How can reasoning skills be improved? An experimental study of the effects of reasoning skills curriculum on reasoning skills development for students in postsecondary technical education programs

personal development


How can reasoning skills be improved? -An experimental study of the effects of
reasoning skills curriculum on reasoning skills development for students in postsecondary
technical education programs

Mingchang Wu


Department of vocational and technical education, National Yunlin University of
Science and Technology, Taiwan. E-mail:

wumc@pine.yuntech.edu.tw

Kuo-hung Tseng


Meiho Institute of Technology, Taiwan. E-Mail:

:ken@email.meiho.edu.tw


James P. Greenan

Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Purdue University, West Lafayette, USA


Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, University of
Hamburg, 17-20 September 2003

Abstract

The improvement of reasoning skills has been highly valued as a major
educational goal. These skills are also increasingly needed in this society filled with
information resources and multifarious senses of value. However, reasoning education
seems not to succeed as expected due to the lack of effective instructional strategies
and systematic curricula. Related research has mostly addressed the fundamental theories;
but reasoning skills curricula and practical assessment have been severely limited.
Therefore, this study was conducted to continue reasoning skills development research and
to identify the effects of this innovative curriculum on the improvement of competencies
for students in postsecondary technical education programs.

The sample participating in this study consisted of 23 students and
was selected in a technical university located in central Taiwan, R.O.C.. During the
one-semester experimental period, nineteen reasoning sub-skills were taught as the major
content using contemporary social issues in order for participants to integrate reasoning
skills with daily life affairs. A group discussion model was the main teaching strategy
combined with lecturing. Qualitative research methods and portfolios were employed to
continuously collect data and analyze the development of students’ reasoning skills
during the period.

This study indicated that the instruction successfully assisted
students to improve their reasoning skills from the stage of dual thinking style to
responsible knowing. Some suggestions concerning effective teaching strategies and
reasoning skills assessment were also provided on the basis of the findings and
conclusions.

Introduction

Postsecondary technical education programs have established their
goals to mainly prepare students with professional skills training in order to satisfy
the needs of the workplace. Technical Education indeed plays an important role in
economic enhancement and life quality improvement for many countries in human
developmental history. However, the explosive knowledge, various accesses to information,
and renovating technologies has become the new challenge to professional careers and
school education in this current society. Future professionals are no longer to satisfied
with their own expertise only, but they need to constantly study, learn, review, analyze,
and classify the thinking ability to fit the needs of society in the future world.
Therefore, it is urgently needed to improve the reasoning skills for students in
postsecondary technical education.

Reasoning is recognized as the core element of human nature, whether
it is in the teachings of Socrates, Confucius, or Buddhism (Chen, 2000). Education is to
prepare citizens with reasoning skills and to create more rational society or culture.
The nature of reasoning skills and the reasoning skills improvement approaches have
brought increasing concerns of educators, psychologists, and philosophers for decades (Kemler,
1998). Reasoning skills are recognized as the key abilities for human being to create,
learn, and exploit knowledge. These skills are also an important factor in the process of
human civilization. Therefore, the importance of reasoning skills has been of great
concern in educational settings and the world of work. The era of information explosion
is filled with ever changing and confusing information fragments, and multiple values
(Bauman, 1999; Beck, 1992; Rorty, 1989). It becomes increasingly important to improve
reasoning skills through lifelong learning in response to such challenges and lead a
meaningful life, and construct a rational better world (Shu, 2000). Therefore, current
educational systems across the world have recognized the need to enhance students’
reasoning skills (European Commission, 1995; Greenan, 1994; Moshman, 1990; Wu, 2001).

While endeavoring to improve reasoning skills, several questions need to be
clarified: “How do students learn reasoning skills? ” and “How should
reasoning skills be taught and assessed in various technical education programs (Stasz
& Grubb, 1991)?

Related research has also proved the construct of reasoning skills,
which included four stages and nineteen concrete and practical sub-skills (Wu, 2001).
These concrete and substantive reasoning sub-skills were extracted from abstractive
cognitive theories for more effective teaching and learning. The reasoning skills
curriculum was, therefore, developed for reasoning skills improvement of students in
postsecondary technical education programs.

In addition, the assessment strategy for reasoning skills is also a
crucial component for reasoning skills improvement. Traditional assessment relies too
much on quantitative measurement through teacher ratings assessment, student self-ratings
assessment, and even standardized performance tests. However, these quantitative
assessment strategies might not appropriately and accurately measure students’
reasoning skills achievement. Reasoning is dynamic cognitive processes involving cultural
backgrounds and issue contexts. Reasoning skills assessment should not be globally
standardized, but localized and diverse due to personal characteristics and cultural
differences. However, traditional standardized performance tests seem to be standardized
and heavily focus on reasoning results. All examinees’ differences of essential
reasoning qualities are divided but condensed into an unique dimension to which some
scores are assigned. During the assessment processes of reasoning achievement, individual
differences with respect to cultural backgrounds and issue contexts might be ignored.
This fact causes teachers difficult to approach to the detailed descriptions, analysis,
or explanation on students’ reasoning skills achievement. It may, even, lead to
misunderstanding of students’ reasoning achievement and all its consequences.
Therefore, qualitative research methods for reasoning skills assessment are suggested to
further understand the development and achievement of students’ reasoning skills.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to identify the effects of Reasoning
Skills curriculum on the achievement of reasoning skills for students in postsecondary
technical education programs. The qualitative improvement of reasoning skills and
attitudes for students receiving the innovative instruction was the major concerns in
this study.


