Higher order thinking in an online world: Toward a theory of web-mediated knowledge synthesis

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Background/Context: The rapid pace of technological change, undergirded by near ubiquitous access to the web, is producing a new learning ecology-a new ecology of information, of knowledge, of reading, of teaching, and of thinking. This instant availability of digital resources frees both time and cognitive energy that may be used to facilitate higher order thinking. This article provides a framework through which to better understand, evaluate, and scaffold the generative synthesis of knowledge in a web-mediated world. Purpose/Objective: The purpose of this article is to describe a theory that can stimulate additional scholarly work examining higher order, or generative, thinking in web-mediated environments. Research Design: The author outlines theory development based on two explicit steps. First, he reviews scholarly literature from educational psychology, reading comprehension, hypertext and web-based reading, cognitive flexibility, and creativity. Based on this process, he develops a proto-theory for web-based synthesis. Then, using this three-fold operationalization of synthesis, the author reports findings from a multiple-case study of advanced learners on the web, resulting in further elaboration of the concept of web-based knowledge synthesis. Conclusions/Recommendations: The author proposes a theory of web-mediated knowledge synthesis comprising seven interacting elements: (a) divergent keyword search phrases; (b) synthesis for meaning; (c) in-the-moment insights; (d) repurposing; (e) reinforcement; (f) note-taking; and (g) creative synthesis. Through these elements, this theory provides a road map for further exploration of how web users can construct knowledge that adds value to the information they encounter every day.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120305
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2014


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