In online education the tool most often relied upon to encourage interaction among students and instructors is the discussion forum. Mostly asynchronous discussions. It can be an effective tool if instructors at the same time can encourage active learning — that is, learning by doing.
If you’re interested in developing more critical thinking in your online course discussions, let me draw your attention to an interesting study done by some folks at Georgia State University and published by the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. “Using the Four-Questions Technique to Enhance Critical Thinking in Online Discussions” takes the “four question technique” from another study about encouraging critical thinking through active learning in face to face classes, and develops it for the online class environment.
The four question technique
To develop multiple types of critical thinking the researchers wrote questions that encouraged analyzing, reflecting, relating, and questioning. The original study used the following questions:
- “Identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea in psychology that you learned while completing this activity.” (analyzing)
- “Why do you believe that this concept, research finding, theory, or idea in psychology is important?” (reflecting)
- “Apply what you have learned from this activity to some aspect of your life.” (relating)
- “What question(s) has the activity raised for you? What are you still wondering about?” (questioning).
Using a modified version of the Washington State University Critical and Integrative Thinking Scale (WSUCITS) as a discussion grading rubric, the researchers found that using the four question technique did enhance critical thinking.
Do you use any unique methods to encourage critical thinking in your online discussions?
If you’re a UMass Amherst online instructor for Continuing & Professional Education and would like help brainstorming ideas to increase critical thinking by your students in discussion forums, please write to our faculty support line (facline <at> contined.umass.edu).