Literature Review

Reasoning skills have received broad attention and were discussed in
three major topics: (1) Definitions and content of reasoning skills, (2) Instructional
strategies for reasoning improvement, and (3) Assessment approaches of reasoning skills.

1. Definitions and the content of reasoning skills

Reasoning is characterized as a goal-oriented cognitive process, which
aims at problem solving, decision-making, as well as retrospective self-rectification
(Wu, 2001). It also emphasizes on insightful background interpretation, argument
depiction, evidence presentation, criteria selection, value construction, and theory
application (Facione, 1990)

.

Reasoning skills are constructed through step-by-step
reasoning mechanism. First, reasoning is motivated with the induction by stimuli. Second,
reasoning is a goal-oriented process (Bruner, 1973). Third, reasoning functions based on
information, knowledge, and experience (Allen & Rott, 1969; Beyer, 1988). Fourth,
reasoning operates mainly using language. Fifth, reasoning is driven by intelligence or
reasoning skills (DeBono, 1992). Sixth, reasoning is also associated with personal
thinking dispositions, habits, personal positions, motives, and other social/cultural
factors (Brookfield, 1987). Finally, the meta-cognition of reasoning mainly functions to
self-monitor individuals’ thinking process and results (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 Reasoning Mechanism and Coping Strategies (Wu, 2001)

For further understanding the nature and implementation of reasoning
skills, abstractive cognitive concepts of reasoning skills should be clarified to be
subjective, measurable, and feasible skills. A four-phrase thinking procedure was
identified to better understand and improve reasoning skills. In sum, reasoning skills
were identified as 19 basic and concrete reasoning sub-skills, 10 dispositions, and 14
assessment criteria (Wu, 2001). Reasoning processes were also proposed to follow the
four-phrase approach, including (1) issue identification- to identify the major issues or
problem natures, (2) viewpoint clarification- to construct the personal viewpoints of the
issues, (3) discussion and defense- to logically present the viewpoints and discuss them,
and (4) synthesis and conclusion- to synthesize various viewpoints and finalize the
conclusions (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 The Four-phased Approach of Reasoning

2. Instructional strategies for reasoning skills

Reasoning skills and dispositions have been identified as crucial
components for career success in the current era filled with diversified information
resources (Chang, 1995; Greenan, 1994). However, several factors associated with
conventional instructional strategies and school education were found as the barricade to
the development and improvement of reasoning skills (Amundsen, Gryspeerdt, & Moxness,
1993; Chang, 1996). These factors include:

(1) School education usually relies too much on textbooks. Students,
even teachers, become accustomed to receiving crystallized knowledge from textbooks and
easily ignore or even misperceive the nature and purpose of education.

(2) Logical thinking training hardly exists in contemporary school
education. Students usually focus on shallow learning (e.g. memorizing, comprehension,
imitation) and are hardly capable of performing the high level thinking (e.g. reasoning,
analysis, synthesis, creation, and judgment). They are not accustomed to thinking
autonomously and rationally.

(3) Students are not prepared with analyzing skills and attitudes or
habits to communicate logically and coherently. As a result, most students are lost in
fragmented subject knowledge or unverified information due to their apathetic thinking
attitudes and poor communication skills.

(4) Many teachers might not possess the abilities and dispositions to
conduct reasoning thinking. They tend to use one-way lecture model and focus on students’
learning by memorization. This fact depresses students’ inclination of reasoning
thinking and demoralizes reasoning skills and dispositions.

(5) In our society, the over-specification on subjects confuses school
teachers about educational goals and mainly teach about the subject matter in the
textbooks rather than the subject matter itself. Students can not appreciate multiple
values due to this over-categorization of knowledge and over-emphasis on single
professional sphere instead of knowledge integration.

Based on the phenomena aforementioned, reasoning skills instruction is
so crucial to assist learners to better understand the skills and processes of inquiry,
analysis, and judgment in all professional fields (Abell, 1999; Greenan, 1994). Reasoning
skills instruction needs to emphasize the analytical learning of subject matter itself
with thorough understanding. This intervention needs to assist learners to actively
construct knowledge rather than passively receive crystallized knowledge only, and to
build a critical understanding of subject matters and reasoning skills, through analysis,
evaluation, inquiry, and problem solving (Mariorana, 1992).

In order to prepare learners with reasoning skills, this instruction
should encourage learners to integrate diversified knowledge, critically analyze and
judge multiple values, logically present their conclusions. It has been strongly
suggested to develop a coordinated program of reasoning skills “across the
curriculum”, emphasizing reasoning in a variety of content courses and/or using
various subject matters in the reasoning course (Beane, 1998; Davis, 1995; Kemler, 1998;
Paul 1993; Potts, 1994). Under such integrative conception, teachers may reconsider the
major purposes of their class activities and encourage their students to become active
analysts of subject matters (Ruggiero, 1988).

3. Reasoning skills assessments

Assessment in education areas is important to identify the behavioral
and psychological status or development, or to explain whether instructional objectives
are met. The reasoning skills assessment purports to measure students’ reasoning skills
in analysis, inference, organization, as well as problem-solution. Studies have
identified 14 concrete reasoning skills assessment criteria, including clearness,
accuracy, preciseness, logicality of inference, consistency of reasoning, coherency of
expression, depth and breadth of reasoning, logicality of reasoning, integrality of
reasoning, neutrality of reasoning, constructiveness of reasoning, productiveness of
reasoning, and independence of reasoning. Reasoning assessment approaches basically
include using criterion-oriented performance test, students’ self-rating, and teachers’
rating (Greenan, 1994).

