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!

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Hi Kamil,

thanks again for the presentation. I am an instructional designer. From learning about how my faculty teach online I would say they teach critical thinking by having the students write essays, work on group projects, and online discussion forums.

I have to say thought, I did not know how in depth critical thinking activities could be. I did not even know that there is a critical thinking institute.

I really like how your model has the students constantly engaging the material by what you expect them to include in their discussion posts, especially how their final post should be a review of all their classmates initial posts.

There is also a lot of reflection going on in the students posts.

Thank you for your positive feedback, Ian.  You can get pretty in depth with critical thinking activities.  From what I've seen, usually instructors take an implicit approach where they have students consider questions that require critical thinking, but they don't explicitly describe how it is a critical thinking exercise.  They might label the activity as a "critical thinking activity," but there is nothing stated about critical thinking beyond the label.

What I really like about the model of critical thinking developed by the Foundation for Critical Thinking is how it is explicit.  They tell you straight out-- this is what critical thinking is-- and do so in very clear language.  So when I design assignments as an instructor, I can tell students straight out-- this is what I want you to do and what I'm asking you to do is critical thinking.  My hope is that they develop an awareness of when they are using critical thinking, so they can put on their critical thinking lens whenever they're faced with a question or issue that is complex or controversial outside of the classroom.

Please let me know if you have any further thoughts or questions!

Hello Kamil

This semester I have focused on developing critical thinking in both my f-2-f and online classes. I attended a one week workshop this summer in Berkeley with the Critical Thinking Community. My discussion forum has always been the hub of my course. I have an extensive rubric (more like a checklist) of expectations for initial posts and responses. It takes my students at least two modules before they get it completely. I also added SEE I papers each module (my modules are two weeks) where they develop a mini paper on a key concept for that module. I won't know until the final if my attempts with critical thinking will increase the learning in my class. I also incorporate metacognition and synthesis each module when my students write a blog post pulling the module together, including referring to two other discussion posts of their classmates. Next week I am chair for a conference with our local colleges about millennial students...I find they are challenge with detailed instructions, and that is if they choose to read the instructions in the first place. What are your experiences?

Hi Diane,

Thank you for sharing what you are doing to teach critical thinking!  The critical thinking model developed by the Critical Thinking Community has been extremely useful to me both in my online and f2f instruction.  I like how you are integrating a discussion forum assignment with a short paper and blog.  That approach sounds like it could really benefit students in developing depth of thinking on the selected topic.  Do you have students use the critical thinking terms (i.e., elements of thought and intellectual standards) explicitly?  I see this as important in having students develop metacognition.

My instructions for the discussion forum assignments are lengthy and detailed.  Many students don't meet the requirements during the first and second assignment, but after that the majority of students do.  In my two online courses this semester, half of the students in each class (which are enrolled with about 20 students in each) are earning perfect scores on the assignment.  My scoring is based solely on whether the student meets the requirements in the instruction.  Like you, I have a detailed rubric, which is presented in the instructions.  There are requirements for posting a certain number of posts, posting on certain days of the week, meeting a minimum word-length, quoting statements and paraphrasing, using the CT terms, using college-level writing, etc.

One thing to note is that my discussion forum assignment instructions are the same week after week.  The topic changes along with the questions for them to discuss, but the requirements are always the same.  So once students get the hang of it, the lengthy instructions serve as a review for what I am expecting of them.

I also talk about the importance of the discussion forum assignments extensively-- on the syllabus, in a first day orientation, and in announcements.  I repeatedly tell students about the importance of this assignment, and give specific feedback on student performance after each assignment.  I think this encourages them to take it seriously and do their best work.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and experiences.  I look forward to continuing the discussion!


My discussion forum assignments are also the same every week. The topics of course change. What do you teach? I teach sociology and education, and thus I have different genre to my discussions. In my education class I use music lyrics as metaphors to learning, My students freak out, wanting to know "what the teacher wants" and I reply just use the metaphor to your understanding of learning in your life. WHEN they finally trust and follow their ideas and not what the teacher want, they certainly learn to fly in both our discussions and blogs. (here is the video) http://youtu.be/eCB_INs2E24?t=14s

My scoring also is on meeting the requirements. I see the conversations as a work in progress, and when concepts are not fully understood I suggest edits (I usually supply the resource). Their edits count as a response. This seems to go well. (I think they feel to improve their grade they must do the edit, and I let them think that) I do "grade" until the end of the module. 

So far I use CT terms, clarity, accuracy, depth, breadth, significance. I am strict about stating their purpose (so to remain focused) and questioning their assumptions. The latter I am not as successful with. 

My checklist is broken into social, cognitive, and teacher presence. I expect my students to exhibit all three presences in their blogs and discussions. How about you?

Diane (my friends call me Gus)

Hi Gus,

Thank you for sharing further!  You're doing some really interesting work with critical thinking.  There is some similarity with what I'm doing, and some differences as well.  I teach psychology.  Given the closeness between psych and soc, I imagine we can learn a lot from each others' assignments. 

I run my discussion forum assignments every other week.  In the off week, students have a paper to write instead.  I don't suggest edits like yourself (I can see that taking a lot of time), but always comment on how they can improve on the next assignment.  I do drop the two lowest scores out of seven assignments, so they are not penalized if they have a slow start getting used to the assignment.

One thing that is challenging for students is identifying the element of thought within a statement.  It's often challenging for me as well, when there isn't much to work with.  An "inference" and an "assumption," for example, can be stated in the same way; the key difference, in my understanding, is whether it's backed up by information or not.  When students use the word "believe," I see that as an indicator that the statement is an assumption, since belief is taken as truth without evidence.

I use controversial issues for my discussions, so "fairness" is a standard that many students report developing.  Sometimes, the class is very split on the issue, but they do a great job in large part in being civil and friendly when discussing the issue with those that disagree with them.  At the beginning of the course, I model for them how to submit a reply.  Part of that includes addressing the student by name and always thanking the person for sharing her/his thoughts.  Maybe this is line with what you stated about having a "social" presence.


Hi Diane,

can you talk more about the process you have to teach your students to use social, cognitive, and teacher presence? Is the information only in the rubric and syllabus and discussion directions? Does the guidance come more when they actually write he post and get your feedback?


Hi I am chairing a conference tomorrow. Will try early next week to find the introduction sheet I share with my online students. (My office computer crash, good bye all my work. I will see if I have the introduction on one of my four thumb drives or two computers at home.)




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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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