Developing information technology learners' critical thinking skills : implications for self-directed learning
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Critical thinking in the Information Technology classroom is a concept of importance in this day and age where learners are bombarded with information and faced with a subject that is constantly changing. This study focused on the development of critical thinking skills in the Information Technology classroom and the influence of critical thinking development on learners’ Self-Directed Learning. Self-Directed Learning is described by Knowles (1975:18) as a process where an “individual takes responsibility for his/her own learning by taking initiative in diagnosing his/her learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources needed for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning styles and evaluating the learning outcomes”. In an era where learners need the ability to think critically about information and keep up with the changes that surround them in the Information Technology subject (where computer programming makes up 60% of the subject and is generally seen as difficult), Self-Directed Learning and critical thinking increase learners’ likelihood of succeeding in the subject. To investigate the development of critical thinking in the Information Technology classroom and its effect on Grade 10 Information Technology learners’ Self-Directed Learning, a quasi-experimental study was conducted among Grade 10 Information Technology learners from three provinces in South Africa. The study consisted of four groups (one control group and three experimental groups) all of which were randomly selected from the schools who opted to participate in the study. At the beginning of the study, all four groups in the study completed the Cornell Critical Thinking Test – Level X as well as the Self-Directed Learning Instrument by Cheng et al. (2010). During the intervention, experimental group one (critical thinking instruction [CTI] group) implemented deliberate critical thinking strategies, experimental group two (critical thinking instruction infused into pair programming [CTI+PP] group) implemented critical thinking strategies infused into PP, and experimental group three ([PP] group) only implemented pair programming in the class. After approximately six weeks, the two questionnaires given at the onset of the study were once again distributed. The Grade 10 learners completed narratives during the post-test phase of the study. Grade 10 Information Technology teachers participated in semi-structured interviews at the onset of the study as well as at the end of the study in order to establish their experiences of the suggested strategies to develop critical thinking. The results yielded from the study showed that pair programming (as a cooperative learning strategy) holds the greatest advantages regarding critical thinking and Self-Directed Learning development for Grade 10 Information Technology learners. Success, for any teaching–learning strategy, is however dependent on the implementation and willingness of teachers.