(1) Criteria-oriented performance assessment

Criteria-oriented assessment refers to the use and examination of
validity and reliability, and identifies the status of targeted behavior or achievement
comparing with standardized criteria. However, such assessment might over-emphasize
skills in memorization and, therefore, often fails to induce constructive and innovative
thinking.

(2) Student self-ratings on reasoning skills

This approach intends to analyze students’ reasoning disposition for
a sound reasoning system development. As it can be subjective, self-ratings strategies
were widely used for a feasible and efficient educational assessment. The reliabilities
and validities are the major concern while using self-ratings in educational settings.

(3) Teacher ratings on student reasoning performance

Teacher’s rating is namely an assessment approach given by the
instructors to measure students’ performance of certain aspects. The assessment is
usually conducted according to instructional objectives and measurement criteria through
students’ perspectives.

Such three quantitative assessment strategies provide assessment
information regarding a student’s reasoning skills. Performance Assessment is an
objective (criterion-oriented) assessment strategy for a better understanding of a
student’s reasoning skills. Student self-rating assessment assists students to be
self-directed in their learning and decision-making. Student self-rating could be less
time consuming, less expensive, more easily administered and interpreted (Greenan, 1994).
Therefore, it can be useful as an informal assessment to assist teachers to provide
feedbacks to students.

These three traditional assessment strategies basically focus more on
the level of quantitative assessment and analysis. However, under the consideration of
numerical standard, all the existing differences of essential human characteristics could
be divided to be quantitative fragments and condensed into one-dimensional number of
difference. This fact might result in two challenges: (a) In the theoretical aspect,
people usually have abundant and various reasoning approaches, but their differences in
reasoning may be ignored and hidden; (b) In the pragmatic aspect, quantitative assessment
simplifies and condenses the multifarious reasoning processes into one-dimensional
number. The meaning and implication of reasoning processes and approaches have no
detailed description, analysis, and insight explanation. Therefore, the meaning and
function of quantitative assessment for reasoning skills development are limited.

4. The implementation of Teachers’ portfolios

Reasoning skills assessment needs more foci on individual’s
competency and characteristic concerning his/her ability to utilize knowledge for
problem-solving and logic inference. Teachers’ portfolio assessment is the representative
assessment strategy for socio-historical comprehension regarding participants’
performance and understanding of certain issues. Teachers’ portfolio strategy purports to
collect their pedagogical experiences and cognitive development of students during
students’ learning processes. Data collected in the portfolio also include the
students’ work, exertion, and improvements and accomplishments. This strategy assists
observers to perceive the pragmatic and processing assessment as a whole entity. Based on
this observation and reflection, teachers can modify their pedagogical teaching toward
the students’ learning competency and progresses.

For reasoning skills assessment, teachers’ portfolio strategy has the
following characteristics:

(A) It adopts the multifarious assessment approaches to analyze
students’ reasoning skills;

(B) It mainly emphasizes students’ learning processes and reasoning
skills development;

(C) It encourages teachers to investigate and amend their own teaching
strategies through long-term observation on students’ feedbacks concerning reasoning
skills improvement.

(D) Teachers’ portfolios are the combination of teaching portfolio and
reflective analyses. This reflection could be constructive to further understand the
effective learning and teaching concerning reasoning skills.

RESEARCH METHODS

This research was conducted to identify the effects of Reasoning
Skills intervention on reasoning skills improvement for students registered in
postsecondary technical education programs. Reasoning is a cognitive process with
dynamic, on-going, individualized, and problem-solution-oriented characteristics.
Therefore, qualitative research methods were employed to further understand the in-depth,
in-breadth, and detailed contributions created by this cognition-modified intervention
(Patton, 1990). The following qualitative research strategies were used:

(1) Loudly thinking: This strategy purports to probe participants’
thinking contents through verbal expression which is used as crucial qualitative data.
During the period of this interventional experiment, the students were requested to speak
loudly about their opinions and supportive reasons in order to collect qualitative data
regarding students’ thinking process, styles, and results.

(2) Teachers’ observation: In order to understand the complexities of
many validities, researchers’ participation in and observation of the phenomenon should
be the appropriate approach for more authentic understanding and explanation of the
qualitative data. This study employed semi-construction strategy to observe students’
reasoning skills and attitudes in response to discussion topics and their peers’
opinions.

(3) Teacher’s portfolios analysis: The teacher’s portfolio,
recording his/her own meta-reflection concerning teaching strategies and students’
performance, was a crucial data resource for this experimental research. Teacher’s
portfolio could be constructed as a scenario which was narrative portrayals including
interview results, detailed descriptions of class phenomenon, cognitive reflection, and
teaching modification (Patton, 1990). In this study, a teacher’s portfolio was
employed, through the whole semester, to detailed document teaching strategies, issue
contents, and the development of students’ reasoning skills and attitude. It was also
documented that teacher’s on-going reflection and adjustment of interventional
approaches in response to students’ learning achievement and motivations.

