Critical Thinking in Online Discussion
My approach to engaging faculty in becoming online instructors has been to stimulate their imaginations about the new instructional strategies available to them in this different mode of teaching. Graded discussion forums unlock a new and powerful instructional strategy that is not readily feasible in traditional face-to-face classrooms.
This simple LMS tool enables instructors to monitor, moderate, and evaluate the quality and regularity of interactions between learners. With appropriate guidelines for engagement (instructions and rubrics), students learn how to collaborate constructively in specific disciplines.
When designed properly, student-student interactions can emulate professional collaborative activities. Students can be required to use critical thinking skills in those interactions and with rubrics, instructors can monitor and evaluate to what extent those skills are in use for each student.
If our goal as educators is to prepare students for “real-world” application of their skills and knowledge in the professional world of specific disciplines, we might serve them better by evaluating that application as learners in collaborative forums. Online discussions lend themselves very well to this purpose.
I talk about this extensively with Dr. Firm Faith Watson, Director of the Faculty Development Center at Murray State University in a virtual summit entitled “This Works For Me”
Here are some practical questions to ask when reviewing the design of a discussion forum:
- Do learners know the expectations for responding to the initial prompt? (word count range, references/citations, critical thinking skills)
- Do the learners know the expectations for responding to their classmates? (netiquette, adding value to the discussion, credit-earning criteria, quantity of required responses, critical thinking skills)
- Do learners have a clear understanding of the instructor’s role during the discussion?
- Are the rules of engagement clear to learners? (consistency of participation, netiquette, rubric criteria)
- Is there alignment between the instructions to learners, the critical thinking skills required to succeed in the forum, and the criteria for assessing performance (rubric/feedback)?
- Is it clear to learners how much time (per week) will be required for them to read others’ submissions and create substantive responses? Is this time requirement commensurate with the overall grading schema of the course?(student workload, percentage of final grade)
What else should we look for?