Design Thinking Resources

Tips for spurring critical thinking among students online

It’s an exciting time in higher education as we reflect on lessons learned about student and faculty experiences with remote and online instruction. Earlier this year, we began the transition from an emergency mode response to a global pandemic to strategic planning to address the future of teaching and learning. One key takeaway is the impact of course design on the ability to engage with students in different ways. Course design allows for intuitive navigation of course content along with increased access to information and resources that align with learning outcomes. The design of online courses has a tremendous impact on student performance and their ability to gain critical thinking skills. Here are three tips to consider for course design that supports critical thinking among students online:

Start with a course design rubric

We promote the use of course design rubrics such as Quality Matters. Course design sets the stage for learning and ensures an equal playing field for all students. Using a course design rubric as a checklist for ensuring that course content is accessible and aligns with course objectives has the added benefits of addressing all learning styles, incorporating high-impact practices and enhancing engagement and interaction. For example, a recorded video with captioning allows students to read while listening or review again to gain better understanding of the material.

Use supplemental instruction to reinforce concepts

Resources such as how-to videos, or case studies of real-world problems, give students context for thinking beyond the course and instructor lectures. Consider increasing lower stakes assessments that allow students to share their perspectives and identify how they came to conclusions about their opinions. Experiences shared from previous students can be a great way to set expectations of work that demonstrates problem-solving and critical thinking.

Normalise the use of learning resources

Support outside the course is often readily available, but it may be challenging for students to navigate or understand which resources are relevant to the assignments they are trying to complete. Guiding students to relevant support units will also prepare them for navigating assistance in the workplace. We often hear from employers that critical thinking skills are of utmost importance. When we teach students how to use the right resources at the right time, they are building context on decision-making and enhancing their critical thinking skills through practice.

These tips are a good starting point for designing courses that enhance student performance and learning outcomes, but don’t feel that you have to go at it alone or all at once. Reach out to your institution’s instructional design team, along with faculty and student support units, to collaborate on course resources that will align to curriculum and course assignments. Implementing one new strategy at a time will allow for adequate reflection of what students are learning and how they are engaging in ways that enhance their learning and critical thinking skills.

Michelle Horton is executive director of global online learning and development at the University of West Florida.