1. Population and Sample

The targeted population were students enrolled in technical education
programs at the postsecondary level. However, in this quasi-experimental study,
twenty-three students, taking a related course, were selected in a technical college
located in central Taiwan as a sample while considering the research control and validity
of this study. This sample included students of the four major professional fields
(Engineering School, Management School, Design School, and Humanity School). These
participants might generally represent the students in postsecondary technical education
programs (Table 1).

2. Research Instruments

The reasoning skills curriculum was developed on the basis of a series
of research regarding reasoning skills identification and improvement for college
students in the last three years. This curriculum purported to enhance students’
reasoning skills and depositions through speculating about academic learning and life
issue discussion. The background theories on reasoning skills, four stages of reasoning
process, and nineteen reasoning sub-skills were the major contents in this curriculum.

In this study, the researcher himself was also a research instrument
involving data collection and analysis. The researcher must be qualified with in-depth
understanding of research issues and insight observation of students’ reasoning
performance. The researcher here has the experience of reasoning research for more than
three years and the teaching experience in postsecondary education for five years.

3. Data Collection

This experimental research was conducted in a two-hour-credit course,
titled as Reasoning Skills and Life. The data were collected through teaching
intervention and observation.

(1) Experimental intervention

During the 18 weeks, students were asked to group as discussion teams
for class activities and assignment projects (3-5 people per team). Each group contained
students from more than three colleges in order for them to envision multifarious issues.
Students collected relevant papers and information according to the assigned issues
discussed in class, then present personal opinions, and discuss with others. Early in the
semester, the teacher needed to help students develop the important four-stage reasoning
process, lead students to discuss by guiding discussion direction and outline of the
issues, and offer some hints to encourage their reasoning and discussion. At the
beginning of each class, group discussion was arranged for 30 minutes, then the whole
class discussed together for 30-40 minutes. The teacher would not get involved unless
students’ discussion deviated from the topics. Students were required to hand on a
report every three weeks as to organize and reflect their opinions related to class
discussion. Each group should also hand on the final report concerning certain topics
with multifaceted values at the end of the semester.

(2) Data encoding

The research data were collected through the teacher’s portfolio. In
this qualitative study, the teacher took notes on the results of observation during the
students’ discussion accompanied with students’ identification numbers and observation
dates on the records. In order to protect students’ privacy, these data were anonymous
with transferring numbers. Students’ performance in both class discussion and
assignment projects regarding reasoning skills in the filed documents were also collected
with the dates in order to understand their reasoning skills development during the
period of intervention. These data from class observation and students’ performance
were important materials for the researcher to understand the change of students’
reasoning skills in the semester and the feedbacks of interventional strategies.

4. Data Analysis

Since reasoning skills are abstract, it might be difficult to obtain
the accurate and quantitative assessment criteria. A series of on-going qualitative
observation and continuing reflection on the reasoning skills development were recognized
better than traditional quantitative assessment, and better explain the quality of
reasoning. Therefore, the data, collected through teachers’ portfolios, were analyzed
according to the research purpose and following the procedures:(a) To encode students’
major statements in their discussion and assignment; (b) To classify the students’
attributes and induct their reasoning skills characteristics; and (c) To analyze the
students’ reasoning models and development during the period of this study. The
descriptive validity, interpretive validity, and theoretical validity were also analyzed
using the methods of triangulation.

In order to improve the inner validity of this research, the
stratagems applied here include (1) methods triangulation-using teachers’ observation and
students’ discussion or assignment to collect information and inspect mutually. (2) Data
triangulation-using various resources such as content of group reports, content of
students’ discussion and their responses on monograph test. Meanwhile. Replication logic
is also used here in order to discover students’ similar reaction.

RESEARCH FINDINGS

The effects of a nontraditional intervention on the reasoning skills
improvement for students in technical education programs were the major concerns of this
study. Prior to analyzing students’ reasoning skills development, this research
uncovered that these students generally believed the educational goal of Technical
Education programs were merely to prepare students with professional skills for future
careers. Students perceived that there was no need to learn the general education, and
severely ignored the reasoning skills. Though few students took this course for
curiosity, most students took it casually without any recognition of its important
values.

This study focused on the students’ improvement of reasoning skills
and attitudes during the period of study. The data were therefore analyzed in accord with
time period which was considered as an independent variable.

(1) At the beginning of this experimental period, most students mainly
presented personal points of view, and barely discussed and deliberated universal
ideologies with broad and deep visions.

When discussing the factors of winning Oscar Award, some students
said:


” I think Ann Lee–the director of Crouching Tiger and Hidden
Dragon–should win the Oscar Best Director Award because the film is quite good… the
reason why he did not win the award was about the race issue…”

“when shooting an art movie, the direct leans towards to describe
the frame of mind, I do not agree to discuss about this issue with a more reasonable
theory and I can not discuss and find out the reasons for winning the awards so as not to
deprive the beauty of art.”(ST9025532-900326)


In addition, most of the students were influenced by the media and
believed:


” The evaluation of Oscar was added with the consideration of
American honor and the discrimination against Oriental Culture… Ann Lee also said that
it was uneasy to step on the region under others’ sphere of
influence”(ST9041225-900328)


Students absorbed the report from mass media without distinguishing
the credibility of the resource, and insightful meaning as well as implication of the
information itself. This phenomenon seemed to reflect that people (especially the youths)
in the liberal society basically still limited themselves to their personal opinions,
hardly opened to the broad vision. These participants even believes that intuitive sense
was more important than reasoning; feeling was more important than synthesizing. They
usually did not speculate how their viewpoints were formed or supported with what facts.

