CORE - Critical Thinking in Online Learning Environments in Higher Education

The project investigates the critical use of digital media and information by students. Text and process data are collected using a digital assessment platform and evaluated using machine learning analyses in order to identify correlations between test scores, solution processes and Internet resources used.

Students are increasingly using information from the internet to learn for their studies. According to recent surveys, they even cite the Internet as their main source for searching for learning material. Research shows that students often use unsuitable, irrelevant and academically unsupported sources when searching the Internet. Little is known about how exactly self-directed learning takes place on the internet and how information is selected and processed.

This is where the research group “Critical Thinking in Online Learning Environments in Higher Education (CORE)” comes in. As part of the CORE project, the critical use of digital media and information by students in the four study areas is being investigated at three locations across Germany. The multidisciplinary research group with 16 participating disciplines has a strong international focus. DIPF's project partners in this project are Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), Goethe University Frankfurt am Main and Ludwig Maximilian University Munich (LMU). International project partners include the US universities Stanford and Harvard. Studies show that students' learning behavior has not only changed since the coronavirus pandemic - with the switch from face-to-face to online teaching. Even before that, for example, 95% of business students used search engines to find information. Students use the internet not only as a source of information, but also as a learning environment.

In the sub-project “C08: Integration of students' process and text data to measure the interdependence of domain-specific and generic critical online reasoning (DOMCOR and GEN-COR)”, which is part of the DFG-funded research group CORE, the participating researchers have access to a sophisticated digital assessment platform. Here they record which digital sources and content the students look at and how they use them for their studies. For example, students are given typical tasks that occur in their field of study, such as creating a presentation on a specific topic. The research is carried out on virtual computers, which are used to record the students' approach to solving the task over longer periods of time and then evaluated.

Researchers can then reconstruct the entire search process and answer the question of whether students have used appropriate, up-to-date, relevant and scientifically validated sources. This is of particular interest because previous studies have shown that students are often unable to distinguish between independent sources and less reliable information, especially when the information comes from supposed experts. The key is to capture not only students' learning behavior, but the entire information landscape. This includes all digital media, including recent developments such as ChatGPT, but also analog sources such as textbooks.

Project Objectives

The project aims to analyze text data from the main project, which is read or written by students while solving critical online reasoning tasks, as well as process data recorded during computer use. Machine learning analyses will be used to identify latent structures between test scores, solution processes and characteristics of the Internet resources used.

Funding: DFG-Project

Cooperations: Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), Goethe University Frankfurt am MainLudwig Maximilian University Munich (LMU)

Duration: 09/2023 – 08/2027

Status: laufend

Project team: Gianluca Romano, Sebastian Gombert

Contact: Hendrik Drachsler