Critical Thinking

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Promoting critical thinking using ICTS

Leslie Davis, Memorial University of Newfoundland


Problems with critical thinking (CT) integration may begin with student attitudes, such as sitting passively in a classroom (Seker & Komur, 2008) or using simple comment markers “such as ‘mm mm’ and ‘uh huh’” during face-to-face interactions (Guiller et al., 2008, p.197). Students feel anxious about speaking in front of each other (McLoughlin & Mynard, 2009) or intimidated when put “on the spot” to express their opinions (Guiller et al., 2008, p. 196). Chinese second language learners, for instance, are “reluctant to express and substantiate critical evaluations” due to cultural precepts for authority and saving face (Galetcaia & Thiessen, 2010, p.118). Still, as most students begin the learning process, they view teachers as experts who possess the correct answers and knowledge to which students aspire (Lodewyk, 2009).

Simultaneously, educators may hold beliefs that affect how they integrate CT skills. For example, teachers might inadequately model CT if they perceive a loss of control or a threat to their personal or professional esteem (Lodewyk, 2009). Teaching methods that focus on providing only facts that support one central thesis can also add to poor CT performances (Angeli & Valanides, 2009). Moreover, educators often believe that high-CT interventions are more effective with high-achieving students than with low-achieving students who may become easily frustrated by the CT goals (Zohar & Dori, 2003). In examining teacher higher order thinking, Zohar (2006) explained that educators, like students, do not instantaneously incorporate knowledge and become innovative thinkers; that changes in teachers’ knowledge do not necessarily affect classroom practice.

Role of ICTs

Student participation in an online discussion forum (ODF) may be affected in numerous ways. “The online medium provided students with time to reflect on their ideas” (McLoughlin & Mynard, 2009, p.154). The time delay in ODFs sustains a more comprehensive discussion, and enables greater critical reflection “without the on-the-spot pressure” of face-to-face communication (Arend, 2009, p.12). As well, students see the opportunity to share explorations and reflections as a direct benefit of posting online (Szabo & Schwartz, 2011). Matheson et al. (2012) found that students value the alternative perspectives, noncompetitive attitudes and, more effectively, documented exemplars of other student’s comments and CT skills. While fostering CT skills may prove to be a substantial goal for educators, an ODF “affords students the time for thoughtful analysis, composition, negotiation, and reflection as their discussion of an issue evolves” (Yang et al., 2005). The personal reflections of preservice teachers in Szabo and Schwartz’s (2011, p.90) ODF study revealed how the CT skills of future educators progressed from posting basic CT skills to eventually demonstrating higher order “creative application of theories to real-life situations.”

Educators, consequently, must assume the challenge of creating a learning space where CT is appreciated and where all students are engaged and supported in their endeavor to develop CT skills and dispositions (Yang et al., 2005). For example, by encouraging and modeling CT in an ODF, Chiu (2009, p.49) took on a shepherd-researcher role to provide affective and cognitive support to help Chinese students deal with cultural norms.

Specifically, instructors of ODFs need to promote a “critical inquiry environment for students by asking questions that can prompt the desired level of thinking” (Bai, 2009, p.162). By modeling Socratic questioning, for instance, teachers are promoting CT skills by illustrating a deeper exploration of ideas and comments (Cheong & Cheung, 2008). Instructional intervention should be consistent to prod learners to critically interact (Yang, 2008). Yet, Yang et al. (2008) found that students significantly improved, and maintained, their CT skills in structured ODFs, where course expectations are explicit and instructors “started to model and challenge learners’ CT skills at the beginning…rather than in the middle of the semester.” Such scaffolding must extend to all the objectives of the activity: Klisc et al. (2012) found that explicit expectations for the discussion, and how the postings would be graded, had a significant impact on student performance in the ODF. McLean (2005) found that by using a CT model in conjunction with computer conferences, instructors could better assess the varying skills being demonstrated by students that may, in turn, help to design more flexible and effective online CT activities.

Overcoming the obstacles

In their study of CT in a virtual environment, Mandernach et al. (2009) commented that results may be affected by the novelty of learning online, but once educators and learners become more comfortable with this format, they may fully realize the theoretical objectives.

Additionally, Sendag & Odabasi (2009) noted that effective facilitation does not necessarily mean constantly providing direct responses or immediate corrections for every posting, Instead, what seems to encourage CT are probing and purposeful questions to lead students to demonstrate higher level thinking, discussions, reflections, and support. It is important that teachers be able to monitor ODFs for potential problems, such as discussions being dominated by a few individuals or becoming too inappropriate, without disrupting the free exchange of ideas and opinions (Arend, 2009). While some students may feel that such a lack of a strong instructor presence is unhelpful, too many teacher interventions or an absence of neutrality may actually impede the flow of CT (Arend, 2009).

Finally, some may argue that face-to-face discussions are more conducive to brainstorming (Guiller, 2008), yet in Bai’s study (2009) most instances of CT occurred in the exploratory phase, which includes brainstorming. Guiller (2008), however, advocated a blended approach and concluded that a few initial face-to-face sessions, to spark new ideas and confirm understanding, would benefit subsequent online discussions where students could focus on higher order skills.

Works cited

Angeli, C., & Valanides, N. (2009). Instructional effects on critical thinking: Performance on ill-defined issues. Learning and Instruction, 19(4), 322-334.

Arend, B. (2009). Encouraging critical thinking in online threaded discussions. Journal of Educators Online, 6(1), 1-23.

Bai, H. (2009). Facilitating students' critical thinking in online discussion: An instructor's experience. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 8(2), 156-164.

Cheong, C.M., & Cheung, W.S. (2008). Online discussion and critical thinking skills: A case study in a Singapore secondary school. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 24(5), 556-573.

Chiu, Y-C. J. (2009). Facilitating Asian students’ critical thinking in online discussions. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(1), 42-57.

Galetcaia, T., & Thiessen, L. (2010). Who is the real owner? Or how a simple pepsi-cola story can help students build critical thinking skills. TESL Canada Journal, 28(1), 115-126.

Guiller, J., Durndell, A., & Ross, A. (2008). Peer interaction and critical thinking: Face-to-face or online discussion? Learning and Instruction, 18(2), 187-200.

Klisc, C., McGill, T., & Hobbs, V. (2012). The effect of instructor information provision on critical thinking in students using asynchronous online discussion. International Journal on E-Learning, 11(3), 247-266.

Lodewyk, K. R. (2009). Fostering critical thinking in physical education students. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance (JOPERD), 80(8), 12-18.

Mandernach, B.J., Forrest, K.D., Babutzke, J.L., & Manker, L.R. (2009). The role of instructor interactivity in promoting critical thinking in online and face-to-face classrooms. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(1), 49-62.

Matheson, R., Wilkinson, S. C. & Gilhooly, E. (2012). Promoting critical thinking and collaborative working through assessment: Combining patchwork text and online discussion boards. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 49(3), 257-267.

McLean, C.L. (2005). Evaluating critical thinking skills: Two conceptualizations. Journal of Distance Education, 20(2), 1-20.

McLoughlin, D., & Mynard, J. (2009). An analysis of higher order thinking in online discussions. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 46(2), 147-160.

Seker, H., & Komur, S. (2008). The relationship between critical thinking skills and in-class questioning behaviours of English language teaching students. European Journal of Teacher Education, 31(4), 389-402.

Sendag, S., & Odabasi, H.F. (2009). Effects of an online problem based learning course on content knowledge acquisition and critical thinking skills. Computers & Education, 53(1), 132-141.

Szabo, Z., & Schwartz, J. (2011). Learning methods for teacher education: The use of online discussions to improve critical thinking. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 20(1), 79-94.

Yang, Y-T. C. (2008). A catalyst for teaching critical thinking in a large university class in Taiwan: Asynchronous online discussions with the facilitation of teaching assistants. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(3), 241-264.

Yang, Y-T.C., Newby, T.J., & Bill, R.L. (2005). Using socratic questioning to promote critical thinking skills through asynchronous discussion forums in distance learning environments. The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3) 163-181.

Yang, Y-T.C., Newby, T., & Bill, R. (2008). Facilitating interactions through structured web-based bulletin boards: A quasi-experimental study on promoting learners' critical thinking skills. Computers & Education, 50(4) 1572-1585.

Zohar, A. (2006). The nature and development of teachers’ metastrategic knowledge in the context of teaching higher order thinking. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(3), 331-377.

Zohar, A., & Dori, Y.J. (2003). Higher order thinking skills and low-achieving students: Are they mutually exclusive? Journal of the Learning Sciences. 12(2), 145-181.