(2) Students usually expounded the meaning of information with
personal preoccupied conception but not distinguished its objectivity and meaning before
forming personal opinion.

In the debit, students have mentioned:


” Taiwan Electricity Cooperation is the unit supporting the idea
of building nuclear power station. The information that Taiwan Electricity offered would
certainly lean towards the statement that Taiwan lacks electricity power; therefore, it
is not objective or convincing if we take these data as an
evidence.”(ST9033442-900328)


Obviously, the students first perceived that Taiwan Electricity
Cooperation was the supporter of Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, and then they affirmed the
information of Taiwan Electricity offered was not convincing, yet they did not provide
any evidence to retort it.

(3) Students seemed misconceived contemplating as immediately judging,
and directly drawing conclusions. They could not appropriately recognize the importance,
nor appreciate the value, of gathering information, providing strong arguments,
rationally narrating opinions, and synthetically drawing conclusions for specific issues.

(4) After receiving the reasoning skills intervention for two months,
part of the students started to develop a reasoning format and became able to
consistently address on the specific issues and logically analyze the factors for each
issue. Yet they still lacked the mastery of relating concrete evidences to their
arguments.

This course first developed the four-phase reasoning models to
cultivate students’ reasoning skills and better understand the issues, form the thesises,
logically communicate, and synthesize for conclusions. The process of contemplating is
more important than the results. The sub-skills are also introduced in this course. In
the discussion about why Ann Lee could not win the Best Director Award, students answered
(ST9025545-900428):


(a) The background of Chinese Culture and Western Culture are quite
different. The Western people basically maintain their affection with each other through
religion; Chinese people emphasize the hospitality and loyalty. The Chinese Culture is
very various from the Western.

(b) The Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon is restrained by social
morality, and the Gladiator won the award because of technological special effect costing
a huge sum of money. The styles of the two movies are totally different.

(c) Each judge has different favors or stands (extract, interest.)
from others; therefore, the judges may lean towards or ignore some viewpoints.

(d) Every judge might not have seen the whole movies, but might just
part of them. Based on the four points above, I would assume that every judge has
different viewpoints, we can neither compare the two movies nor say it is fair or not.



The statements aforementioned indicated that the students gradually
started to aim directly at one issue, analyzed the interrelation among factors, and
showed their primary improvement of reasoning skills. However, they were still weak at
mastering concrete evidence for argument.

(5) Students obviously developed their reasoning skills and attitudes
with different speeds while receiving this reasoning skills intervention.

After receiving the course for two months, students slowly but surely
recognized the importance of reasoning skills and gradually showed their reasoning skills
improvement while discussing and reporting. Students’ performances reflected that the
students of the College of Management and the College of Humanity had the best perform of
reasoning skills. Perhaps this was due to that their class activities and home work
requirements focusing more on speculating and expressing some multifarious social issues.
Relatively, students in the College of Engineering seemed not have so obvious reasoning
skills improvement. These students might be trained, in their subject studies, to merely
concern about technological rightness or wrong. They have limited opportunities to make
alternative choices and communicate for negotiation or compromise.

(6) In the late semester, most of students performed well in
speculating the current affairs with multifarious alternative points of view after
receiving the three-month curriculum of reasoning skills. However, these students’
reasoning skills were still not well maturely developed.

Students obviously improved their reasoning skills in mid-term reports
and class discussion by presenting multifaceted viewpoints of an event. These students
became able to concentrate on the specific issues with accurate arguments, logical
inference, and synthetic conclusion. For instance, the following observational
conclusions were drawn on the basis of a student’s report which was titled as


The Analysis on the Sexual Harassment Case of a Chairperson In one Party”

:

(ST9052426-900509)




(A) The students could take the some relative examples to view the
event, such as the various accusations and every explanation of the accuser and the
contrast. It reflected the student’s vision to deal with things in various angles.

(B) In the discussion, students indicated their capabilities of
identifying the major points of the argument and the suspicious points, and the
implicated issues (or ambiguous meanings) needing more contemplation and discussion.
Students could also proceed to the identification of various standing points and, fully
and objectively, presented their declarations with acceptable evidence for each side.

(C)


However, while synthesizing for conclusions, students still usually limited to
their preconceived perceptions and did not really include others’ opinions mentioned
before. Therefore, the obviously self-contradictory points existed. This fact seemed
imply that these students just followed the required steps to list every arguments from
multifarious standpoints, however, they still intuitively limited to their own ideologies
while synthesizing various arguments and drawing conclusions. Some students even declared
such a conclusion” Each side is reasonable and possesses its reasons; it is hard to
say which side is right or wrong”, after they presented each other’s opinion. No
personal finally conclusion was gained. This phenomenon indicated that students were not
well educated on the reasoning skills.




The aforementioned phenomena reflected that the students started to be
able to collect the supporting information for specific arguments and even analyze the
inside relationship among factors. However, their viewpoints and supporting evidence were
merely located on one side, not on the broad vision. They seemed not able to vision the
contrast side nor employ pra

ctical experience to evaluate
and to make a sophisticated decision.

(7) Students’ discussion and project reports presented the
remarkable structure of the four phases of reasoning skills which included issue
identification, viewpoint establishment, argument and defense, and synthetic conclusion
drawing. However, students were still relatively weak at the development and facilitation
for each reasoning sub-skill.

