Instructional Design based on Critical and Creative Thinking Strategies for an Online Course

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1 Instructional Design based on Critical and Creative Thinking Strategies for an Online Course Simone Conceição, PhD Assistant Professor, School of Education University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Karen Skibba Graduate Project Assistant, School of Education University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee One of the biggest changes in adult education in recent years is the proliferation of computer-mediated communication technologies for teaching and learning. According to Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek (2003), in 2002 over 1,600 institutions offered more than 54,000 online courses. Kascus (1994) estimates that by the year 2007, approximately 50 percent of learners enrolled in higher education will take distance education courses. A study conducted by Allen and Seaman (1994) found that online enrollments grow at faster rates than the overall study body. In the fall of 2003, over 1.9 million students were studying online. The reasons for this computer evolution in higher education was to help provide better access, flexibility, and convenience to support adult learners who seek educational opportunities (Eastmond, 1998). Eastmond (1998) points out that there are also pedagogical benefits of computer-mediated communication technologies which include important educational promise for engendering active and experiential learning, encouraging reflection and application, and fostering collaboration and individualized construction of meaning in learning communities (p. 40). Computer-mediated courses allow learners to reflect on how information and experiences link to the context of prior knowledge and allow for collaboration with other online learners. According to Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2003), Teachers must be able to understand and design learning activities that facilitate higher-order learning outcomes (p. 121). The challenge for instructors is to develop online instructional strategies that foster or facilitate these pedagogical benefits, including critical and creative thinking. Naidu (2003) states that to make the most of the opportunities that technology offers, careful attention needs to be paid to the pedagogy of learning and teaching transaction (p. 355). This includes how subject matter will be presented, what the learners would do, how learning would be supported, what type of assessment would take place, and how feedback would be provided. Therefore, this paper describes an online graduate course that focuses on instructional strategies that foster critical and creative thinking based on the analysis of theories, research, and practice; instructor s role; and learner interactions. Practical implications for the use of critical and creative thinking strategies are provided. The Online Course Course Description The online course entitled, Using Technology with Adult Learners, provides an opportunity for participants to acquire skills to design, develop, and manage technology-based training programs for adult learners by integrating principles of adult education and instructional design, interface design, project management, and program evaluation. The focus of this course is how to design solid Web-based instruction that increases learning by using a learner-centered approach. This course is conducted entirely online for 15 weeks using the course management tool Desire2Learn (D2L). Course Activities The online course includes three activities: online group discussions, individual assignments, and a Webbased training team project. All activities involve the development of critical and creative thinking skills. 1

2 Online Discussion. The course is divided into modules during which specific readings are assigned. Students are expected to complete reading assignments and participate actively in online discussions. Participants are required to post at least three quality messages per week. To be considered a quality posting, each response must clearly tie back to the reading materials and/or course content. For each online discussion module, two group members are assigned specific roles to facilitate discussion and to summarize discussions. These roles include: facilitator and summarizer. Everyone is a contributor. Individual Assignments. The purpose of these assignments is to apply concepts related to the course through reflective questions as participants visit Websites and experience technology that can be used in online courses. Assignments are posted in a public area of the course, so participants learn from the reflective responses of others. Team Project. This assignment involves the creation of a Web-Based Training (WBT) course for adult learners from development of a Design Document to the placement of the course in a course management tool. Class participants complete tasks and post them in a public area at the end of each class module. The final product is a complete online course site with content, instructional strategies, and assessment strategies. Instructor Role In this online course the instructor takes the role of an instructional designer, facilitator, support agent, and consultant. As an instructional designer the instructor plans and implements the course in the course management tool six weeks before the course. As a facilitator the instructor s a welcome letter to students three weeks prior to the start of the course and shares detailed information on the structure of the course. As a support agent the instructor provides constant feedback throughout the semester upon completion of module assignments, online discussions, and team tasks. As a consultant, the instructor provides detailed feedback on the WBT project that the team creates. These instructor roles are supported in the literature, which explains how online courses have changed the instructor and learner relationship. According to Conceição-Runlee (2001), the nature of how technology is used in online courses changes the role of the faculty member to a person who plays a supportive role in the teaching-learning process. Teaching and learning become a partnership resulting from learnercentered environments (p. 1). Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, and Archer (2001) point out that the role of the online instructor is especially complex since responsibilities include design and administration, facilitating discourse, and direct instruction. These are three elements of online instruction known in the literature as teaching presence (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). Anderson et al. (2001) define teaching presence as the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes (p. 5). For learning to occur in a medium that is dependent on the written language, a strong element of teacher presence is required. The online course described in this paper requires strong teacher presence, including taking an active role in constructing the social online environment. For example, the instructor assigns very specific facilitator, summarizer, and contributor roles for weekly discussions with clear guidelines for what is expected. Anderson et al. (2001) state that facilitating discourse during the course is critical to maintaining the interest, motivation, and engagement of students in active learning (p. 7). The instructor for this online course is also active in the online discussions by encouraging participation and asking questions that prompt critical thought. In Web-based courses Coppola, Hiltz, and Rotter (2001) found that faculty need to increase efforts to monitor student progress. Student progress is monitored almost daily in the online course by answering questions and providing guidance and feedback on assignments and discussions. Teachers also provide intellectual leadership by sharing their subject matter knowledge with students. 2

