Student-Driven Critical Thinking in Online Discussions


Student-Driven Critical Thinking in Online Discussions

Student-Driven Critical Thinking Discussions

Kamil Hamaoui, Instructor from Westchester Community College is an Open SUNY Fellow in the Exemplar, Coach, and Mentor role in the COTE community.

His Effective Practice Fellow Chat: Student-Driven Critical Thinking Discussions in the  Learning Effectiveness track is recommended for online faculty in the interested and experienced roles.

This group is the companion online discussion area for those interested in continuing this conversation, and in continuing to share and learn about supporting critical thinking in online discussion.

Abstract: Discussion forums are commonly used in online courses as a medium for students to develop critical thinking, communication, and information literacy skills. An effective way to meet these objectives is to use an explicit critical thinking framework, in which students are given specific instructions on how to structure their posts.

Members: 7
Latest Activity: Feb 28, 2015

Discussion Forum

Critical Thinking Discussions

Started by Kamil Hamaoui. Last reply by Diane Gusa Oct 31, 2014. 8 Replies

Hi everyone,How do you teach critical thinking in your online courses?  Do you use discussion forums; if so, how is that working for you and your students?I look forward to exchanging ideas with you!Continue

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Comment by Alexandra M. Pickett on May 8, 2014 at 4:09pm

An overview of Student-Driven Critical Thinking Online Discussions by Dr. Kamil Hamaoui

An over-arching goal of higher education is to have students develop critical thinking, communication, and information literacy skills. These are identified as key values at Westchester Community College, and are included as core learning outcomes at many colleges and universities.

In online courses, discussion forums are often used as a medium in which students can develop these skills. A controversial, unanswered, or debatable question is presented, and students are instructed to present their reasoned conclusion. Then students are instructed in one way or another to discuss the issue with their classmates.

In my experience, the best way to ensure that discussion forums are effective in having students develop critical thinking, communication, and information literacy skills is to use an explicit critical thinking framework in which students are given specific instructions on how to structure their posts. Without this guidance, many students will approach the forums as chat rooms, using a non-academic writing style and commenting superficially on posts expressing views that accord with their own.

I use a critical thinking framework based upon the model of critical thinking developed by the Foundation for Critical Thinking (Paul & Elder, 2000). In this model, thinking is analyzed by identifying the elements of thought (i.e., the question, the thinker’s purpose, the thinker’s point of view, the information presented, the inferences drawn, the assumptions made, the concepts used, and the implications that arise from the conclusions). The thinking as presented is then evaluated in relation to universal intellectual standards, which include accuracy, clarity, precision, depth, breadth, logic, relevance, significance, and fairness.

In their initial post, students are instructed to find an online source to inform their thinking on the issue and to present a rationale supporting their conclusion to the question. When posting replies to their classmates’ initial posts, students are instructed to quote the specific statement to which they are responding, to identify the element of thought within the statement, and to ask a question focused on a specific intellectual standard. For example, a student can ask a question that targets the clarity of the thinker’s use of a particular concept. When posting final posts at the end of the assignment, students are instructed to reflect upon how their thinking developed in relation to the intellectual standards, by quoting and discussing specific statements made by their classmates.

An additional feature of these discussions is that they are student-driven. The role of the instructor is primarily to monitor the discussion. For the first discussion forum assignment in the course, I reply to every student’s initial post to model how the replies should be structured. For subsequent assignments, I only reply if the student received fewer than two replies. After the discussion forum closes, I post an announcement that includes feedback on the class’s overall performance in meeting the requirements, followed by a commentary on the discussion forum topic.

Paul, R. W., & Elder, L. (2000). Critical thinking: Basic theory and instructional structures handbook. Tomales, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.

Comment by Alexandra M. Pickett on May 8, 2014 at 12:44pm


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Created by Alexandra M. Pickett Aug 19, 2010 at 11:52am. Last updated by Alexandra M. Pickett May 20, 2020.


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