Infusing Critical Thinking in Online Discussions


Welcome to this workshop, which introduces theory and application of critical thinking to online discussions. A primary focus in this workshop is coming to see the intimate relationship between content and thinking; this entails internalizing the important realization that learning content of any kind entails thinking it through using one’s reasoning.

In this workshop, you will be introduced to the primary theory in the Paulian conception of critical thinking – the Elements of Reasoning, Universal Intellectual Standards, and Intellectual Traits. In this workshop you will discuss learning the theory of critical thinking, and contextualizing this theory into creating online discussions.

Consequently, you are encouraged to use the format of the online discssions in this workshop, to infuse critical thinking into your own online discussions. This will prepare you for understanding how to continue to make incremental changes in your online discussions each semester as you develop, increasingly over time, your understanding of critical thinking and your ability to foster it in teaching and learning.  This online learning opportunity brings learners substantively into the concept of critical thinking and strictly adheres to the tenets of fairminded critical thinking. Essential to the success of this workshop will be the independent work and feedback that learners provide to each other.

Asynchronous  discussions are the main focus of most online courses, regardless of the subject matter or discipline. A discussion forum is primarily a text-based mode of communication where someone will post a start to a threaded message and people will respond to that thread. Often, many threads can be going at the same time, with longer-lasting discussions. When people hear about distance education, they sometimes fear that students will be missing a great deal of interaction, communication, and participation. This is a misconception that needs to be addressed so that people will begin to appreciate the advantages of distance education and what it has to offer. Students can communicate and interact in distance education, just as they do in traditional face-to-face classes. At times, there is more interaction that takes place in online discussions than in traditional classrooms.

Organizing Idea for the Workshop

The approach to critical thinking, in this workshop, is designed to transform teaching and learning in your online discussions. The purpose of the workshop is to help instructors begin to internalize intellectual tools vital to fostering intellectual skills, abilities, and characteristics in student thought to create online discssions infused with critical thinking. Again, in this workshop we emphasize the importance of a substantive conception of critical thinking. Such a conception not only highlights essential qualities of an educated mind, but also implies the proper design of the educational process. These entail modes of instruction that foster development of the standards, abilities, and traits of the educated person.

When learners are taught using a substantive conception of critical thinking as the guide to the design of online discussions, they learn to initiate, analyze, and evaluate their own thinking and the thinking of others (within all the content areas they study). Doing so, they come to act more reasonably and effectively in every part of life. They are able to do this because they have acquired intellectual tools and intellectual standards essential to sound reasoning and personal and professional judgment. Self-assessment becomes an integral part of their lives. They are able to master content in diverse disciplines. They become proficient readers, writers, speakers, and listeners. They use their learning to raise the quality of their lives and the lives of others. They become reasonable and fairminded persons capable of empathizing with views with which they disagree and disagreeing with views uncritically accepted by those around them. They are able to use their reasoning skills to contribute to their own emotional life, and to transform their desires and motivations accordingly. They come to think, feel, and act effectively and with integrity.

This is the conception of education and of critical thinking at the heart of this workshop. The basic approach to this course will be in reading, reflecting on the readings, writing posts, giving and receiving feedback on posts, viewing videos, reflecting upon content in the videos, and contextualizing ideas to create  your own online discssions. All learners in the course are expected to be teaching a course; the course can be in any subject. The material point is the content learned in the workshop will need to be applied in online discssions throughout the semester.


As you apply your mind throughout this workshop you will:

  • Design online discussions that fosters explicit critical thinking.
  • Deepen your understanding of the foundations of critical thinking.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the relationship between critical thinking and thinking through content in your discipline.
  • Develop skills in placing the concept of fairminded critical thinking at the head of teaching and learning, including explicit emphasis on the development of intellectual virtues; help your students learn the tools they need if they are to develop as fairminded critical thinkers.
  • Design online discussions that dovetail with fostering critical thinking at every moment in teaching and learning.
  • Explicitly use the elements of reasoning and intellectual standards to create critical thinking online discussions in your subject area.
  • Help students cultivate their ability to think within the key concepts in subjects and disciplines.

How to Improve Giving Feedback

An important part of your weekly assignments will be to read and give feedback on other learners’ posts. Your feedback should fundamentally be focused on essential intellectual standards and should be constructive and respectful in nature. (Note that you are required to give feedback on two posts total per week, but feel free to give as much feedback as you have time for).

The primary roles of  facilitator of this course are:

  1. to oversee the feedback you are giving one another on your posts,
  2. to add feedback to individual posts and
  3. to give class feedback on those “intellectual moves” he is seeing the class make, or failing to make.

