Encouraging Critical Thinking through Online Discussions

Fri, 28 Feb, 2014     critical thinkingdiscussion boardhigher educationonline discussionsrubric

Over the last several years, critical and higher order thinking have been a major focus for both higher education and the education field in general.  Being able to promote critical thinking in the classroom whether face-to-face or virtual is a skill that many instructors must master.  For the online environment, this can be done through online discussions.  However, the ways to create this type of environment through discussions are numerous. 

First, students need a background knowledge of the subject matter.  Requiring students to know the background information before being able to participate in discussions is key to promoting critical thinking.  This can be achieved through how the instructor phrases the question.  For example, a question may look like this: "In the readings this week there were several views on how religion affects culture.  Which one of those views appeals most to you and why?"  This type of question will not allow students to simply regurgitate facts that they have learned from the text, but it will require them to apply what they have learned and think critically when formulating their answers. 

Next, it is a good practice to make discussion boards open ended and allow for multiple perspectives from students.  This teaches students that there may not always be a "right" answer.  It also allows students to see the different perspectives from their classmates and promotes community even though students are working in the online environment.  That being said, instructors should also participate in the discussions from time to time.  This will allow instructors to interact with their students and have hands on opportunities with them even though they are not in a face-to-face classroom every week. 

Another important aspect of online discussions is how they are graded.  Many instructors use discussion boards as a way to gage participation of students in their course.  It is also important to provide feedback through these discussion boards.  This can be done through using the rubrics tool in Blackboard.  By providing a rubric, the instructor provides guidelines for students as they participate in discussions.  It is also a good idea to provide students with a sample discussion board post that demonstrates how to write posts and students may model their posts after this sample. 

Finally, there are many other advantages to using online discussions.  They allow for students who may not participate in an in-person class to participate without having the anxiety of the in-person setting.  They allow for more opportunities for students to practice and improve their writing skills.  Student participation can be easily tracked through Blackboard and responses can be assessed over time.  Lastly and most importantly, critical thinking can be encouraged through online discussions because it requires students to support their answers.