right or wrong answers and that we were interested primarily in their beliefs and perceptions about the course components and their experiences with the different tools for
learning. A portion of the survey used in this study is presented
in Table 2 below.
5. Discussion and analysis of results
In order to meet the purpose of this study and to respond the
research questions posed earlier, a four-step analytical strategy
was devised as followed:

Understanding the definition of critical thinking skills
Students ‘Perceived contribution of activities and resources
Correlation analysis
5.1. Demographics
There was a total of 985 students enrolled in the course and 490
of them completed the survey online for a response rate of 51.2%.
Of those who completed the survey, 44% were female students.
Most respondents (73.3%) were in the 20–23 age group, 17.4% in
the 24–30 age group and 4% and 5.3% were in the below 20 and
above 30 categories respectively. The average age is 22.7 years,
while the median is 22. Also, 53.3% declared English as one of their
first languages. This question was asked because the research took
place in Montreal, Canada which is located in a French province in
a bilingual country. We discovered that the first language did not
have a significant impact on the understanding of the definition
of critical thinking.
4.2. Measuring critical thinking
5.2. Understanding the definition
There are a number of ways to measure critical thinking. In a
typical face-to-face classroom, one way is to use the course evaluation survey for quantitative types of responses. Another way can
be by asking students about their involvement in discussions
through qualitative pen-and-paper feedback (Noruzi, Hernández,
& Rahimi, 2010). However, in online courses, measuring critical
thinking can be done through online surveys or for qualitative
feedback via discussion forums. Another way to measure the CT
is through international critical thinking tests, which provides evidence of whether and to what extend people, are able to analyze,
evaluate and judge information from different source of information. For example, the California critical thinking skills test (CCTST)
is a test to measure performance and general intellectual ability.
The CCTST determines results after assessing different factors with
repeating the test and eliminating the non-relevant factors.
Fig. 2 below shows the distribution of the scores representing
students’ understanding of the critical thinking definition used in
the survey. We note that one-third of the students consider that
they have a perfect understanding of the definition.
The above frequency distribution of the scores can be split into
three categories: ‘perfect understanding’ (score = 10), ‘average
understanding’ (scores from 6 to 9) and ‘limited understanding’
of the definition (scores below 5). Considering a cut-off limit of 6
(score of understanding definition), then we observed that approximately 86% of students claimed to have at least adequately understood the definition. What remains is less than 14% of students
who represent the group with limited understanding of the definition (see Table 3).
The mean score for ‘‘understanding of the critical thinking’’ definition is calculated at 7.84 and which represents a good level. On
Please cite this article in press as: Saadé, R. G., et al. Critical thinking in E-learning environments. Computers in Human Behavior (2012),
R.G. Saadé et al. / Computers in Human Behavior xxx (2012) xxx–xxx
Table 2
Partial survey instrument.
Please take a few moments to answer some questions regarding the areas of learning which you felt were supported by various technologies used in the course, as well
as some demographic information.
Gender: s Male s Female.
Age: s
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