In the late experimental period, students were asked to discuss the
topic regarding the individual recruitment policy for each university. This discussion
was also the subject of homework project. Students’ discussion and project reports
indicated the following characteristics (Teacher’s portfolio 900516):


(A) Students became able to precisely express their major proposition
for the target theme. Their declaration was basically concentrated to the recruitment
policy and clearly address their viewpoints with concisely supportive arguments;

(B) Students were becoming able to present their own viewpoints and
reasons for each argument. However, their viewpoints and reasons seemed not to be formed
on the bases of multifarious and synthetic analyses on the facts, but were more likely
derived from personal preconceptions or other persons’ statements. They seemed not to
be used to reflecting others’ statements by means of recollecting more relative
research and reports, and triangulating the assertions. This fact might signify that
students were still be weak at self-examining the insights of information with
diversified values and viewpoints;

(C) The students’ reasoning model was much similar to writing styles
of children in elementary school and junior high school. They followed the rules and
steps of composition spinning along one central idea and analyzing it from various
angles, but for one purpose. For instance, while students perceived the examination
system was not good, they kept stating its weaknesses without reflecting other points of
view. They were hardly objective to proceed to synthesize the pros and cons of the
targeted subjects;


(D) Based on students’ applying statistics theories to social
events, they seemed not able to accurately understand their study and hardly
authentically transferred academic theories to social applications. It was obviously that
students misperceived statistical theories, such as normal distribution, and caused a
bias image on university exam and recruitment policy. Surprisingly, these students seemed
form their opinions based on some obscure and inaccurate academic conception, and bias
assumption. This phenomenon might cause students’ self-content of ignorance while they
could not notice this fallacy from the beginning to the end (Teacher’s portfolio 900513

)

.


(E) Students did not intensively and passionately discuss the serious
social topics. Students might seldom concern about the social events, comparing with
gossip topics such as the marriage between a young man and old lady. It seemingly
reflected that students seldom touched and concerned with these serious topics. They
usually insisted on their own standpoints, while once touched them, without sophisticated
overview on multifarious opinions.

(F) There was another obvious phenomenon found in students’
discussion that students’ viewpoints and recognition were limited to complaining contents
heard from others. They seldom focused on the topics themselves and preceded the analysis
on the collected information from various resources representing diverse viewpoints and
senses of value. Therefore, students presented just their own personal opinions,
attitudes, and tendency without strong and persuasive reasons for arguments. For example,
the discussion on University Exam System and Policy of Recruiting Students Individually
was almost limited to the influence of examination styles on students’ and professors’
feelings and opinions, and the like. Their concerns never extended to the future
direction and goals of technical education, the functions and missions of entrance
examination to universities and students, and efficient connection and transference for
various levels in educational system.

(G) The contents of students’ discussion exposed that their reasoning
skills were still stayed at the first stage of the dualism system, and could only
distinguish the right and wrong (Paul, 1993). There were a small amount of students
promoting to the second level and could present the contextual factors for each argument
and/or behind each phenomenon. In the past qualitative research, it was revealed that the
performance of reasoning skills from low to high stage could be divided into four levels
including dualism, multiplicity, contextual relativism, and responsible knowing. In other
word, these students could merely identify rightness and wrong of arguments based on some
criteria, which usually came out of the information they could reach instead of the
results they rationally analyzed and evaluated. Only a few of students could stride over
the boundary of so-called correct answer, rationally think through multifarious
perspectives, and finally concluded their own personal opinions. In general, these
students did yet develop their reasoning skills to identify, analyze, and synthesize the
information for a major topic.



Summary of the research findings

The results of data analysis indicated that these students originally
possessed apathetic attitude to take this course “Reasoning Skills and Life”
for university requirement. At beginning of the experimental period, students were
generally lacking awareness of the importance and functions of reasoning skills, and
pursuing only technological skills and knowledge in their majors. Reasoning skills were
misconceived as useless knowledge to their future academic careers and professional
careers.

Like most of current university students, the participants have been
over-well treated to deem that college instructors should prepare all teaching materials
for class activities and effectively fill in students’ memory systems without
reflective understanding and synthetic comprehension. To these students’ recognition,
learning only meant to take the notes and memorize them for examination. Therefore, at
the beginning of this experimental semester, participants were uncomfortable to adjust
their learning strategies and involuntarily previewed the daily class materials. They
seemed to be passive and unable to raise questions for class discussion while reading
assigned papers. After receiving this eighteen-week experimental curriculum, these
students obviously improved their recognition on the importance of reasoning skills, and
finally realized that reasoning skills development should be the major goals for higher
education. This reasoning skills intervention assisted students to envision any event
with manifold, insightful, wide, and reflective aspects. Students also self-expressed
they no longer made decisions sentimentally without any sophisticated speculation.

Students’ reasoning skills were gradually developed from one-way
thinking style to multifarious dimensions. That is, students could obviously speculate
problems through multifarious viewpoints for better proposals. Their discussion and
project quality approved that they have ameliorated their reasoning approaches in terms
of the four stages of reasoning skills procedure. They also gradually realized the
reasoning processes and endeavored to identify the central issues of major topics,
developed several arguments, represent the supportive evidences for each argument, and
synthesize for more insightful conclusions. However, the 19 sub-skills of reasoning
skills proposed in this study were not obviously ameliorated. In other word, students
still had difficulties in identifying the authentic meaning of the information and the
reliability of information resource. Consequently, students could hardly carry out
analysis, deduction, and conclusion considering broad vision. Students were clearly
unable to select appropriate criteria for evaluation and judgment. These reasoning skills
might need more interventional strategies or longer period of teaching.