For instance, a sentence lacks clarity, or an example, though good, doesn’t seem relevant to the main point being made in the post. The facilitator might note that the thinking fails to probe beneath the surface into the deeper issues. He might point out that an important viewpoint is being excluded or distorted.The facilitator might ask for more details (precision) or point out to the class a paper that exemplifies both clarity and depth of thought.The facilitator will not comment on all of the individual posts, but will comment on many. The facilitator will seek overall patterns that all students can learn from, and point those out to the class (such as general lack of clarity, or breadth, etc.).

As you move through the workshop, you will want to work on improving your ability, over time to give and receive high quality feedback, based on critical thinking concepts and principles. At first the process will be awkward and you will likely make considerable mistakes. This is to be expected, just as you would make many mistakes when first learning the game of tennis. This process of giving and receiving feedback on posts can be used in most learning situations and when deeply internalized, can lead to improved thinking and learning. As you learn the process, you
should consider how you will bring this into your online discussions with students.

An important part of this process is that you will want to work closely together as a group to help one another grow and develop. One of the hallmarks of critical thinkers is their ability to assess their own reasoning accurately. We want to come ever closer to that goal as we move through this workshop. As you comment on each other’s posts, you will develop the ability to better critique your own thinking and work using intellectual standards. Remember that when we are giving feedback on posts, we are focused on a person’s reasoning, not
the person him or herself. We all should invite constructive critique of our thoughts and our work. This is an essential disposition of the critical thinker.

Asynchronous Discussions

  • Promote student engagement with the course material, the instructor, and classmates,
  • provide a way for ideas to be heard, shared, and developed,
  • provide instructors with the opportunity to express their passion for their subject matter and inspire it in their online students, and
  • encourage active learning.

Asynchronous discussions  allow students to illustrate their insights, questions, and application of and engagement with the topics, concepts, and material being created, presented and discussed. Requiring students to actively participate in and complete individual form/discussion posts, as well as respond to several of their peers’ posts, nurtures student-to-student learning and promotes transparency and open learning.   Thinking critically through  the exchange of perspectives is invaluable in ANY online course.

Asynchronous discussions are also used to create regular  interaction between students and with the instructor. The instructor encourages participants to dig deeper into the topic as well as build community with their peers.

It is critical for successful discussions to be well-organized. Discussions should mirror the organization of the syllabus.  Typically, a course has some sequencing of units or by week.  Discussion forums flow from this organization.  We highly suggest sequencing your discussions by weeks of the course.  This format is the easiest for students to understand.

Finally, asynchronous discussions are  where the social presence of both faculty and students is most evident and it is the heart and soul of the traditional online course.

If you are teaching online with Laulima, or another LMS, the asynchronous discussions  should be the foundation of your online course. They are excellent for creating and sustaining a high level of interaction between students and their peers, and between students and instructor.

How It Works

This challenge will help you infuse critical thinking into your  online discussions. This workshop uses  Laulima Forums for the weekly asynchronous discussions. Each week you will read watch content and post to the Laulima Forums discussion. Beginning week 2 you will also comment on two other particiants posts.


On Monday morning you will receive  an email with the current week’s “learning path”.  Follow the path please. The learning path for the week includes:

  •  Message from the workshop facilitator
  • Links to what you need to do this week
  •  Objectives
    • Your goal for the week
  • Introduction
    • What you will be doing
  • Overview
    • Content to read/watch
  • Activities
    • Laulima Forum Discussions
  • Assessment
    • Self assessment to earn your badge
  • Resources
    • Extra resources you may be interested in.


Reminder email of the current week’s “learning path” and activity/self-assessment due dates. This email includes the same information as the Monday email along with a new facilitator message.


  • Deadline for all Laulima Forum activities activitIes and self-assessments are 11:59PM.

The Foundation for Critical Thinking

The Foundation for Critical Thinking seeks to promote essential change in education and society through the cultivation of fairminded critical thinking, thinking committed to intellectual empathy, intellectual humility, intellectual perseverance, intellectual integrity, and intellectual responsibility. A rich intellectual environment is possible only with critical thinking at the foundation of education. Why? Because only when students learn to think through the content they are learning in a deep and substantive way can they apply what they are learning in their lives. Moreover, in a world of accelerating change, intensifying complexity, and increasing interdependence, critical thinking is now a requirement or economic and social survival. Contact us online at For more about the Foundation for Critical Thinking, visit

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