Mshin: An Authentic Question at Last

Mshin, in “How to keep their attention during a video or voiceover?” (10/7/13), says:

I am having trouble paying attention and staying interested when having to watch the [TOMOOC] webinars. And if I, who am very invested to pay attention, am having trouble keeping interest and not being distracted, then I imagine this is a problem for the general student populace.

Mshin, trying to pinpoint the problem, says, “It is too slow for me most of the time,” and nails it. Sitting and listening for an hour as a lecturer moves from point A to point B is mindnumbing. One fact is that we, as educators, are excellent readers. And unless we’re reading a novel, we seldom ever begin at the beginning and slog through a book, one word at a time, from cover to cover. Even before we go to the contents, we go to the jacket blurbs, intro, or conclusion to see what’s new or “information.” We then go to the contents to find relevant sections and scan them for key paragraphs then sentences. In quick order, we get to the gist, the specks of gold hidden in the rubble of other material.

From there, if we feel it’s necessary, we backtrack to identify key background info. Again, we don’t read but we scan, knowing intuitively where and what the keys are. And we do this quickly, in 5 to 10 minutes, regardless of the size of the book. We use a similar process with articles. Given the transcript of a webinar presentation, we’d work the same way. In a few minutes we’d know what, if anything, is new and worth pursuing, and in a few more minutes we’d be able to pinpoint the key background info. If we’re watching a video recording instead, this process takes a lot longer. If we’re at the live presentation, we’re stuck in the presenter’s mindnumbing pace.

Thus, ironically, the simplest medium, text, is a lot more efficient and effective than a live or recorded presentation — at least for those with efficient and effective reading skills. (And maybe there’s the rub.)

Mshin says, “While someone is talking about a part that is on a totally different subject matter for me it is so tempting to toggle over to check my email.” Yes. With TV, we all turn off during commercials and do other things, or during portions where the content doesn’t interest us, we tune out and tune in to other things around us. To do otherwise would be insane.

If we were in a one-on-one conversation with the presenter, we’d begin with a question that matters to us re the general topic of the talk. If the response is useful, we ask more questions. If the response is a rehash of what we already know, we say thank you and leave. We don’t hang around for the hour-long presentation.

Back to Mshin’s question: “How to keep their attention during a video or voiceover?” The simple answer is “We don’t.” And the implication is that this isn’t the right question. Perhaps we ought to be asking, “How do we give students the information they need in a way that isn’t boring?”

If we insist on lectures, perhaps, as Mshin says, fear — fear of being caught dozing or checking email might keep them awake. Or jokes. Or moving randomly around the room or screen. Eye contact. Wild gestures. Costumes? Powerpoint! Or how about something simple like a digital text transcript — or even better, perhaps a clear, one-paragraph post-it-size summary of the gist of the talk with hyperlinks to relevant info.

As educators, we need to pick our battles. Do we use up all our students’ energy with hours of mindnumbing information consumption before they ever get to the front lines or do we simply toss them into the thick of the battle and say “Fight!”

The “jump in first and figure things out later” approach may sound crazy, but it won’t be boring. Students aren’t stupid. Heck, we were all once students. (And some of us still are.) They’ll quickly search for or devise weapons to win. And they’ll value anyone who can help. Since they’re all in “real” (OK, “authentic”) danger, it’s in everyone’s interest to work together and find the best possible weapons to, first, survive, then win.

The question, ultimately, may be, “How can we make learning so authentic that adrenaline takes over and learning becomes indistinguishable from living?”

How to keep their attention during a video or voiceover?

So, I can’t say for sure how good a teacher I am (only my students know, I guess), but I am (have been in the past?) a very good student. I’ve always been a very attentive and diligent student. With that being said, I am having trouble paying attention and staying interested when having to watch the webinars. And if I, who am very invested to pay attention, am having trouble keeping interest and not being distracted, then I imagine this is a problem for the general student populace.

My problems with staying on task during webinars or video lectures or voice overs in presentations:
1) The tone. They speak clearly, they enunciate, they have good pace…and yet it all feels kind of droning and monotonous. It is too slow for me most of the time. I know they are trying to speak to let it “sink in” but it sure doesn’t sound like how “people talk” and there is something alien about the voice most people use in webinars.
2) Lack of physical interaction. I rely on the teacher moving, pointing at me, walking near me, holding up a paper, shaking their fist to emphasize a point, running to the board to write a good response down, etc. MOVEMENT seems to help a lot of me. It is a constant reminder to pay attention and in webinars (and the like) it is usually a close up of a face with someone sitting and there is very little movement.
3) My computer. In class, it is just me and a notepad and my book. I never take a laptop. If I ever did, I assume I would just type notes in it because of upcoming point #4. However, for these webinars, I have to watch them on my tempting, tempting computer. Oh, while someone is talking about a part that is on a totally different subject matter for me it is so tempting to toggle over to check my email. And now I am distracted.
4) Can’t get “busted.” In class, I don’t want to be disrespectful or get busted. Thus, I pay rapt attention and participate. The pressure is on because eyes are on…me! Alone in my office it is too easy to start grading a paper while “watching” a webinar.