Discussion, conclusions, and Recommendations

The society in the 21

st

century is characterized by the
rapid increase and upgrading of knowledge, and multifarious and diversified senses of
value. Professional experts, therefore, should be able to integrate the knowledge of
various professional fields for better competition and survival in future careers.
Therefore, current higher education endeavors to the transferable and generalizable
competency preparation, such as learning skills and decision-making skills (Abell, 1999;
Greenan, 1994). Higher education certainly purports to meet the needs of today society;
it undertakes the more important mission to inspire students to create knowledge for the
unknown future world. The educational goals of technical programs at the higher education
level are to prepare students with proficiency for economical prosperity and social
development. Although students certainly need the professional skills to create
successful vocational careers, the denotative knowledge and multifarious senses of value
are equally important for them to succeed in this society. Professional experts in the
future world would succeed only if they can incessantly facilitate themselves with new
knowledge, identify and exploit authentic information, and integrate knowledge through
reasoning skills.

This research, ironically, found that students registered in technical
education programs intently perceived their educational goal as to accomplish the
professional skills for future vocational careers only. They did not understand the
importance of reasoning skills and ignored these key competencies. Some students even
believed they were supposed not to be good at these skills, and even had no need to
enhance their reasoning skills, because they were technical education students instead of
comprehensive university students. Whereas, this characteristic of technical education
might limit, even hurt, these students’ future career development.

The main purposes of reasoning skills intervention were to help
students clarify accurate background of questions/issues, to appropriately distinguish
the viewpoints and stands, to precisely analyze the insightful problems, to authentically
identify the hypotheses, to logically express their own main concepts, and to create
synthetic knowledge or values from information chaos. These reasoning skills and
attitudes are just the core competencies most needed for students in current technical
education programs. This one-semester reasoning skills intervention provided students
with opportunities to understand the importance and the effective approaches for better
reasoning skills. These students gradually became able to identify the central points of
discussion issues, develop major concrete arguments, and logically communicate with
supportive evidences for each argument. However, they seemed to be still unfamiliar with
synthesizing various perspectives for comprehensive conclusions. This phenomenon might
imply that these reasoning skills could be nurtured through open-minded discussion and
other encouraging pedagogical activities. These inspiring interventional strategies could
also lead students to reason for comprehensive understanding and creative learning; these
high order learning could be hardly achieved through the traditional teaching strategies
which only for knowledge inheritance and transmittance.

Integrative and supportive reasoning programs are crucial for learners
to better understand the nature of various subject matters and their applications to all
professional fields (Davis, 1995; Kemler, 1998; Paul 1993; Potts, 1994). This type of
curriculum and intervention can assist students to actively construct knowledge instead
of passively receiving crystallized knowledge only. It also brings all students to build
a critical understanding of subject matters and reasoning skills, through analysis,
evaluation, inquiry, and problem solving. Such incorporation strategies also provide the
integrative framework for teachers to reconsider the major purposes of education and
subject matter, and prevent students from being passive in the acceptance of subject
matter and encourage them to become active analysts of subject matter (Ruggiero, 1988).

Based on the research findings and discussion aforementioned, this
study synthetically drew the following concrete conclusions:

(1) These students’ attitude toward this course concerning reasoning
skills might reflect that students in technical education programs preconceived technical
education as job preparation programs. School education was misconceived as a vehicle of
knowledge and skills transmittance and seemed to neglect the original essence of
knowledge creation and human wisdom inspiration.

(2) As students confronted new information, they tended to intuitively
accept or refuse its reality and impacts based on their own attitude. They seldom
proceeded to clarify the reliability of information resource and analyze the insightful
implication under its appearance, the previous hypothesis, prejudices behind the
information, and the impact of new information on this society. This fact indicated that
these students urgently needed reasoning skills in this era with explosive information
and multifarious values.

(3) Although the access to mass information media became increasingly
convenient, students’ ability and attitude to make the most of public information
channels were still severely limited. They seemed not able to envision and discuss public
affairs from alternative perspectives. It was a discouragement that the advanced
information technology and facilities did not effectively assist students to open their
minds to alternative information resource, evoke their interaction, neither finally
develop their own points of new vision.

(4) This 18-week reasoning skills intervention was proved to
efficiently promote students’ recognition on the importance of these skills and also
improve self-discipline toward the critical learning and daily life. This intervention
could also obviously improve students’ reasoning styles and approaches. Students became
able to identify and concentrate on discussion issues, and present clear arguments with
supportive evidences. The higher order reasoning skills, such as drawing synthetic
conclusions, could not be equivalently improved in this short period of intervention.

(5) This study also revealed that the targeted 19 reasoning sub-skills
were not obviously enhanced through this intervention. It probably indicated that these
sub-skills could not be separately trained. These sub-skills might need more specific
instruction.

(6) Teacher’s portfolio was proved as an effective assessment
strategy for qualitative understanding of reasoning skills development, considering
students’ individual differences and teachers’ reflective teaching. This strategy
acted the functions of both the profound observation of qualitative research and
scientific function of quantitative research. In teachers’ portfolios, quantitative
improvement and qualitative development regarding students’ reasoning skills could be
analyzed and synthesized for further understanding the instructional effects and the
developmental processes of reasoning skills. Teaching activities and contents could be
also concretely modified according to students’ cognitive development.

