"Teaching Critical Thinking Through Online Discussion Groups" (article; pdf) offers a number of practical suggestions for online discussions which support critical inquiry and promote "deeper, more intellectual, and more reflective learning."
1. Use Online Tools and Collaboration to "Sharpen Analytical Skills"
- Use discussion boards, chats, and/or virtual classroom "for idea generation ... for online help sessions" and to "coac[h] discussions to take students' ideas to the next level."
- Use "e-mail to "communicate with students one-on-one or one-to-many."
- Suggest "[p]resentation tools [to] give students the opportunity to work collaboratively on project planning, peer editing, and research reports."
- Use "online communication ... for collaboration as well as increased participation in the learning process, reflection, peer tutoring, monitoring of student learning as it is taking place, and extension of classroom learning."
- Use "online collaborative formats [See Part 4] ... for increased student interactions, debate. and reflection; close monitoring or students' critical thinking skills; and time-and-space-independent extension of classroom learning"
2. "Suppor[t] Critical Thinking Online"
a. Provide Coaching and Practice in How to Carry on an Online Discussion
"[S]upport disciplined discussions by ...
- "maintaining a focused discussion"
- "keeping the discussion intellectually responsible"
- "stimulating the discussion by asking probing questions that hold students accountable for their thinking"
- "infusing these questions in the minds of students"
- "encouraging full participation"
- "periodically summarizing what has or needs to be done."
b. Monitor Discussions or Group Work Activity
- "Engage in a line of questioning that will continue to drive an idea, thus helping students develop and apply critical thinking skills."
- "[G]iv[e] and accep[t] feedback for greater reflection" and to help "online participants to be aware of the significance of their responses."
- Guide students "to ask good questions of themselves and others ... [q]uestions that focus on the fundamentals of thought and reasoning."
- "[C]oach learning and problem-solving by modelling questioning techniques that enhance social interaction and dialogue."
3. "As[k] the Right Questions"
- Ask "[t]thought-[rovoking questions [that] require that students go beyond facts and use knowledge (recognizing assumptions, implications, and consequences) in the exercise of judgment."
- Ask "[c]riticalthinking questions [thta] tend to generate more questions in both the questioner and the responder."
- "[M]odel thinking and then, at some point, le[t] students accept more of the responsibility."
- "[S]tar[t] with a 'focus question' or dialogue such as, 'How do good readers read?' 'What activities are involved?' 'How would you approach different types of reading matter?'"
- "[C]ontinu[e] ... raising questions that drive thinking, asking for clarification or elaboration ... questions that build on issues of support, reasons, evidence, assumptions, implications, and consequences related to the 'focus question.'"
- Use Socratic Questioning Prompts and Socratic Starter Questions ... as "guide[s] in examining the quality of thinking in response to 'focus questions.'"
4. Discussion Formats
"Some ... discussion formats that help promote critical thinking and task analysis include":
- "[A]n online expanded group format (seminar group) where the 'focus question' is discussed with peers and instructors"
- "Small group discussions led by an instructor or group leader"
- "Buzz groups consisting of two people who discuss issues or problems for a short period"
- "Case discussions using real or simulated complex problems to be analyzed in detail and a solution or decision offered"
- "Debating teams where students improve their critical thinking skills by formulating ideas, defending their positions, and countering the opposition's reasoning or conclusions"
- "Jigsaw groups where members break into subgroups to discuss various parts of a topic and then are responsible for presenting or teaching the information to the other members"
- "Mock trials where students assume the various roles of individuals in a real trial setting"