So, I’ve pinpointed what is distracting (or not engaging) me, but, with the exception of #1 and maybe #2 I am not sure how to solve this for students….

Yes, sure you will eventually “get busted” because your grade is bad because you didn’t pay attention or because you kept checking out other things on the computer, but that requires forethought and long term planning, which–if every student had–are jobs would be so easy they would be rendered nearly obsolete…..

Given the differences between teaching face to face…

Given the differences between teaching face-to-face and teaching online, how can we faculty members capture the best parts of “what works” in their courses across different delivery modes? How can we demonstrate in online course delivery the characteristics of the most effective teachers? How can online faculty members best “make a difference” with their online students?
Most of the literature I read about on online pedagogy focuses on “best practices” (e.g., Keengwe & Kidd, 2010). Since the early days of online learning, there have been suggestions about how technologies can be used to enhance collaborative learning opportunities (Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996). More recently, reviewers have identified several best practice principles related to communicating clear goals and expectations; incorporating multiple active learning opportunities; providing frequent, prompt, and constructive feedback; and creating teacher support resources (e.g., Berge, 2002; Grandzol & Grandzol, 2006; Puzziferro & Shelton, 2009).
All of these best practice suggestions make good sense and are useful for online teaching. These include efforts to provide constructive and individualized feedback to students; facilitating student interaction, involvement and learning; and paying attention to how a course is organized and how teacher presence is enhanced. In all of these efforts, exemplary teachers strive to convey their expectations for the students.
However, if becoming an outstanding teacher merely entails implementing recommended best practices, then there would be many more outstanding teachers than there currently are. Clearly, there are good and bad (or more and less effective) ways to implement these practices. There seem to be things that cannot simply be borrowed, copied, or plugged into courses. I am wondering what are these less tangible attributes that are the essential characteristics of the best teachers.
In addition to a focus on the use of specific tools or techniques, I would like to know more about the ways that online teachers can create the kinds of learning environments and experiences that characterize the best teachers.
Bernie McPherson

Here s an update from my blog for…

Here s an update from my blog for the course, still catching up for week four but have been inspired to change my main blog through all the learning on this course and have a load of new followers so am heartened that I am making progress in this brave new virtual world of learning ! Thank you for your oh-so-generous course.

2013 Fall Global Conference on Education | UNIVERSITY of RIVERSIDE

PROGRAM & CALL FOR PAPERSNovember 15 – 16, 2013 – Ontario, California USA (Los Angeles Metro)

image 3
Ontario Airport HotelFormally Ontario Hilton700 N Haven Ave.Ontario, California  91764 USAPhone (909) 481-1743Fax  (909) 941-6781
May 2 – 3, 2014 (Los Angeles Metro)August 8-9, 2014 (Los Angeles Metro)
The Global Conference on Education is an international refereed conference dedicated to the advancement of the theory and practices in education. The Global Conference on Education promotes collaborative excellence between academicians and professionals from Education.
The aim of Global Conference on Education is to provide an opportunity for academicians and professionals from various educational fields with cross-disciplinary interests to bridge the knowledge gap, promote research esteem and the evolution of pedagogy. The Global Conference on Education invites research papers that encompass conceptual analysis, design implementation and performance evaluation.

deanhcc 2013-10-04 03:09:26

Thank you, Jim, for revisiting so many interesting posts in your blog:

I was especially interested your review of Julio‘s posts.  Thanks, Julio, for such thoughtful posts! :

1) I, too, worry about the audio file/voice message not leaving a paper/typed trail.  In fact, that’s my biggest concern.  However, the way I use the audio files just sort of complements or emphasizes the written feedback the students receive on their essays.  If I were a student, I would definitely need the written feedback trail.   And, I agree with you that discussion forums with audio files would leave me feeling at loose ends.  After Heather’s (?) presentation about allowing students to use a variety of tools (audio, visual, etc.) to introduce themselves, I thought maybe audio would a great option. But now, I definitely pull back from that idea.

2) I’m trying to wrap my mind around your really insightful comment, Julio:

I can’t help but feel that teamwork, like some other strategies (such as webinars), are carryovers from F2F learning contexts. In other words, in classrooms with 20-50 students, small groups or teams are a practical alternative to everyone shouting all at once. Online, the conditions are different, and the purposes for certain strategies that are useful in onground classes may not be as relevant online. Perhaps we ought to reverse engineer the practice of teams: begin with the purposes of teamwork then explore purely online strategies for achieving them. In this way, form follows function.

I was really struck by that last line.  I often feel like something genuine is missing in a lot of the group work.  Like the tail is wagging the dog.  This comment struck me fully this week because, in my f2f developmental writing class, I decided to try something new.

