This is a 4-page summary of my 46-page chapter included
in Electronic Communities: Current Issues and Best Practices (edited by
Sorel Reisman, published by Information Age Publishing for the U.S. Distance
Learning Association, 2003, pages 301-347). More information about the book is
(I get no royalties from sales of the book.) A shorter and older version of
the chapter (20 pages, 2001) is available at
The chapter reviews research that demonstrates that
thinking can indeed be taught in online classes, provides fifteen strategies
for teaching thinking and promoting intellectual development, and incorporates
extensive resources for online teachers.
Professors who are good at getting students to think in
their face-to-face classrooms wonder if they can be as good online. According
to at least sixteen different research articles describing successful
experiences teaching higher order thinking in online courses, yes, they can.
In their case studies, the authors directly assessed the students' thinking
before reaching the conclusion that the course was successful in teaching
thinking. All of them emphasize that interaction among students and with their
professor was crucial to their seeing evidence of student thinking. Only with
designed interaction among students can one expect to find evidence that
online courses facilitate thinking.
STRATEGIES FOR TEACHING THINKING IN ONLINE CLASSES
Many face-to-face classroom strategies for teaching
students to think about course content can be used just as effectively online.
Some are best suited for student responses as public postings in conference
threads and bulletin board forums; some are more effective as private homework
or formal writing assignments. Here are the recommended strategies:
1. Conduct Opinion Polls/Surveys Before Assigned
Readings to Arouse Interest in Topics
and to Assess and Employ Students' Prior
Students, like everyone else, seem to have opinions on any issue whether
they are well informed or not. A way to generate interest in assigned readings
is, before they are read, to take a survey of studentsí opinions on the issue
or to pre-test their knowledge of the information presented in the readings.
This strategy is useful for getting students interested in issues and assigned
readings but doesn't improve their thinking unless the next step is to analyze
and evaluate the evidence and reasons provided in the readings.
Design Self-Testing Quizzes and Tutorials to Prepare Students for
a Web course, the usual sources of course content are a textbook and
so itís important for students to test their
understanding of their reading. How does a factual-recall quiz improve
thinking? It doesn't, but a professor can make passing a quiz on an assigned
reading the gateway to discussing it in the conference. Discussions are richer
when students are prepared.
3. Conduct Interactive Asynchronous Discussions
active-learning strategies for teaching thinking described in this article can
be used with individual students learning alone. However, students interacting
with other students has some benefits that should not be passed up. A sense of
being in a safe community helps some students take intellectual risks, helps
people-oriented learners acquire the course content, exposes students to other
perspectives, and provides additional student-generated ideas and information
to think about. All the researchers who claim success at teaching critical
thinking online attribute it to their use of discussion forums.
Pose Well-Designed Questions for Asynchronous Discussion
Asynchronous discussions can take place in threaded conferences, study
groups, and chat sessions. The URL cited at the top of this article has
several approaches to asking good questions.
Create Cognitive Dissonance: Provoke Discomfort, Unsettle Confirmed Notions,
Uncover Misconceptions, Inspire Curiosity,
point here is not to befuddle students but to dispel complacency by creating
cognitive dissonance. To create cognitive dissonance, the teacher can design a
task that uses studentsí prior learning but also requires factual information
or procedures that the students do not know. Creating in students the need to
know is a basic strategy underlying inquiry learning and problem-based
6. Assign Writing-to-Learn Tasks as Homework and/or
That writing shapes thinking has both a theoretical and a research base. The
following list of potential writing-to-learn tasks comes from several fine
books on teaching disciplinary thinking in face-to-face classes: John C. Bean,
Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical
Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (1996); Chet Meyers and
Thomas B. Jones, Promoting Active Learning: Strategies for the Classroom
(1993); and Tracey E. Sutherland and Charles C. Bonwell (eds.), Using
Active Learning in College Classes: A Range of Options for Faculty
- Formal Writing Assignments
- Informal Exploratory Writing
- Apply the Concepts of the Textbook Chapters to Cases
or Issues Every Week
- Tasks for Small-Group Problem Solving and
- Questions for Socratic dialogue
- Practice Exam Questions
Activities That Require Considering Opposing Views
Professors can ask students to consider opposing views, methods, data,
principles, concepts, definitions, interpretations, and conclusions.
Dialectical thinking (sometimes called dialogical thinking) is one of the best
ways to engage studentsí minds, challenge their previously held beliefs,
promote open-mindedness, defer the rush to judgment, and move them to higher
8. Assign a Mediatory Argument Promoting a
Resolution Acceptable to Both Sides
purpose of the argument to negotiate is to seek consensus within an audience
polarized by differences in a context where there is a need to cooperate and
preserve relations. Such an argument requires students to understand the
implications of their position and to understand how their proposal may affect
9. Adopt Collaborative and Cooperative Learning
Techniques, Simulations, and
Role-Plays to Online Uses
Collaborative and cooperative learning techniques go beyond simply having
students talk about the course content in asynchronous discussions. Professors
can ask teams to collaborate on formal or informal writing-to-learn tasks,
which can range from formal reports to the professor or informal briefings to
the rest of the class.
10. Ask Students to Evaluate Internet Resources
Evaluating Internet resources requires critical thinking appropriate for any
11. Ask Students to
Reflect on Their Responses to the Course Content and on Their
Learning Processes in Private
Writing self-reflective responses improves students' metacognitive abilities,
promotes personal holistic engagement in learning, and promotes intellectual
development. The effectiveness of using journals and logs has been established
for many years, and they are standard writing assignments in schools and
colleges with writing across the curriculum programs.
Develop Critical Thinking Dispositions
It is not enough to teach students to perform thinking operations and tasks.
They should also be disposed to carrying them out on their own, unasked.
Richard Paul, one of the leaders in promoting critical thinking in education,
introduces one more dimension to critical thinking: fair-mindedness. Paul's
experience as a college professor showed him three kinds of thinkers: