Two activities that promote critical thinking and interaction in asynchronous discussions

When I wrote  the article Critical Thinking in Asynchronous Discussions, way back in 2005, the creativity of two strategies stood out in my mind and still do. So I thought I would share them as examples of activities that promote critical thinking and interaction.

Strategies for Using Subject Matter Experts

Using subject matter experts with asynchronous discussions can be an effective strategy to enhance critical thinking. Muirhead (2002) found that learners enjoy reading about individuals and subject matter experts who relate to the course materials. Subject matter experts provide a human element to discussions, and can make issues more meaningful.

Pennsylvania State University uses mock interview exercises as a strategy to promote critical thinking (Creative use of on-line discussion areas: Suggestions to integrate technology, 2002). First, learners locate and read about a person who is an expert in an area that is relevant to the subject matter. Next, they formulate critical questions to ask, and justify the reasons for the questions by relating them to the course material. Finally, the questions and justifications are posted for learners to debate and critique.

Asynchronous discussions can also be used to interview subject matter experts. Learners at Penn State interview subject matter experts at key points in the course after they have done online background research (Creative use of on-line discussion areas:Suggestions to integrate technology, 2002). The asynchronous interview is facilitated by the instructor to ensure questions are not repeated and similar questions are merged into one question. Penn State also uses subject matter experts as guest facilitators to lead asynchronous discussions for a set period of time. Before the discussion learners read a paper or article written by the guest facilitator that relates to a subject in the course. Then questions are prepared to ask the guest facilitator. Next, the questions are posted to the online discussion, and learners justify their questions by relating them to the guest facilitator’s work. Next, the questions critiqued before they are presented to the guest facilitator. Finally, after the guest facilitator has answered the prepared questions, learners analyze and evaluate the process.

Role Playing Strategies

Role playing can be an effective strategy to promote critical thinking in online discussions. One strategy is to have small groups of learners develop scenarios around specific course content, and assume roles within the scenarios (The Illinois Online Network, 2003). Another strategy is to have small teams of learners analyze a case study scenario with role playing (Creative use of on-line discussion areas: Suggestions to integrate technology, 2002). First, a scenario is presented in the online discussion and each team develops questions based on the scenario. Next, teams interview the facilitator, who assumes a role, by posting questions to the discussion. Next, each team member takes on a role representing different sides of specific issues and presents them by suggesting, interpreting, analyzing, evaluating, inferring, or explaining their positions. This helps learners critically compare their reasoning with other learners. Next, each team summarizes their findings and presents them online for feedback. Finally, learners post their ideas for a solution and receive feedback from other learners on how their ideas could be applied to another discipline, or how they could be expanded.

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2 thoughts on “Two activities that promote critical thinking and interaction in asynchronous discussions

  1. Really appreciate the two asynchronous activities, Greg. My grad students work through the same process to prepare for their real-time interview with a Young Adult author but this asynchronous twist certainly enlarges the pool of possible experts.

    I got more good ideas from your article and was curious if you’ve figured out a way to hold an asynchronous Socratic seminar? 😉

  2. Both are fantastic ideas – in my F2F classes, I will invite subject matter experts as guest speakers sometimes and I think this will transform very well for online discussion as well. It will actually be a much better alternative and make this activity a lot more feasible since now you can practically invite anyone in the world to be guest speaker since there is no physical presence required. A lot of coordination will be required due to time zone difference and to ensure students will be prepared for the interview. I love this idea!

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