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MirandaNet Fellowship Casestudy

Membership List | Publications | Research | Specialist Area List | Braided Learning Ejournal

Engaging Learners through Critical Thinking Scaffolds

Article abstract for review

Steven J Coombs

Year of posting: 2006


Engaging Learners Through Critical Thinking Scaffolds focuses on personal learning and how it is developed through the use of critical thinking scaffolds. Through his research, Coombs suggests that the basis of the critical thinking scaffold consist of managing, focusing and eliciting reflection as a method of personal learning (Coombs, 2000). Coombs sites the merged theories of ‘systems thinking' and Self-organised-Learning (S‑o-L) (Thomas & Harri-Augstein, 1985) as the philosophical and pedagogical basis for using critical thinking scaffolds to improve personal learning. The S-o-L theory explains human learning as developed through the construction and reconstruction of meaningful reflective experiences. The S-o-L theory includes three phases: brainstorming to capture ideas, focusing key issues to develop ideas and, finally, project control through operational management. Graphic organisers, like Inspiration® from Inspiration Software®, can be used in all three phases to simplify and digitise the process. The second theory of systems thinking is based on Knowledge Elicitation Systems (KES), which focuses on idea capturing, sorting relationships and displaying a final pattern. Graphic organisers are again suggested for this structure.

"Taxonomies and flowcharts clearly provide two different kinds of knowledge. The one represents the world in terms of a hierarchical order. Its main concern is the ranking of phenomena from the perspective of a single unifying turn.... the other describes the world in terms of an actively pursued process with a clear beginning and an end. It has a sequential progression and is goal-orientated... System networks... attempt to combine the two perspectives" Kress and Leeuwen (1996). Inspiration allows for the building of the hierarchical order of taxonomy and the process structure of a flow chart.

Coombs continues on to share his use of scaffolding created in Inspiration to develop this paper, as well as provide some practical examples used with his post graduate students (teachers, trainers, etc.) in the form of generic case study templates used as support. Psychological schemas manifested in the form of practical visual learning templates to help guide and structure critical reflection have been developed and integrated into the Professional Master's Programme at Bath Spa University. These templates operate as professional learning tools to help professionals critically engage in work-based projects. These critical thinking tools have also been adapted to both support and assure quality in the master's level work-based professional development capability of participant professional learners via the university's virtual learning environment system.

Read the entirety of Coombs' paper for specific examples of how tools such as Inspiration were used to support his theory of the critical thinking scaffold.

Steven Coombs Inspiration Map


critical thinking scaffold, conversational learning, systems thinking, visual learning


The full study is a Word document containing further maps.

The Templates can be downloaded from here:

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