Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Delivering Content Through Critical Thinking

Today I had the opportunity to attend an online session titled, "Embedding Critical Thinking In Online Courses", by Roland Case, Ph.D.

This session resonated with me mostly because the presenter did a marvelous job of  using the very method he was teaching us about. How refreshing and effective for me this was! From the first slide that we were asked to read (and then found out it was scrambled and were asked to reorder it), to the concept examples that we were asked to categorize and then create our own, we were continually asked to evaluate and assess the content.

As a result, I found that my attention was focused on the tasks required, having to solve problems by practicing some of the same strategies that might be given to students. This led to a much better understanding, which I internalized immediately. And here's the kicker. The critical thinking activities did not come with flashy video clips or interactive games or require pretty flashcards (although all of these could be used). Further, these were not huge, culminating project type lessons but smaller activities and strategies that could be required in response to a reading for example.

Here's a summary of what I learned:
Almost every topic can use a critical thinking approach to delivering content.
If the content is "problemized", then student will more readily remember the content.
Critical thinking in this context is meant to enhance the curriculum, not add to it.

Examples of questions or activities  that might be in included in a lesson were categorized as
(1) factual, regurgitation "Where's Waldo" type questions 
(2) personal response, opinion questions where there is no wrong answer 
(3) questions that require analysis and judgement based on clear criteria (Critical Thinking)
I admit that I had previously thought of those column two type questions as being critical thinking type questions but I now see the difference, for the most part. I can see that what I learned today is the tip of the iceburg, especially after I visited the website of the Consortium of Critical Thinking that Roland is a part of.

This session has also caused me to think about activities that I have in my courses that I would consider "higher level" thinking but upon reflection, I see that many don't require much rigour in the responses as they are simply requiring an opinion with no "right answer". Moreover, if I do require a response that involves a judgement or analysis there is often not a clear criteria upon which to base an assessment of  a situation, reading etc. 

For educators, I think there is no doubt that critical-thinking should be taught and practiced in school, but without a clear understanding of what that should look like and perhaps the perception that this is another add-on to the curriculum it doesn't seem to be happening as prolifically as it should.