3 This is accomplished in the online course by sharing information and resources via PowerPoint, video, Websites, and providing examples during online discussions. While the instructor has additional knowledge, in a learner-centered environment students are encouraged to use the resources provided to create their own knowledge by interacting with the content, the instructor, and with other students Learner Interactions There have been a number of studies explaining the importance of interaction in a Web-based course. Interaction is particularly important in the online course since the objective is to work in a team to develop a Web-based training course. Students participate in the following forms of interactions during this online course: learner-teacher, learner-learner, learner-content, learner-technology, and learnerenvironment (Hanna, Glowacki-Dudka, & Conceição-Runlee, 2000). The formal learner-teacher interaction for this course includes individual assignments. Less formally, the instructor provides feedback throughout the course and participates in online discussions. The discussions are an opportunity for the instructor to act as a colleague where both the teacher and the students learn from each other through critical and creative thinking. Learner-content interaction takes place by the instructor sharing information and resources via PowerPoint, video, Websites, and providing examples during online discussions. Content is also shared from learner-environment interactions when students conduct Web-based searches, evaluate learning objects, participate in synchronous chats, and participate in online quiz simulations. The learner-learner interaction is significant in this course. Groups are formed for the online discussions where students share professional and personal experiences and answer each other s questions. Group members also provide additional resources for students to learn from each other. Anderson (2003) states that The act of engaging in learner-learner interaction forces learners to construct or formulate an idea in a deeper sense (p. 134). Student interaction is particularly important in this course since one of the major objectives is to work as part of an instructional development team to create a WBT training course. Each team is involved in completing tasks collaboratively throughout the semester to design and launch an online course. This learner-technology interaction is the culmination of the entire class. Each team presents their WBT course project to the rest of the class online by giving access to the WBT project in the course management tool. Using a login name and password in the role of a student, other team members access the WBT project created by each team. Working in teams, students experience a process similar to the instructional design process that takes in the real world. Critical and Creative Thinking The interactions used in the online course described in this paper involve the development of critical and creative thinking skills based on an integrated thinking model. Jonassen (2000) describes an integrated thinking model that involves goal-directed integration of accepted, reorganized, and generated knowledge. This model has three components of complex thinking: content/basic thinking, critical thinking, and creative thinking. Content/basic thinking is characterized by the skills, attitudes, and dispositions to learn accepted information such as basic educational content, general knowledge, and common sense. This type of thinking involves the processes of learning and retrieving what has been learned; it is the knowledge base from which learners operate (Jonassen, 2000). Critical thinking requires dynamic reorganization of knowledge in meaningful and usable ways. It involves the skills of analysis, evaluation, and connection. Skills related to analysis include identification of main ideas in readings; differentiation of core ideas from supporting information; and understanding of the major concepts in class readings. Evaluation skills include assessment of information for its reliability 3

