Attention, Relevance, Confidence, Success: Maximizing Critical Thinking Skills in an Online Art History Course

Concurrent Session 8

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Maximize student performance and success by transforming what we know works in the art history classroom to an online environment.


Ingrid Steiner is an Art History Lecturer at Gnomon School of Visual Effects and California State University Dominguez Hills . She created and teaches hybrid Art History I, II and Design History classes. She is interested in creating communities of student-student interaction which enhance student motivation and performance. She holds a MA in Humanities and a MS in Education, specializing in Online Teaching and Learning. She enjoys combining her interest in Humanities Education with both in class and online teaching pedagogy.

Extended Abstract

Thirty years ago Hamblen (1984) proposed a revised approach to the art history curriculum, advocating for course materials, which encouraged engagement in the various levels of learning supported by Bloom's Taxonomy and "the development of a teaching methodology that ensures the active involvement of students beyond the memorization of facts and predefined conclusions" (p. 41). Hamblen argued critical problem solving skills in art history had traditionally been confined to discussions of artistic production and technique, omitting a person's own interpretations of works of art. Fast forward thirty years and it is apparent art history curriculum has undergone few changes (Chanda, 2007; Gioffre, 2012; Rose & Torosyan, 2009; Yenawine & Miller, 2014). Development of visual, critical thinking skills as an adult learner is necessary to understand, internalize, and construct meaning for the art we see around us every day. Although, critical thinking is considered "a standard of intellectual excellence required for full participation in the social, economic, and political life of our society" (MacKnight, 2000, p.38), these skills are still not being addressed adequately in face-to-face or online adult, art historical educational programs (Chanda, 2007; Gioffre, 2012; Rose & Torosyan, 2009).
An Online Art History I Class which Develops Critical Thinking Skills
Art History I at Gnomon School of Visual Effects is designed to develop an adult learner's visual critical thinking skills, eschewing rote memorization and encourages the learner to construct their own perceptions and meanings of objects from the art historical canon. The four primary student learning objectives for the course are to develop skills in critical thinking, research, communication, and art historical literacies. The ten week course is designed based on the principles of John Keller's (2010) ARCS method of motivational design for learning and performance. Generating and sustaining attention to the subject matter, establishing and supporting relevance to the learner, building the confidence of the learner and managing outcomes for satisfaction, increases learner motivation, therefore leading to a greater mastery of the subject matter and ultimately achieving the goals of the course objectives (Keller, 2010).
The ARCS method is achieved through connecting instruction to the goals of learners (Keller, 2010). Objectives, assessments, and activities, appealing to a variety of learning styles, are all closely related to content mastery and therefore play an important role in developing a learner's critical thinking skills (Mao & Thompson, 2007). This course's materials require learners to develop and employ critical thinking skills through the process of applying, analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating (Bloom et al., 1956; Wiggins and McTighe, 2013) the western art historical canon. Frequent evaluation throughout the course and subsequent terms ensures that the course materials meet the students' needs and goals.
The value of integrating online critical thinking skills to an online environment is that more time can be spent on the analysis, synthesis and evaluation of higher-order thinking skills (Mandernach, 2006; Arend, 2009; MacKnight, 2000). In an asynchronous learning environment, adult learners can plan and prepare their responses, in contrast to the more superficial interactions which occur in a face-to-face environment (Mandernach, 2006; Arend, 2009; MacKnight, 2000). In addition to planning and preparing, an online learner has time to examine other learning resources which are not often immediately available in a traditional classroom (Astleitner, 2002; Arend, 2009). Course activities are designed to offer "opportunities for individualized, in-depth interactions" (Mandernach, 2006, p. 43). Online asynchronous discussions boards encourage learners to develop and display critical thinking skills (Mandernach, 2006; Lai & Lu, 2007). Research has shown that knowledge construction is increased through communications on the discussion board (Lai & Lu, 2007). Other technologies in the learning management system are employed to encourage critical thinking skills. These include: blogs, wikis, audio and video (Mandernach, 2006). Challenges with this method also exist, since some students are uncomfortable expressing themselves in writing (Arend, 2009), but instructor presence, encouragement and training can help combat the apprehension (Lu, 2004; Gibson & Dunning, 2012).
Standardized assessments are reconsidered in this course. Traditional assessments "emphasize knowledge over the thought process" (Mandernach, 2006, p. 42). Properly prepared assessments, such as research papers and discussions, encourage students to formulate their own opinions and ideas, therefore developing their critical thinking skills (Arend, 2007). Using a high percentage of these types of assessments in a course has been linked to higher uses of critical thinking skills (Arend, 2007). My goal as an online instructor is to craft activities which encourage every learner to not just be "exposed to content" (MacKnight, 2000. p.41) but to critically interact with it (MacKnight, 2000). The evaluation of a learner's experience and satisfaction in relation to the design of the course content is a primary consideration for this course.
Integrating the ARCS method with higher critical thinking skills activities is not just for art history classes! The methods in this course can be adopted for many different disciplines. Participants will leave the session with various practical assessment ideas and designs which can be immediately applied to their own courses. The main goal of the session is to encourage new ways to transform, not transfer proven face-to-face methods to the online environment.