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The Center for Online Teaching Excellence

What I know about Critical Thinking Kamil Hamaoui I am currently a full-time Psychology Instructor at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, New York, where I have been teaching since September of 2013. Prior to my position at WCC, I was a full-time Psychology Instructor at Everett Community College in Everett, WA. I have been teaching online for 8 years and have used a number of learning management systems (Blackboard, Angel, and Canvas). I have taught General Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Developmental Psychology, and Human Sexuality online. In 2013, I completed an intensive, online workshop on the Quality Matters rubric and process. I received my Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego, in 2006. My doctoral dissertation was in the area of music perception. After entering teaching as a profession, I have taken a strong interest in critical thinking. In 2008 and 2010, I participated in critical thinking workshops hosted by the Foundation for Critical Thinking. I developed and led a series of critical thinking professional development workshops at Everett Community College in the fall of 2010, 2011, and 2013. I regularly assess my instruction, both informally and formally, and presented the findings of a study comparing the learning effectiveness of live lectures vs. video lectures at the 35th Annual National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology in 2013. I am currently undertaking a qualitative study investigating students’ experiences with online testing.

I use the critical thinking “ discussion forum assignment

I would like to share what I know about critical thinking I would like to share how I teach critical thinking. I have developed a discussion forum assignment that requires students to approach controversial issues from an explicit critical thinking perspective. This assignment uses the model of critical thinking developed by the Foundation for Critical Thinking ( In this model, critical thinking is defined as the analysis and evaluation of thinking. Thinking is first analyzed by breaking it down into basic components (i.e., the question, purpose, point of view, information, concepts, inferences, assumptions, and implications). Thinking is then evaluated by applying intellectual standards (i.e., clarity, accuracy, precision, depth, breadth, fairness, etc.).

What is it The discussion forum assignment has four parts. In the first part, students submit an initial post in which they present a reasoned conclusion to a controversial question. In the second part, students submit two posts to their classmates’ initial posts, in which they quote statements and ask targeted questions. In the third part, students respond to the replies they received from their classmates, by answering the questions asked and elaborating upon their thinking. In the fourth part, students submit a final post with a summary of the various positions taken, followed by an evaluation of how their own thinking developed.

How it works The discussion forum assignment is student-driven and spaced out over a one-week period. The discussion forum topic is introduced on Monday. Students are required to submit their first post by Tuesday. Students are required to submit replies to their classmates’ initial posts by Wednesday, and their responses to replies by Thursday. Then on Sunday, students are required to submit their final post. I reply to students who received fewer than two replies to their initial post. After the forum closes, I post an announcement with my commentary on the discussion forum topic and students’ performance on the assignment.

What I did I use this discussion forum assignment in all my online courses. I have been teaching online for 8 years and developed the assignment, in its current form, gradually over that time period. I have used the same discussion forum assignment in my General Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Developmental Psychology: Lifespan, and Human Sexuality courses. This assignment, or one modeled on the same principles, could work for any course where the content has relevance to controversial social and ethical issues.

as a way to get students to engage in intellectual dialogues, rather than informal chats…

The Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence

May 7, 2014 • Volume 1 • Issue 1


How I did it

The COTE Community Team: Alexandra M. Pickett, Associate Director, SUNY Learning Network; Martie Dixon, Assistant Academic Dean, Distance Learning & Alternate Programs, Erie Community College; Patricia Aceves, Director of the Faculty Center in Teaching, Learning & Technology, Stony Brook University; Lisa Dubuc, Coordinator of Electronic Learning, Niagara County Community College; Christine Kroll, Assistant Dean for Online Education, Graduate School of Education, University at Buffalo; Deborah Spiro, Assistant Vice President for Distance Education, Nassau Community College

The discussion forum assignment is easy to implement technically. I think all learning management systems (e.g., Blackboard, which I use currently) have a discussion forum tool. The tool is selected, the instructions are copied into a text field, and the forum settings (availability, viewing, grading, etc.) are chosen. I think it is important to select the viewing option where students must submit a post in the forum before they can view other threads in the forum. This encourages intellectual autonomy.

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Why I did it In the online environment, the absence of a physical presence with other students and the instructor can result in students feeling isolated and alone in their learning. One frequently used solution to this problem is to have students participate in discussion forums. Sometimes, however, discussion forums end up having a chat room quality where students superficially agree or disagree with each other’s “opinions” and use informal writing. To counteract the low quality of these interactions, instructors might feel the need to become extensively involved in the discussions to enhance the learning experience for students. This defeats the purpose of students learning from one another and can become too time consuming for instructors.

What happened when I did it I use the critical thinking discussion forum assignment as a way to get students to engage in intellectual dialogues, rather than informal chats or superficial exchanges. The assignment allows students to develop both critical thinking and written communication skills with minimal involvement from the instructor. Having used this assignment in many online courses, I have observed, informally, that it is successful in getting students to adopt an academic style of writing and a critical thinking perspective on the issue being discussed. This doesn’t happen right away. Most students are challenged by the rigor of the assignment at first. With practice and experience, many of these students achieve significant gains in their ability to use the critical thinking terms and accurately apply the critical thinking concepts to their classmates’ and their own thinking. In student evaluations, I have had students comment upon how the discussions were both the most challenging and the most rewarding part of the class. When I read a comment such as, “The discussions really helped me develop my critical thinking,” as opposed to, “I learned a lot in this class,” I see validation of the fundamental purpose of the assignment, in the case of that individual student.

What I learned

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Now that the discussion forum assignment has reached a plateau in its development, I realize that I need to conduct a formal assessment of its effectiveness. Informally, it appears to be working for many students. However, there are students who do not demonstrate growth in their critical thinking and written communication skills. In the fall of 2014, I plan on undertaking a research project with pre/post measures and action research methods to assess gains in critical thinking knowledge, critical analysis skills, critical evaluation skills, and critical thinking dispositions. I also hope to uncover factors preventing some students from achieving success.

The Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence

May 7, 2014 • Volume 1 • Issue 1

Open SUNY COTE NOTE: Student-Driven Critical Thinking Online Discussions  

Open SUNY COTE NOTE: Student-Driven Critical Thinking Online Discussions“COTE NOTE” is a companion resource for the monthly speaker series "...

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