4 and usefulness; discrimination between relevant and irrelevant information; recognition of how information can be applied in real-life; and identification of fallacies and errors in reasoning (vagueness, untruths, etc.). Examples of skills related to connection include comparison/contrast of similarities and differences between concepts; recognition of unknown generalizations or principles from information or observations; use of generalizations and principles to infer unstated conclusions about specific information or situations; and identification of causal relationships between events or objects (Jonassen, 2000). Creative thinking involves going beyond accepted knowledge to generate new knowledge. This type of thinking has three components: synthesis, imagination, and elaboration. Skills linked to synthesis include think analogically (create and use metaphors and analogies to make information more understandable); summarization of main ideas in one s own words; and planning of a process (step-by-step procedure for accomplishing activity). Imagination skills incorporate generation of many ideas; prediction of events or actions that are caused by a set of conditions; and speculation about interesting possibilities; and creation of mental images. Elaboration involves expanding information by adding details, examples, or other information; modifying, refining, or changing ideas for different purposes; extending ideas by applying them in a different context; shifting categories of thinking by assuming a different point of view; and reinforcing general ideas by giving examples (Jonassen, 2000). Critical thinking and creative thinking are incorporated in the online discussions for the course by assigning students various roles as facilitator, contributor, and summarizer. The facilitator is responsible for setting the discussion agenda by assigning the order of the readings for the group and then initiating the class discussions by posing questions. As class members respond to these questions, the facilitator extends the discussion by posing new questions on issues that arise out of the discussion. Additionally, the facilitator may refer back to the readings to initiate discussion on another aspect of the topic. These discussions cause critical thinking because students can respond in a variety of ways. Participants introduce scholarly references from other sources to support or highlight their perspectives, discuss personal experiences, and bring in professional experiences. They use creative thinking by going beyond the class readings and bringing information to the discussion and connecting and comparing that information with the module readings. Then the summarizer synthesizes what the group found and shares the different points of view. The individual assignments also encourage critical thinking since students make their own decisions about how to accomplish the tasks. Students are given a list of Websites to visit. This involves identifying useful sites, comparing information in each site, applying information to the learned content in the module, and reflecting on the experience. The team project fosters both critical and creative thinking. Each team member has to reflect on the content learned throughout the class and use this knowledge in meaningful ways to plan, design, and implement a WBT course that the entire team would approve. The first step is to create a design document for their team project that explains who the audience would be, what the goals and objectives of the program are, what instructional strategy they will use, and what activities will the learners need to accomplish. This involves critical thinking about the objectives of the course and how they can be accomplished. Students use many creative thinking strategies to synthesize and elaborate each other s ideas. They also use their imaginations to create interesting activities so their audience would be engaged and motivated to learn. This involves using the concepts they are reading and discussing in class and extending these ideas into their team project. Implications for Practice This paper examines how critical and creative thinking strategies can be incorporated in an online course and suggests that (1) a variety of student interactions can be incorporated in an online course to facilitate student learning; (2) strong teacher presence that includes constructing the social online environment and 4

5 providing frequent feedback is essential to foster student critical and creative thinking; and (3) learning objectives should clearly explain what creative and critical thinking is required from students. Most of the research agrees that increased interactions lead to increased student satisfaction (Picciano, 2002). However, Sproull and Kiesler (1991) caution that students need experience and guidance from the instructor so they are not having discussions or completing assignments based on misinformation that can hinder their learning. Instructors play a critical role in fostering critical and creating thinking among students using the Web. This requires that instructors reflect on the objectives of the course and develop interactive activities that require students to rethink the content in the course and apply what they learn in meaningful ways. References Allen & Seaman (1994). Entering the mainstream: The quality and extent of online education in the United States, 2003 and Retrieved May 26, 2005 from the World Wide Web: Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conference context. JALN,5, 2. Conceição-Runlee, S. (2001). A phenomenological study of college faculty experiences derived from teaching in a computer-mediated environment when there is an absence of physical presence. Adult Education Research Conference Proceedings. June 1-3, East Lansing, Michigan. Available at: Coppola, N.W., Hiltz, S.R., & Rotter, N. (2001). Becoming a virtual professor: Pedagogical roles and ALN. Journal of Management Information Systems,18, 4, pp Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2, pp Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2003). In M. G. Moore & W. G. Anderson, W. G. (Eds.). Handbook of Distance Education (pp ). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Hanna, D., Glowacki-Dudka, M., & Conceição-Runlee, S. (2000). 147 practical tips for teaching online groups: Essentials of web-based education. Madison: Atwood Publishing. Jonassen, D.H. (2000). Computers as mindtools for schools: Engaging critical thinking. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill. Picciano, A.G. (2002) Beyond student perceptions: issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course, JALN,6, 1, pp Sproull, L. and S. Kiesler (1993): Connections: New ways of working in the networked organization. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press. BIBLIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES Simone Conceição is an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) and holds a Ph.D. in Adult Learning and Distance Education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Master s degree in Administration and Development of Adult and Continuing Education Programs from UWM. Address: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI Phone: (414) , Fax: (414) Karen Skibba is a Graduate Project Assistant and Graduate Student Program Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she is also pursuing a Ph.D. in Adult Education in the Department of Administrative Leadership. She holds a Master s degree in Communication Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Address: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, School of Education, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI Phone: (262)

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