Teaching Critical Thinking through Electronic Discussion Platforms

Electronic discussion can stimulate and develop critical thinking skills in students, and we’re not the only ones who believe it.

A scholarly article by Steven Greenlaw and Stephen DeLoach called Teaching Critical Thinking with Electronic Discussion spoke on the subject more than ten years ago, and as technology has continued to advance, electronic discussion is finding an even bigger space in student thinking and curiosity.

Why is critical thinking so important to develop? Challenging students early on to think outside of the box and be naturally curious rather than memorizing content, the better thinker they will be. They will understand the content and how to apply it beyond an exam or assignment. If professors constantly provide students with the answers, it stops the necessity for students to see through the entire process of critical thinking. This is the premise of Packback’s electronic discussion platform, Packback Questions.

Electronic discussion platforms are not new – they’ve been around for years – but their value has been highly underestimated.

There are many benefits to electronic discussion platforms that have been discussed and studied for years. Greenlaw and DeLoach are just a couple of interested parties.

Electronic discussion platforms aid argument and response development as they allow more time outside of the short class time allotted for dozens of students. And to add to that, they give every participant an equal opportunity to be involved – to ask questions and provide answers.

Incentives, such as a grading system, then drive and reinforce the engagement. With Packback, this is the Curiosity Score. The actual amount a student engages is then up to them.

Greenlaw and DeLoach stated, “If critical thinking is to occur, students must be engaged by the assignment. In other words, students should read all or nearly all of the postings. For this engagement to occur, several things are necessary. First, the electronic discussion needs to be seen as an integral part of the course, neither optional nor extra credit. Second, the discussion should be clearly connected to the material being covered during the in-class sessions.”

Electronic discussion platforms help provide students multiple viewpoints, and quickly, by combining traditional written work and classroom discussion. They help shown more than just the single view of the professor on the content.

Greenlaw and DeLoach add, “…discussion forces students to confront multiple alternative viewpoints.”

Another benefit of electronic discussion platforms is the timeliness. Traditional written assignments and classroom discussion develop more complex thinking after multiple instances of feedback and comments from the professor. With electronic discussion platforms, feedback and arguments are in real-time, quicker and in masses due to multiple authors.

A final benefit, one that would not have been understood by Greenlaw and DeLoach years ago, is the ease of use for electronic discussion platforms today.

We live in an electronic world. The learning style of an electronic discussion fits the every day of the majority of students who use multiple social networks, email, blogs, etc. Usability is quick to adapt, almost natural.

The benefits of electronic discussion platforms continue to develop and increase as technology continues to advance and insert itself into our everyday lives. It is important, just as it was nearly 20 years ago, that we understand the many benefits and how influencers can champion these platforms and integrate into student learning.

Article referenced: Teaching Critical Thinking with Electronic Discussion by Steven Greenlaw and Stephen DeLoach (2003)

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