Higher order thinking through SOLO and e-learning

Funding year: 
2 years
Auckland UniServices
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2012
Project end date: 
June 2014
Principal investigator(s): 
Tony Hunt
Research team members: 
Frank Walton, Mark Gan, Earl Irving and Mavis Haigh, University of Auckland
Research partners: 
Teacher researchers at Howick College, led by Steve Martin

Project Description

Using design-based research this project investigated a secondary school approach to teaching which uses the SOLO taxonomy to design learning objectives and structure classroom activities using e-learning with the goal of developing students' higher-order thinking skills. The project also investigated the effectiveness of a professional development programme to develop the use of this approach across the curriculum.


The aims of this project are:

  1. To study the combined use of the SOLO taxonomy with e-learning tools (“SOLO/e-learning”) as a teaching strategy designed to move junior secondary school learners from surface cognitive processing to higher order thinking.
  2. To study the effectiveness of a model of professional development designed to increase secondary teacher competence in using the SOLO/e-learning teaching approach

Why is this research important?

Developing cognitive theories of learning see the development of higher-order thinking as a key outcome of education and e-learning is widely believed to have potential to provide an environment which can support effective learning strategies. A deeper understanding of the combination of SOLO with e-learning has the potential to assist teachers in designing learning which provides differentiated activities which are engaging for secondary students and lead to enhanced learning outcomes’

A deeper understanding of how teachers learn to use these techniques can aid the wider implementation of effective e-learning in schools,

What we plan to do

Teachers participating in a school-wide professional development program will trial the SOLO/e-learning approach with their Year 9 classes and data will be gathered to enable a rich description of the outcomes. The findings of this research will be used to inform further staff development and modifications to the teaching approach in the second year of the project, which will also be studied to enable conclusions to be drawn about effective ways of using the approach.


Data will be gathered from classroom observations of teacher-student, and student-student discourse, online discussing by students, products from classroom activities, attitude questionnaires, pre- and post-unit tests and interviews.


Student outcomes will be analysed according to the cognitive level of responses, attitudes to learning and level of engagement, to describe the effect of the teaching. Teacher activity will be analysed to develop criteria for assessing the degree to which the teaching approach is adopted, through aspects such as dialogic interaction, clarity of objectives, control of knowledge and choice of activities.

Project Contact

Tony Hunt – project leader
Faculty of Education,
University of Auckland
E-mail: t.hunt@auckland.ac.nz