Teaching Critical Thinking in Online and Blended Environments

Workshop Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Struggling to introduce critical thinking activities into your programs? In this session, you'll learn how to integrate this essential skill into any subject matter.

Extended Abstract

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported a seemingly paradoxical situation: Employers generally agree that critical thinking is an essential skill for success in organizations, but there is no generally-accepted definition of the term. In related news, studies show that support for teaching critical-thinking skills is quite high, but again, it's not 100% clear what this means if we don't know what critical thinking is or what kinds of educational experiences improve those skills. Learning professionals often struggle to integrate critical thinking into their course experiences, and they would benefit from applying a clear model of critical thinking that fits with their learning goals and the online environment.
This session addresses this fundamental problem and will help participants add value to their programs by providing:
ï a conceptual framework for building critical thinking skills
ï techniques for building those skills, applicable in any discipline or subject matter
ï applications and illustrations of those techniques
ï advice for leveraging the advantages of the online medium to promote critical thinking skills
ï opportunities to practice the techniques in groups and share experiences with fellow participants.

Learning Objectives:
At the end of the session, participants will be able to:
ï Describe the nature and importance of critical thinking
ï Develop learning experiences that promote critical thinking skills.
ï Leverage the benefits of the online medium to promote critical thinking skills

Session Outline:
1. We begin with an interactive Q&A, discussing case studies in which people who had the same information that everyone else had reached different (and innovative) conclusions. This leads to the motivating principle: success typically depends on one's ability to make sound decisions after critically evaluating evidence.
a. Examples will be chosen from businesses that have transformed the world, such as Twitter, Netflix, and Xerox, as well as smaller-scale scenarios that illustrate the role of critical thinking in everyday life.
b. We will show that "logically-sound" does not have to mean "dry" or "formulaic." We will illustrate the connection between critical thinking and creative thinking.
2. We then will provide (and hold up for critique) a model of critical thinking:

Critical thinking is the ability to evaluate the connection between evidence and potential conclusions. It is the ability to make logically-sound judgments, identify assumptions and alternatives, ask relevant questions, and to be fair and open-minded when evaluating the strength of arguments.
3. Participants will apply this model in small groups to a time-tested case study we have developed that always brings out variety and creativity in audience responses.
4. We will then deconstruct the example we just provided to articulate principles that can be used for developing critical thinking activities in any discipline. Among those will be:
a. Create a realistic scenario in which decisions have to be made with partial information.
b. Instead of asking for the answer, ask what questions you would ask before coming up with an answer.
c. Build in assumptions, alternative explanations, and terms that can be interpreted in different ways.
d. Create a general picture of what good analysis might reveal, but be open to new suggestions.
e. Test out different versions of it until it performs as you would like it to.
5. We then explain how to use the capabilities of online environments to enhance these experiences. The discussion will include:
a. Using polling to measure mastery of concepts such as logical relevance and assumptions.
b. Leveraging IM functionality to reinforce paraphrasing skills and helping participants grasp the scope of the argument.
c. Analyzing performance data to identify important trends.
d. Applying peer review techniques to evaluate creative responses at scale.
6. Participants will apply those techniques in small groups to create their own short case studies that will engage critical thinking skills.
a. They will be asked to come up with a plausible real-world scenario and a decision to be made.
b. They will come up with the evidence that learners will know for sure, some facts that can be interpreted in different ways, and missing information that would need to be found before a good decision could be made.
c. They will then provide an outline of some of the ideas that should come out of solid analysis, although creative learners will surely find new issues all the time.
7. Groups will present their exercises to each other to share experiences and reinforce learning.
8. We'll sum up and provide takeaway tools to provide support as the participants apply those lessons and develop better learning experiences.

Why This Will Work:
ï The subject matter, critical thinking, is essential in every learning context but is often not taught effectively, if at all.
ï Our approach will illustrate techniques for grasping the relevant issues and motivating learning on the topic.
ï The session will engage participants with group activities, proven case studies, and opportunities to share experiences and perspectives.
ï It also includes specific advice for leveraging the functionality of new platforms and learning systems.
ï Participants will receive a takeaway tool that summarizes their learning and will help them apply it.

(1) http://online.wsj.com/articles/bosses-seek-critical-thinking-but-what-is...
(2) http://www.gallup.com/poll/164060/americans-say-schools-teach-soft-skill...