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The influence of prior knowledge, peer review, age, and gender in online philosophy discussions


Using a primarily experimental design, this study investigated whether discussion boards in online community college philosophy classes can be designed in the Blackboard course management system to lead to higher order thinking. Discussions were designed using one of two teaching techniques: the activation of prior knowledge or the use of peer review. While these techniques are often identified as components of constructivist pedagogy, the study is grounded theoretically in epistemological holism. The literature calls for deeper research on prior knowledge/peer review and higher order thinking, and the relationship between them. Four eight week classes were studied, using two specific discussions from each class (one on Rene Descartes’ certainty, and the other on Aristotle’s eudemonia), the experimental and control groups switching from one discussion to the next. In the experimental groups, the prior knowledge technique was implemented before the discussions in the form of multiple choice questions and open ended questions; peer review was implemented via the Blackboard peer review interface, drawing from category coding from the literature. Control groups were given standard discussion prompts. Higher order thinking was assessed from multiple choice quiz question responses as well as instructor scoring (found to be reliable) of student discussion board prompts. All quantitative data was analyzed using quantitative analysis software. My primary hypothesis, that there would be more evidence of higher order thinking in experimental groups, was not substantiated by the data. However, considering that the overall level of higher order thinking of students in the study was high, this lack of substantiation may have something to do with the ceiling effect. Also, there were statistically significant correlations between demographic variables (specifically gender and age) and higher order thinking. These correlations in some cases are supported by existing literature.

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