In the past, the course has been designed because of dept guidelines in way that created this pattern:  Assign an essay.  Teach a mode (eg., compare/contrast) and read sample essays. Give students a few sample topics and let them explore their own (eg., two bosses you can contrast, two social media tools, two places, (yawn!)etc.)  Put them into random groups (some ability based, some content/topic based, etc.) to prewrite and peer review.  It has always seemed so flat to me.  Where ‘s the true motivation to share, inquire, explore, and write vigorously?

Yesterday,   I flung open the doors at the beginning of the process, telling them they would have to discover any common interests or experiences they have, group themselves, and then talk about various “ways in” to discovering their specific topics within that group and, ultimately, get around to figuring out how to use compare/contrast as a mode to further their thinking and their writing.  So, I asked: Anyone interested in traveling? Anyone have a regret they could write about? Anybody a driven athlete?  Anybody think about technology a lot?

Then, I left them to discover each other, to discover what they would possibly want to work on as a group that could generate different perspectives and interesting dialogue.

I hope to see individual essays emerge in each group under the umbrella of one common broad interest and the essays will sort of end up being anthologies that can then be shared with the other groups. But, who knows what they’ll do.  They may actually start writing in reaction to each other.  That would be great!  I always talk to my students about the need to see their college writing as additions to the academic conversation that exists around them (rather than as downloading and regurgitating information), so that’s my hope here — for them to start  senses what it feels like to be in an academic community and  conversation.

Anyway, the essays may end up looking the same as they always look from semester to semester, but these students need a chance to take control of their group-making and discussion and become more “alive.”  So, there you have it:  That’s why Julio’s comment about the form following function really struck me.  I hope that makes some sort of sense! ;-)   Hard to describe, but it feels like a significant shift in empowering the students to create group work — rather than be assigned to groups — and to see it as theirs and as meaningful exchange.

Now, I have to think about what this means for my online writing classes!  Hmmm…

Mahalo! -Tanya

I really enjoy this week’s video in which…

I really enjoy this week’s video in which Simon Sinek presents a simple but powerful model for how leaders inspire action, starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers.

The model is based on the three distinct and interdependent elements (Why, How, What) that makes any person or organization function at its highest ability. I feel that the approach gave me a stronger sense of my own purpose and my motivation increased. I look forward to start using this in practice, not just in my teaching but also my personal life.

TOMOOC Fishing in Week 4

Tanya, in Week 3 catch-up/ thank you’s & Techie Questions about Voice Messages (10/3/13), tested Veronica’s ideas re audio feedback on student papers/projects. She tried TurnItIn’s “new voice message tool,” “Adobe Pro’s voice embed tool,” and ScreenCastOMatic. Re the last, she says, “I’ve tried both ScreenCastOMatic options of QuickTimePlayer and WindowsMedia MP4s and AVI files. I’m also experimenting to find out if Laulima/Sakai limits the size of the attachment sent via Messages.  I think it does.”

Thanks, Tanya, for doing this! It saves me and others who are interested a lot of time and effort. My feelings re audio in this role is torn. On the one hand, I realize it does give a more human “face” to comments, but I’m not totally convinced that text doesn’t do the same, though in a different way via tone, persona, etc. On the other hand, part of the review process is to create a log of past performances to guide future growth and to measure growth, and for this, text is very efficient. The result is a performance continuum (or record) rather than isolated bits of feedback. I’d think audio comments, even if only a few minutes long, might take time to review — for the teacher as well as students. For example, I can scan a text transcript quickly for info I need, but searching a video or recording is a hassle. Thus, even if the technical issues could be worked out, audio recordings may not be worth the extra effort they require. When the purpose is to convey info on problems and strengths in a student’s paper, perhaps the best medium is the one that’s quickest, easiest, and most effective. However, this decision may be a matter of teacher preference, and buy-in may be a critical factor in student success.

Sara, in Week 4 Activity Post — 10/3/13, says, “I find that students don’t know how to think critically.” In the context of her post, I understand where she’s coming from. However, I don’t think she means that “students don’t know how to think critically.” Of course they do — but maybe not in the areas and in the ways that we deem important in our fields of study. The fact is, the vast majority of human beings are excellent critical thinkers. The key, for teachers, is to tap into that natural ability by helping students connect it to the teacher’s topics. Students may need to learn new labels for what they already do, and they may need to learn how to refine their thinking, but we shouldn’t forget that teaching is often reminding students about what they already know and showing them how to transfer prior learning to newer contexts. In short, ignorance is relative.

Sara mentions a problem in Dr. Elder’s session: “I felt like most of  [the] session was spent explaining what critical thinking was.  I was looking for specific examples about how to implement it into a training or class and how to engage student in that thinking.” Most teachers are familiar with critical thinking principles in F2F settings, so their interest is in implementation in online contexts. She leaves us with a comment that I’d like to echo: “I would still like to know what others do besides asking probing questions to encourage critical thinking in their students.  I know there must be more strategies out there that would reach out to a more varied audience of learners and I would love to hear about them.”

