Create an Online Course Infused with Critical Thinking


Congratulations for choosing to create an online course.  First, you already have a wealth of experience.

  • In the classroom courses you teach you should have clear student learning outcomes.
  • You consistently create and assemble content that supports those outcomes.
  • You also create activities, interactions and assessments that help your learners meet the outcomes.

When you teach online you do the same, however you need to create your entire online learning environment before the course begins.

What Doesn’t Work

  • Face-to-face course formats do not work online. 
    • As you begin to plan your online course keep in mind your goal is not to put your existing course online. Many face-to-face course formats do not work online. The classic example of this is the lecture class. Example: The face-to-face version consists of a 3-hour lecture once per week, three papers, a midterm, and a final exam. Often the  instructors mindset is, “Covering content” and the focus is the delivery of information without context.
  • BUT they are way less work for the instructor. 
    • It is super easy to put a lecture based course online. Simply videotape each lecture, put the video on the web, have students submit papers via e-mail and take exams that automatically graded online. Your course will be easy breezy work. However, what you end up with is a poorly designed online course where your role in the learning process is questionable.
  • Moving content online is NOT about transferring content – it is about transforming content. 
    • The online materials should be suited for both the environment and the online learning – and this process is part art, part science. Online learning is unique and the instructor must factor in the uniqueness of the medium. Based on decades of research on the undergraduate student experience, The Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, developed by Art Chickering and Zelda Gamson in 1987, are a useful guide designing online learning environments.

Creating an online course is a lot of work. This workshop will get you started. Also, online learning requires you take on new roles in the teaching-learning relationship. To be successful you must be willing to release control of learning to your students.

Teacher as Designer

  • Good course design is crucial, and yet good designers are under-valued. The “teacher as designer” is barely visible because this work is done before students enter the classroom. With good design, problems are not solved; they are dissolved, as they are less likely to happen.
  • The best designers are invisible.The goal is to fashion a course that places students in the center of the action so that they can move their projects forward.
  • Designing team projects takes time and effort. These projects must present students with challenging problems. The teacher must frame the problem and provide data to solve these cases. If the project is to reflect reality, the data should be incomplete, inconsistent, and redundant. A well-structured project will require students to wade through data to arrive at their own conclusions.
  • Good course design allows students to take ownership of the course. This empowerment of students by the instructor is the hallmark of a great leader…. Require students to learn by doing rather than by reading, writing, listening, and studying in solitude, and the virtual classroom will become the learning organization. by Edward Volchok 

Designing  an online course at begins the same place as a face-to-face course. You:

  • identify goals for the course,
  • describe the specific learning objectives,
  • define your tasks to meet those objectives, and
  • create applicable assignments around these tasks.

Although the fundamentals are the same, the techniques are very different for delivering the instruction and facilitating learner interaction.


Pedagogy refers to a directed learning approach to the teaching and learning process. Goals and objectives, content, instructional methods, and strategies all relate to pedagogy.

What Doesn’t Work

 A directed learning approach for online learning is insufficient and creates substandard online courses. 

Directed learning provides knowledge within a specific area predominantly with the use of lecture and tools including memorization, questions and answers, and immediate feedback. Faculty members take on the role of the  “sage on the stage” and learners have minimal independence. This pedagogical model doesn’t work for adult learners since adult learners require an environment of learning that is less structured and more independent.


In contrast, the term facilitated learning aligns with the andragogical approach to learning (adult learning). The educator acts as a “guide on the side” and is a resource for the students. Independent projects and student-led discussions create critical thinking opportunities. Andragogy assumes that adult learners possess five characteristics,

  1.  a developed self-concept,
  2. life experiences,
  3. a readiness to learn,
  4. an orientation toward learning,
  5. and an internal motivation to learn.

 Social Presence

Effective online courses require a sense of a learning community, the social presence of the faculty member and learners. Learning always occurs and cannot be separated from a social context.  Research has shown that learning is enhanced when it is collaborative. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others increases involvement in learning. Sharing one’s own ideas and responding to others’ reactions improves thinking and deepens understanding (Chickering and Gamson, 1987). Learning online can greatly expand social context,  through the design of the online course 


  1. Encourages contact between students and faculty,
  2. develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
  3. encourages active learning,
  4. gives prompt feedback,
  5. emphasizes time on task,
  6. communicates high expectations, and
  7. respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

In this article Arthur W. Chickering and Stephen C. Ehrmann describe how to leverage the seven principles using technology; IMPLEMENTING THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES: Technology as Lever.

Critical Thinking

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 courses.

Consequently, you are encouraged to use the format of the online discssions in this workshop, to infuse critical thinking into your own online course. This will prepare you for understanding how to continue to make incremental changes in your online course 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.

Organizing Idea for the Workshop

The approach to critical thinking, in this workshop, is designed to transform teaching and learning in your online course. 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 courses 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 courses, 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.

Critical Thinking Objectives

As you apply your mind throughout this workshop you will:

  • Create online learning 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.
  • Create online learning 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 activities in your subject area.
  • Help students cultivate their ability to think within the key concepts in subjects and disciplines.

Overview of Topic Content and Activities

Earn a Letter of Completion

Read, watch and review the weekly content. The heart of How to Create an Online Course are the planning documents you create. The weekly content prepares you to plan.

You earn a badge when you complete a step. Earn all 5 badges and you qualify for a Letter of Completion. This letter is a valuable piece of evidence for Contract Renewal, Tenure, and Promotion.

Google@UH Consumer Apps

Under an agreement with Google, the University of Hawaii (UH) offers two types of Google applications through Google@UH:

  1. Core applications (Core Apps) and
  2. Consumer applications (Consumer Apps).

Core Apps include Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Sites, Groups (UH-only account collaboration), Contacts, and Talk. These applications are governed by a master agreement between UH and Google, and are available through Google@UH to all UH accounts.

Consumer Apps include applications such as Blogger, Google Bookmarks, Google Maps, Google Groups (all account collaboration), Google+, Picasa Web Albums, Google Analytics and YouTube.

Consumer Apps include Google+ which is  governed by either Google’s general Terms of Services or by app-specific terms

Before you Begin

  1. Turn on Consumer Apps
    1. To use the Consumer Apps with your Google@UH account, you must first turn on the Consumer Apps at
    2. Instructions to turn on the Consumer Apps are at
  2. Join the Google+ Community
    1. Click here>to say Aloha!
    2. Click on ‘Home’ to view your home stream – here you’ll see posts based on your interests and what/who you follow.

Quick rundown on how to use Google+

  1. Click on ‘Collections’ to see and share posts based on topics you’re interested in.
  2. Click on ‘Communities’ to have conversations with other people who share your interests.
  3. Click on ‘Profile’ to see your own posts.
  4. Click on ‘People’ to find people to follow, see who you are currently following (that’s where you manage your circles as well), or who follows you.
  5. Click on ‘Circle Streams’ to see streams (posts) from specific circles you’ve created. (NOTE: if you don’t see this option, go to Settings, scroll down to Advanced Settings, and turn on ‘Enable circle stream in navigation’.)
  6. In ‘Settings’ you can fine-tuned a few profile features, as well as your notifications.


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