Enriching Critical Thinking and Language Learning with Educational Digital Libraries

Hsin-lin Lu, Ph.D., The University of Kansas, 2012.

Abstract


As the amount of information available in online digital libraries increases exponentially, questions arise concerning the most productive way to use that information to advance learning. Applying the earlier information seeking theories advocated by Kelly (1963), Taylor (1968), and Belkin (1980) to the digital libraries experience, Carol Kuhlthau created the inquiry-based information search process (ISP) model. This ISP model describes thoughts, actions and feelings in six stages of inquiry: initiation, selection, exploration, formulation, collection, and presentation. This study investigated the value of an organized educational digital library in supporting and improving English Foreign Language (EFL) student’s critical thinking skills. The study also considered if critical thinking skills and English language skills can be improved simultaneously in the appropriate learning environment.

A quasi-experimental pretest/posttest design was utilized. Participants were 98 Taiwanese freshmen majoring in Applied English. Two groups were compared in their ability to cultivate critical thinking. One approach used traditional open access to information plus training in critical thinking. The other used a structured approach to accessing and organizing information from an online digital library as well as training in critical thinking. A One-Way ANCOVA and an Independent-Samples t-test were used to examine the two groups on their 1) critical thinking skills, 2) English reading comprehension, and 3) attitudes in EFL classrooms. Bivariate correlation was employed to evaluate the relation between critical thinking and English reading comprehension.

Results indicated that the experimental digital library group (M=11.69) significantly outperformed the traditional group (M=10.61) in critical thinking; F (1, 95)= 4.10, p<.05. The digital library group (M=11.69) also outperformed the traditional group (M=10.23) on English reading comprehension; F (1, 95) =14.72, p<.05. There was a positive relationship between critical thinking and English reading comprehension (r=.212), p<.05. Also, students in the digital library group (M=38.57), had better learning attitudes toward the intervention training program than did the control group (M=35.59); t (96) =2.48, p<.05.

Students who used structured search strategies with digital libraries had higher critical thinking performance and more positive attitudes toward their learning experience. Educators should adopt training strategies that engage learners in every stage of inquiry process, from identifying a topic and selecting what to investigate, to formulating a focused perspective and presenting their final product. Further studies are needed to determine if the benefits of structured search strategies with digital libraries extends to other settings, cultures and grade levels. Collecting and analyzing examples of student projects may provide additional insights into the development of critical thinking skills.