Ida Brandao, in “MOOC How to Teach Online” (9/28/13), says, “I must confess that I have great difficulty to follow synchronous communication, for professional reasons, for reasons that one forgets the timings. So, most of the synchronous events I watch as recorded sessions.” I’m like Ida. While I’m watching the linear real-time progression slowly unravel, I keep wondering, Couldn’t this have been provided in text, for me to review at my own leisure, at my own pace, in my own way? Then again, I may be asking all the wrong questions.

Julio C. Castro, in “Suggested Reflections (week 3)” (10/2/13), says, “It is a tricky situation when you have to put together teams of students who have not met before in a on-site course. But to do it in an online class, it is even more difficult. My take on this is that, even though many instructors practice this, the students have to figure out themselves how to pair up, the instructor only needs to create the right environment.” I agree that teamwork in an online class is “even more difficult.” I can’t help but feel that teamwork, like some other strategies (such as webinars), are carryovers from F2F learning contexts. In other words, in classrooms with 20-50 students, small groups or teams are a practical alternative to everyone shouting all at once. Online, the conditions are different, and the purposes for certain strategies that are useful in onground classes may not be as relevant online. Perhaps we ought to reverse engineer the practice of teams: begin with the purposes of teamwork then explore purely online strategies for achieving them. In this way, form follows function.

Julio, in “Activity Reflection (week 3)” (10/1/13), says, “It got me curious because I thought that maybe this is just some kind of resistance to the use of new technology or maybe there is indeed no foundation on the usefulness of this system in online learning. So, I think I have found a problem I liked to explore possible solutions to, that has really excited me.” Good point, Julio. My guess is that audio is simply not as efficient as text in forums. In discussion forums using text, we have a visual sense of the parts and the whole. If all were in audio, we’d lose that sense of location and finding and tracking individual posts would be baffling. Still, I applaud your spirit of inquiry and encourage your exploration.

Julio says, “I guess the big questions is whether discussion forums gain anything from implementing audio threads, here at UF there is no guidelines on how students use the tool, I think this time I will spend some effort on creating these guides to help students create a truly engaging community through voice and text.” I’d begin with this big question, too: Do “discussion forums gain anything from implementing audio threads”?

Leanne Riseley, in “Making Sense of Connecting with Learners and Creating Community” (10/1/13), says, “I created a new page with all of the technologies we use in the course on a single page. This page has video tutorials, resources, and links to tech support. In the past, I had the technology listed in my course syllabus and throughout the course modules, but now it is all in one place.” I slowly came to this “solution,” too. I use WordPress blogs for course info and developed a separate blog called “course resources,” a central location for info that’s repeated in all the separate course blogs. Course maintenance and info flow has become much more efficient.

Leanne says, “I’ve used teams in my online course for the last four years, constantly reviewing and revising the process each semester. A small change that I will be making –  I have always named my teams 1, 2, 3, etc. and encouraged the teams to pick their own names.” Please see my comment, above, to Julio re teams.

Mshin11, in “The best resources are your colleagues” (10/1/13), points to the Northern Arizona University site, an excellent resource for practical rubrics, for example:

Example 6: Wondering what you should do for the participation portion of our class?
What do I mean by a substantive post?

The following are some ideas to set the stage for substantive participation for the development of your critical thinking skills:

  • Ensure that the posting contributes to the overall discussion thread that is being developed. Your response must contain some reference back to the original discussion question.  Stay on track by always referring back to that original discussion question.
  • Try to use your posting to add value to the discussion. This is more effective than simply responding to meet a requirement.
  • Check to see that the posting expands on the main theme (in the discussion question, or assignment posting).
  • Make sure your posting is at least 75-150 words.

Other Ideas for Participation

  • Share a related experience.
  • Comment on others’ experiences.
  • Ask students questions about their ideas/experiences.
  • Consider an idea being discussed, and offer a different perspective on it.
  • Describe an interesting idea from the week’s reading, and explain what insights you gained from it.
  • Ask the group a question about the week’s reading.
  • Disagree (respectfully, of course) with a point that someone else has made.
  • Discuss a related issue on which you would like some feedback.
  • Describe how you have applied the recent course concepts to your personal/professional life.
  • Share another resource you have used as you explored the course topics.

For Those of Us Who Beg Students to Use E-mail

I thought I’d share this NY Times article about how and why college students do not use e-mail:

Interesting — they feel it’s antiquated!  Aaagh! I AM old! ;-)   I take to heart the additional comment in the article that some students who might consider using e-mail shy away from it because they worry about the etiquette (eg., what do I put in the subject line? how do I address my instructor? etc.) .  This made me think I’ll add a little lesson about that at the beginning of each semester.  The authors go on to say how many of us veteran e-mail users do not composing effective  messages, so how can we expect our students to use this tool effectively?


