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Reflection is a vital element in learning, where content and theories are questioned (Dewey, 1959) and is important to the development of cognitive and social presence. With the community of inquiry framework in mind, the goal of instruction is to develop a process that encourages critical, reflective discourse, through collaboration (Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2000). Collaboration between teacher and students or groups of students, as well as collaboration between students, facilitates the development of social and cognitive presence. Teachers benefit from their own reflection as well as student reflection on how processes, content and delivery can be improved, thus improving aspects of teacher presence. Further, reflection aids students in refining their own learning processes and provides a mirror to see ways to improve. A study by Chang (2002) found that instructional design should encourage learners to reflect and share their reflections with others in the course and that this form of processing will result in growth in critical thinking, motivation, and community building.

To promote critical thinking, students must learn to teach themselves to reflect, refine and develop meta-cognitive skills (Pithers & Soden, 2000). Reflection is a process of making sense of one’s own experience and telling one’s story (Gall, Gall & Borg, 2006, p. 604). Johnson (1981) recommends teaching thinking through discussion and dialogue. Visser (2007) holds that dialogue is a “prerequisite for the development of critical thinking, creativity, and the socialization and contextualization of cognition” (p. 644) and that a cross disciplinary focus on problem solving is essential. Based on previous research, critical thinking skills improve significantly when college age learners are enrolled in courses that promote reflection (Chang, 2002), as compared to learners in courses where reflection is not encouraged.


  • Chang, E. A. (2002). The efficacy of asynchronous online learning in the promotion of critical thinking in graduate education. Ed.D. dissertation, Columbia University Teachers College, United States -- New York. Retrieved March 3, 2009, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text database. (Publication No. AAT 3052867).
  • Dewey, J. (1959). My pedagogic creed.In Dewey on education. ed. J. Dewey, 19–32. New York: Teachers College,Columbia University. (Original work published 1897.) in Garrison, R., Anderson, T. & Archer, W. (2004). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. Retrieved November 1, 2009 from Communities of Inquiry
  • Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P., & Borg, W. R. (2006). Educational research: An introduction (8th ed.).Boston: Pearson Education.
  • Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education.The Internet and Higher Education 2(2–3): 1–19.
  • Pithers, R., & Soden, R. (2000). Critical thinking in education: a review. Educational Research, 42(3), 237-249. doi:10.1080/001318800440579.
  • Visser, J. (2007). Learning in a global society. In M. G. Moore, Handbook of distance education (2nd. Ed). Mahwah, NJ. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.