"Critical Thinking" – The Online Education Buzz-Phrase


by Robert Borger
It seems to me that the new buzzword in online education is “Critical Thinking.”  I just completed a Webinar about the topic last month, have plenty of messages about how to increase critical thinking with my students, and see it come up in grading templates and rubrics continually.  This is something that cannot be ignored!
I started with coming up with my own definition of critical thinking, and decided I want my students to be able to think on their feet when they complete my classes.  I think this is a big part of critical thinking. The challenge is how to bring this out in their assignments and discussion boards in the online format.
One example is a project management class that asks for professional examples or stories from the news that provides insight to the topic.  I found that the students did not try to grasp how many news stories were available in our subject.  I turned on the NBC Nightly News and saw a story about the new Boeing Dreamliner, which has a history of failed timelines and massive budget problems. I sent the class a message to review the news story online with a video link, and the conversation exploded with relevant information and analysis on the importance of everything from Union Negotiations to outsourcing labor.  It was an amazing difference in the discussion.
I am lucky enough to have a full-time position at a large corporation, and have seen successful employees make intelligent decisions and respond to complicated situations with clarity and speed.  I think there is a part of critical thinking that is based on street smarts and experience, which is sometimes difficult to bring to a classroom.  One thing that I have decided to do is share examples with my students, and scenarios, to show them the importance of critical thinking on their careers. I used my own personal interest in adult development, and applied for a Global Training Position in my organization. I was able to share my experience as an instructor, and the process experience in the company to enhance my chances at the job.  There are others in my class that have part-time jobs, but do not share their energy and passion for business with their current boss.  They need to bring all relevant experience to the table to get the most out of all opportunities in the job they have!
The students in our online programs need to take the initiative to build their critical thinking one assignment and discussion board at a time.  As an instructor, I am now looking to ensure there is critical thought in every post, and need to bring the probing questions to expand the discussion in a relevant manner.
Critical thinking is going to be necessary to challenge the complicated issues we have in society today, including the value of their education.  A November, 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal asked whether students recognize value from their educations once they graduate.
From the WSJ piece: “Anne Neal has been trying to help families answer that question for years. As president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, she believes students should leave college with a broad base of knowledge that will allow them “to compete successfully in our globalized economy and to make sense of the modern world.”
By that ACTA means universities should require a core curriculum with substantive courses in composition, literature, American history, economics, math, science and foreign language.” (McGurn, 2011).  This response from Anne Neal clearly sounds like the critical thinking mandate that I have been receiving for all my online classes.
I am in the process of finishing up another week of some classes, and looking to start my full-time week in the corporate world.  I will continue to focus on critical thinking for success for my students, and hopefully for myself, as well. I am lucky enough to be working on my career development plan for the next five years, and I am adding the development opportunity to bring critical thinking to my planning and analysis on the job. I have decided to request a path to become a people manager, and use planning and strategy to bring change into the organization.

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