Activity reflection – week 4

I read the text of the website and some other articles of the readings (and the secondary literature) whose titles interested me. Then I made a sensemaking artifact, consisting of a mindmap with the ideas I found more practical for my professional scenario.
So what?
When it comes to technques and strategies to make my job as a teacher better, I rather synthesize than analyze, that’s why I chose a mindmap. I feel satisfied because I can access and read it in case I will need it. I created a practical tool for me.
I learn two things: first a new tool to make online mindmaps (gifly) and also to identify when a threaded discussion does not promote critical thinking.
What now?
⁃    What changes did you make?
Since I do not teach online, I couldn’t change anything.
⁃    What will you do differently in the future?
I will definitely promote learning through questions in case I teach online.
⁃    What do you still have to learn?
How to make good questions. I have no experience.

Hi everyone when reading the activities for week…

Hi everyone,
when reading the activities for week 4, I had a doubt about this statement: “2. How do you facilitate discussions in ways that promote critical thinking and discourages interaction?”. I have always read that interaction is needed for promoting knowledge. I do not understand why a “good” question should discourage interaction. Can someone clarify me what is meant in this context by “interaction”?
Thanks a lot,

Comments on Selected Week 4 Resources: ‘Natural Critical Learning Environment’

The following is a quick review of the following authors from the list of resources, including brief excerpts from each: Ken Bain, Debbie Morrison, Greg Walker, Hua Bai, Nega Debela & Berlin Fang, Erst Carmichael and Helen Farrell.

Greg Walker

Greg Walker

As expected, the packages are labeled “online” but the contents are pretty much standard onground material. The most difficult turn to make in online teaching is the one that separates the F2F mindset from the virtual. The medium is the message, but the message in the online medium is still the F2F instructional framework. But there’s one exception, and that’s Greg Walker, who attempts to match the message with the medium. He says, “Blanchette (2001) found that asynchronous discussions allow for a higher level of cognitive questions that encourage critical thinking,” and the difference, he says, is that “learners have more time to process questions and develop responses.”

Carol B. MacKnight

Carol B. MacKnight

Carol B. MacKnight wasn’t included in the list, but she mentions this disconnect between online and F2F orientations: “The question is whether faculty can change their teaching strategies to use online communication tools effectively to help every member in the class go beyond being exposed to content to the point of critically interacting with it” (Teaching Critical Thinking Through Online Discussions, Educause Quarterly, 2000). This article is thirteen years old, and many today may not have a clue what MacKnight means by “bulletin board” in the following statement: “The bulletin board offers the possibility for coaching discussions to take students ideas to the next level to deeper, more intellectual, and reflective learning.” They’re the forerunners of today’s web-based discussion forums, and in the days before the web, they were accessed via modems run on telephone lines.

I like MacKnight’s plain wording in the following list: “Going online, students must have a clear understanding of the goal of the activity and have the necessary social skills to:

• ask the right questions,
• listen to each other,
• take turns and share work,
• help each other learn,
• respect each other’s ideas,
• build on each other’s ideas,
• construct their own understanding, and
• think in new ways.”

Still, the information in the readings is excellent and underscores strategies for incorporating critical thinking into discussions, F2F and online. I’m surprised that the context for critical thinking is limited to discussion outcomes and ignores project outcomes since discussions aren’t usually ends in themselves but tools or means to generate deeper thinking that’s reflected in papers or reports. Bain, however, does allude to this procedural function of discussions: “Because the best teachers plan their courses backward, deciding what students should be able to do by the end of the semester, they map a series of intellectual developments through the course.”

The point is that we may not see the impact of critical thinking activities in the discussions themselves until the culminating project is completed. This final artifact, paper or presentation, is the summative outcome, and it should be factored into the equation (as an independent variable) for successful discussions.

Finally, I’m a writing teacher, and the philosophical background that I share with my colleagues is the classical field of rhetoric. In rhetoric, the study of logical fallacies is fundamental. These fallacies are a classification of the ways in which we, as human beings, fall short in critical thinking. In discussion forums, exercises in applying these fallacies to political arguments, TV commercials, or students’ own analyses could go a long way toward cultivating critical thinking.


Ken Bain

Ken Bain

Excerpts from Ken Bain’s “What Makes Great Teachers Great?” (Chronicle, 4/9/04):

[Main point:] Create a natural critical learning environment. “Natural” because what matters most is for students to tackle questions and tasks that they naturally find of interest, make decisions, defend their choices, sometimes come up short, receive feedback on their efforts, and try again. “Critical” because by thinking critically, students learn to reason from evidence and to examine the quality of their reasoning, to make improvements while thinking, and to ask probing and insightful questions.

Five essential elements that make up a good [natural] learning environment:

  1. An intriguing question or problem.
  2. Guidance in helping students understand the significance of the question…. The best teachers tend to embed the discipline’s issues in broader concerns, often taking an interdisciplinary approach…. Good teachers remind students how the current question relates to some larger issue that already interests them.
  3. Engages students in some higher-order intellectual activity: encouraging them to compare, apply, evaluate, analyze, and synthesize, but never only to listen and remember.
  4. Raise[s] important inquiries but challenge[s] students to develop their own explanations and defend them.
  5. Leaves students wondering: “What’s the next question?” and “What can we ask now?”