The development of increasingly advanced technologies and high
competitiveness of international economy accelerate the demand of educational
effectiveness and efficiency. However, this trend of modern technical education gradually
limits the functions of school education to the transmittance for practical knowledge and
technical skills, but neglects the original education goals of inspiring human
intelligence and creating knowledge. The educational goal of technical programs is to
prepare individuals with professional proficiency which includes human philosophy and
scientific techniques. The contents taught in today school education can be used merely
as the experience and means of learning and thinking for the future problems. In other
words, these students will utilize the school experiences happening today to create new
knowledge in the future world. Any current knowledge, inevitably, will be out-of-date for
future problems. Therefore, it is more needed to learn the reasoning skills for inspiring
and creating new knowledge than to passively receive and recite the knowledge.

Students’ reasoning skills and attitudes might not be improved through
merely one specific course and limited number of teachers in the school education.
Reasoning across the curricula emphasizes the change of classroom activities from subject
learning to analytical learning focusing on dynamic knowledge in order to develop
students’ profound understanding and cognitive skills

(

Janz, 1999

; M

ariorana, 1992). That is, the reasoning skills improvement needs the beneficial
environment and opportunities to encourage students to critically think and self-reflect
on the multifarious values. This helpful opportunity should be provided in all courses.
In the educational settings, each course in all professional fields needs to emphasize on
its professional knowledge as well as students’ reasoning skills development. It is
essential for all curricula to develop and enrich students’ reasoning skills as their
major goal. Each curriculum should be developed to assist students in reasoning and
solving problems through transferable curriculum contents, critical teaching activities,
and synthetic assessment strategies. While students are encouraged to learn how to
undertake reasoning skills, they will deliberate on their learning contents and approach
to insightful understanding on their subjects.

In addition, teachers play a crucial role while discussing with
students or even dealing with students’ businesses. Teachers need to demonstrate the
example of searching for authentic information resources, clarifying the reliability of
information, searching for the in-depth meaning behind the matter’s appearance, and
envisioning the multifarious perspectives of issues. Teachers, hence, will effectively
infect students’ reasoning attitude to rationally deal with things while they act a
model of good reasoning thinkers.

Traditional education relies too much on quantitative assessment which
usually creates some potential risks. People easily image the quantitative
pseudo-precision and deem that the quantitative data are always scientific and represent
the truth. This pseudo-precision often influences human judgment and many people may,
hence, neglect the validity of quantitative data. People might easily underestimate
individual difference behind the quantitative data and ignore the creative thinking of
students. This fact only deprives the teachers and student’ chance of denotative
development. Therefore, teacher’s portfolio strategy is so crucial qualitative
assessment for students’ reasoning skills development. This interactive assessment
strategy provides the teacher with a crucial opportunity to observe students’ reasoning
processes, and reflect and adjust teaching strategies to stimulate students’ reasoning
skills.

In order to fulfill the educational goal of technical programs and
improve students’ reasoning skill, this study finally offers the following suggestions:

(1) Despite the practical function of education has received
increasing emphases in this technical century, the preparation of professional experts
strongly needs the fundamental and generalizable competencies. These skills can assist
students to envision the entire development and application of the professional
knowledge, and facilitate students’ transferable abilities to utilize and create their
professional knowledge and skills.

(2) The curriculum contents and implementation of all courses need to
foster students’ in-depth understanding of subject knowledge, analyses of theoretical
background, and high order cognitive competencies. This emphasis of teaching strategy and
curriculum materials can enhance teachers’ and students’ recognition concerning
“Thinking is Learning”. Meanwhile, this innovative curriculum implementation
may assist students to solve future problems by effectively applying the recent knowledge
and learning experience.

(3) The social culture and campus environment significantly nurture
the growth of students reasoning skills. A series of campus symposia for public
discussions on academic issues and social events might assist students to visualize the
functions of reasoning skills and create beneficial campus environment facilitating
reasoning skills development. What is more, these symposia can also evoke the interactive
atmosphere between teachers and students for insightful and multifarious thinking.

(4) University websites and/or community internet are also effective
approaches to create a discussion area for further interaction among campus members.
Experienced professors can be invited to offer their opinions and responses for
interaction of alternative opinions. Modern students pervade to use the internet as a
public tool to express their own points of view. The internet technology must benefit and
facilitate knowledge production and distribution; universities are certainly the center
to the development of reasoning skills. The internet, therefore, can be utilized in
universities for students to reach the social issues and understand multifarious
viewpoints.

(5) The qualitative assessment using teacher portfolios was proved to
be an effective research method for insight and continuous data in the processes of data
collection and analysis. Teacher portfolios, incorporating the characteristics of both
qualitative and quantitative research methods, also assist instructors to deeply explore
the effects of reasoning skills intervention on the students’ reasoning skills
development.

(6) This study was conducted in one class of students taking a general
education course. Future researches might extend to professional subject courses in order
to explore the effects of Reasoning Skills intervention integrated into professional
subjects on the improvement of students’ reasoning skills.

(7) The development of concrete and teachable nineteen sub-skills
instruction for abstract reasoning skills theoretically helps the teaching and assessment
of reasoning skills. However, some consequent questions concerning with the structure of
these nineteen sub-skills and the interactive relation among them still require more
further researches for profound understanding of nature and mechanism of the reasoning
skills.

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