In all these examples [of optimal learning environments], students encounter safe yet challenging conditions in which they can try, fail, receive feedback, and try again without facing a summary evaluation. [emphasis added]

Teachers succeed in grabbing students’ attention by beginning a lecture with a provocative question or problem that raises issues in ways that students had never thought about before, or by using stimulating case studies or goal-based scenarios.

The best professors do in class what they think will best help their students to learn outside of class, between one meeting and the next.

Because the best teachers plan their courses backward, deciding what students should be able to do by the end of the semester, they map a series of intellectual developments through the course….

The professors we studied assume that learning facts can occur only when students are simultaneously engaged in reasoning about those facts.

The very best teachers offered a balance of the systematic and the messy.


Debbie A. Morrison

Debbie A. Morrison

Excerpts from Debbie Morrison’s “Critical Thinking in the Online Classroom” (Online Learning Insights, 5/24/12):

Community of Inquiry (CoI) model: instructor presence, social presence, cognitive presence

From the educators perspective -  we want the student to become interested, in the topic (trigger), and be motivated to explore, ask questions, discuss (exploration),  leading students to construct knowledge, learn and think by means of discourse and discussion (integration) and finally to think critically, apply the knowledge to other areas, draw conclusions and demonstrate knowledge (resolution).

Here are some examples of types of activities that support cognitive presence[:] discussion forums, small group activities, forum structured for a debate, reflection activities.

[Successful] cognitive building activities…. provoked the students to explicitly confront others’ opinions.


Excerpts from Greg Walker’s “Critical Thinking in Asynchronous Discussions” (International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, June 2005):

Strategies for using critical thinking in asynchronous discussions: writing activities, using subject matter experts, role playing , questioning (convergent, divergent, evaluative, Socratic).

Effective questioning strategies guide asynchronous discussions and promote critical interaction. Blanchette (2001) found that asynchronous discussions allow for a higher level of cognitive questions that encourage critical thinking. Learners have more time to process questions and develop responses, and the learner’s cognitive level of response often matches the cognitive level of the questions asked. Higher level cognitive and affective questions encourage learners to interpret, analyze, evaluate, infer, explain and self regulate. According to Wilson (2002) there are four types of questions that encourage learners to use higher levels of cognitive, or affective, processes for critical thinking. They are convergent, divergent, and evaluative questions. Blanchette (2001) found that evaluative questions were asked most often in asynchronous discussions. Divergent and evaluative questions generated the most interaction, and evaluative questions provided the greatest motivation for discussion. [Blanchette, J. (2001). Questions in the online learning environment. Journal of Distance Education, 16, 2. Retrieved June 11, 2005.]


Hua Bai

Hua Bai

Excerpts from Hua Bai’s “Facilitating Students’ Critical Thinking in Online Discussion: An Instructor’s Experience” (Journal of Interactive Online Learning, summer 2009):

This study intended to examine whether introducing this inquiry model [see below] to students as a guide of online postings can facilitate students’ critical thinking.

Garison, Anderson and Archer (2000, 2001) … practical inquiry model …. According to this model, critical inquiry is presented in a sequence of four phases, which are triggering event, exploration, integration and resolution. In the phase of triggering event, students communicate a dilemma or a problem from an experience. In exploration phase, students brainstorm, search for clarification and exchange information. Students’ inquiry in integration phase is characterized by integrating knowledge and information into a concept and creating meaning from the ideas generated in the phase of exploration. In the phase of resolution, students test and implement solution to the problem or issue through real world application. [Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 20 (2-3), 87-105.]

[Results:] In this study, no evidence of resolution was found in the two threads, which may be due to the question that initiated the discussion. The question asked students to talk about their arguments and grounds. It was not designed to engage students in applying and testing the ideas or solutions, which in turn, did not promote students’ thinking in resolution phase. This suggested that to help students’ cognitive activity progress to resolution stage, thought-provoking question needs to be generated to guide and facilitate the discourse toward higher order thinking that involves practical application and problem solving. As King (1995) said, “the level of thinking that occurs is influenced by the level of questions asked. We can use particular questions to induce in students whatever specific thinking processes we wish” (p. 13). [King, A. (1995). Designing the instructional process to enhance critical thinking across the curriculum. Teaching of Psychology, 22, 13-17.]

[Interesting quotes:]

Most important, text-based communication and asynchronous environment encourage reflective learning, in-depth thinking and meaningful processing of information.

McLoughlin and Luca (2000) found that most of the postings consisted of “comparing and sharing information”, with “little evidence of construction of new knowledge, critical analysis of peer ideas or instances of negotiation” [McLoughlin, C., & Luca, J. (2000). Cognitive engagement and higher order thinking through computer conferencing: We know why but do we know how? Teaching and Learning Forum 2000, Retrieved March 20, 2008.]

Angeli, Valanides and Bonk (2003) examined undergraduate student teachers’ communication in case-based instruction using asynchronous web-based conferencing tool. The results showed that students’ interactions primarily focused on sharing personal experiences and offering personal opinions without reasoning. Little evidence of in-depth discussion and critical thinking was found.[Angeli, C., Valanides, N., & Bonk, C. J. (2003). Communication in a web-based conferencing system: the quality of computer-mediated interactions. British Journal of Educational Technology, 34, 31-43.]

Swan, Schenker, Arnold and Kuo (2007) also found that students responded more often to others and discussed in greater depth after they were informed of evaluation criteria of online behaviors. [Swan, K., Schenker, J., Arnold, S., & Kuo, C. (2007). Shaping online discussion: Assessment matters. E-mentor, 1(18). Retrieved March 6, 2008.]

Ertmer et al. (2007) investigated the use of peer feedback in increasing the quality of students’ online discussion. They suggested that requiring students to provide feedback to one another may help to maintain the quality level of postings that has been reached. [Ertmer, P. A., Richardson, J. C., Belland, B., Camin, D., Connolly, P., Coulthard, et al. (2007). Using peer feedback to enhance the quality of student online postings: An exploratory study. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(2). Retrieved December 16, 2007.]

Debela & Fang

Nega Debela

Nega Debela

Excerpts from Nega Debela and Berlin Fang, “Using Discussions to Promote Critical Thinking in an Online Environment” (Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics, 2008):

Roberson (2006) states that “the medieval sacredness of information clashes with the modern deluge of information.” This results in what Roberson calls the “Insanity of the modern university course” in which we “press harder and harder to teach more and more information, while students achieve less and less.” [Roberson, B. (2006, August). Subverting the academic model……so learning can finally take place. Workshop conducted at Marshall University, Huntington, WV.]

Berlin Fang

Berlin Fang

Critical thinking skills can be grounded in all real world situations such as political analysis judgment about television reporting (Brookfield, 1987). [Brookfield, Stephen. (1987) Developing critical thinkers: challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting. San Francisco: Jossey Bass]

However, “being critical” is only a small portion of what constitutes critical thinking. More importantly, it is a process to develop a rational position or attitude, to achieve a goal, or to solve a problem. Critical thinking helps us to become better problem solvers and more rational decision makers.

This study has very practical value for other teachers of the course because it explores what is critical thinking that is hailed to be of critical significance for educators, how it can be operationalized, and how it can be cultivated using tools that are already available to us.

[Conclusion:] Students in this qualitative research have liked the format currently being used to teach and enhance critical thinking. The respondents differ in their opinions about the level of the instructor involvement in the discussion. However, there seem to be a general consensus that faculty should be involved as long as they help students to develop skills in their higher-order thinking skills. This shows that faculty members can indeed play the role of helpers in the development of their cognitive skills.

Carmichael & Farrell

Excerpts from Erst Carmichael and Helen Farrell’s “Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Online Resources in Developing Student Critical Thinking: Review of Literature and Case Study of a Critical Thinking Online Site” (Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 2012):

Guided discovery supports users’ construction of knowledge and their ability to apply this new knowledge to other contexts, and is therefore the architecture most suited to the development of critical thinking. Ideally, Keats and Schmidt (2007) argue, the social interactivity of technology – especially in relation to sharing and discussion of ideas – has the potential to connect HE students to the international community to create a wider socio-political learning environment. This wider environment should provide additional opportunities to develop critical thinking. This categorisation is considered to be appropriate for the case study to be examined in this paper.

This paper reports on a case study of an online Blackboard site at the University of Western Sydney, where analysis of patterns of usage of the online site and qualitative analysis of student feedback provide evidence to support its effectiveness for encouraging students’ critical thinking.

[Conclusion:] This case study demonstrates that many students find online learning about critical thinking to be helpful, stimulating and engaging. It verifies that some students enjoy learning in their own space and time and that this site contained suitable content,
sample texts, practice examples and timely feedback…. Findings in this case study indicate that stand-alone resources can achieve perceived benefits for students…. There is also potential to expand the current site into a freely accessible website, with opportunity for greater national and international interaction together with interesting research opportunities.

Webinar Tuesday: Engaging Students in Taking Ownership of Content Through Thinking…

Tuesday , October 1st, 12 pm- 1 pm, Hawaii Standard Time (HST). World Clock 

A key insight into content (and into thinking) is that all content represents a distinctive mode of thinking. Math becomes intelligible as one learns to think mathematically. Biology becomes intelligible as one learns to think biologically. History becomes intelligible as one learns to think historically. This is true because all subjects are: generated by thinking, organized by thinking, analyzed by thinking, synthesized by thinking, expressed by thinking, evaluated by thinking, restructured by thinking, maintained by thinking, transformed by thinking, LEARNED by thinking, UNDERSTOOD by thinking, APPLIED by thinking. If you try to take the thinking out of content, you have nothing, literally nothing, remaining. Learning to think within a unique system of meanings is the key to learning any content whatsoever. This session, in other words, explores the intimate, indeed the inseparable relationship between content and thinking.

By Dr. Linda Elder

Dr. Linda Elder is an educational psychologist and a prominent authority on critical thinking. She is President of the Foundation for Critical Thinking and Executive Director of the Center for Critical Thinking. Dr. Elder has taught psychology and critical thinking at the college level and has given presentations to more than 20,000 educators at all levels. She has co-authored four books, including Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life, Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life and Twenty-Five Days to Better Thinking and Better Living. She has co-authored eighteen thinker’s guides on critical thinking and co-authors a quarterly column on critical thinking in the Journal of Developmental Education.

Dr. Elder has also developed an original stage theory of critical thinking development.  Concerned with understanding and illuminating the relationship between thinking and affect, and the barriers to critical thinking, Dr. Elder has placed these issues at the center of her thinking and her work.

With experience in both administration and the classroom, Dr. Elder understands firsthand the problems facing educators. She is a dynamic presenter who reaches her audience on a person-to person level.

Lilly Conference on College & University Teaching – California

For 33 years, Lilly Conferences on College and University Teaching and Learning have provided opportunities for the presentation of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. This interdisciplinary teaching conference includes faculty, administrators, and graduate students from across the United States and abroad. Participants are given the opportunity to exchange ideas, build a repertoire of skills that can be put to immediate use, and to network with colleagues.

Webinar Monday 9/30- How to Promote Critical Thinking in the Online Classroom

How to Promote Critical Thinking in the Online Classroom

Monday, September 30th, 12pm- 1pm, Hawaii Standard Time (HST). World Clock 

Overview:  The webinar will comprise a 15 to 20 minute presentation on the fundamentals of presence in the online classroom, with a focus on strategies that promote critical thinking. Power point slides will accompany the presentation, and can be made available to participants. Questions from participants will be encouraged.

Webinar Description:Strategies for promoting critical thinking among online students are shared and discussed in this Webinar. Participants will identify the three core principles needed to create an online presence—the foundation of promoting deep and meaningful learning for online students. This interactive session will provide opportunity for discussion, and participants will leave with ideas and tactics for creating a strategy that promotes critical thinking in their own online classroom.

By Debbie Morrison

‘Community’ As a Relative Structure: A Response to Rachael

Rachael in her reply (9/26) to Sarah’s “Week 3 – Activity Reflection“: “In another semester I used blogs instead of discussion boards. Students worked in teams to create an artifact (of individual artifacts) to answer an essential question that was general enough to allow them to choose how they wanted to approach it. They posted to their team blogs and commented on each other’s blogs. It worked out well because they were creating artifacts that were purposeful and contributing to the online community instead of it staying in a ‘closed garden’ in the LMS forums” (emphasis added).


I never actually thought about why I prefer to set up my courses in “public” WordPress blogs and ask my students to do the same for publishing and sharing their drafts. Thus, as I browsed the conversations in our TOMOOC community, Rachael’s comment above jumped out at me.

In a sense, communities are relative constructs without borders, at once a group of people sharing a single space and time as well as a network that’s linked to countless other networks that transcend space and time. It’s difficult to wrap our heads around the idea that the largest community of all is the web, which links billions of people throughout the world in a single Network that comprises all the networks on Earth.

The overwhelming image for me is the individual, via smartphones, tablets, and notebooks, connected to every one of the 2.5 billion people as well as the countless sources of information on the internet.

With this link to the world in our pockets and backpacks, I can’t help but feel that the “‘closed garden’ in the LMS forums” where we, as educators, construct our interactive sessions may be stifling for students and teachers. Why, I wonder, do we build walls around learning when the world’s resources are all around us.

Surely, to prepare our students for the 21st century, we need to make sure that they are capable of creating, sustaining, and leveraging their own presence in the worldwide online community. For them, to be is to be equally at home onground and online.

In a way, what we’re practicing in TOMOOC is a model for the power of learning when it’s open and connected to the internet. In the recent stats shared by the staff, we can see that our conversations are reaching a much wider audience from around the world. In last year’s MOOC, for example, I mentioned Dave Cormier1 in one of my posts and actually received a comment from Dave himself — who wasn’t directly connected to the MOOC.

In an earlier post, I responded to Rachael’s comment re authentic learning. The idea was that learning ought to be as “real” as possible for students, and Rachael’s comment here re “closed” versus “open” learning spaces is a another side of that same coin.

1 “The term MOOC was coined in 2008 by Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island and Senior Research Fellow Bryan Alexander of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education in response to a course called Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (also known as CCK08). CCK08 . . . was led by George Siemens of Athabasca University and Stephen Downes of the National Research Council” (Wikipedia).