Encouraging Critical Thinking in Distance Learning: Ensuring Challenging Intellectual Programs

Article excerpt

Introduction

Uistance learning dialogue, threaded discussions, and chats are exciting and intellectually stimulating when used in helping students to master intellectual skills. One of the most necessary skills involving online instruction is the cultivation of critical thinking within every assignment. The oft repeated saying that distinguishes the difference between giving out fish and teaching people how to fish is most often used in the business world. It conveys the idea that providing people with good jobs is better than giving them handouts. The same phrase has been used by countless educators within professional and technical educational environments. The ideal online classes provide challenging experiences through assignments and exercises, which should create new visions. Assisting students to develop critical thinking skills presents them with the desire to go beyond the content knowledge from their online courses. Critical thinking allows them to analyze the process, to understand the purpose of the subject content, and to utilize information to extend and improve their knowledge, skills, and abilities toward effective decisions toward professional and personal achievement. Critical thinking cultivates a student's intellectual curiosity, engagement, integrity, empathy, and responsibility.

CRITICAL THINKING: WHAT IT IS AND WHY IT MATTERS FOR EDUCATORS

A Google search of the question: "What is critical thinking?" can result in more than a million and a half hits. Although numerous researchers have defined critical thinking, one can find a comprehensive explanation on the Critical Thinking Community website at http://www.criticalthinking.org/ pages/defming-OTtical-thinking^ó :

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

This comprehensive definition provides most of the universal standards applied to critical thinking. Earlier writings of Paul (2008) indicated that critical thinking is the ultimate goal toward better student reasoning. For a simpler explanation of critical thinking, Ennis (1962) defined critical thinking as "a reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do" (p. 466). Throughout the studies identifying critical thinking, most authors agree that it allows individuals to pursue the element of gathering information. It is the ability to exercise sound reasoning by asking questions that lead toward effective decision making and by analyzing and synthesizing information while understanding different points of view. Most educators view critical thinking as a path toward professional and personnel success.

STATUS OF CRITICAL THINKING AMONG LEARNERS

The World Wide Web provides unprecedented access to information. Peck (2012) discussed the urgency with which stakeholders in education want students to graduate with critical thinking skills to compete in the expanding global economy. Peck claimed that even as access to the Information Age expands, students appear less prepared than in the past to evaluate the information received critically and defend their beliefs. Such skills are sorely needed in a rapidly changing era. Most educators agree that critical thinking allows students to navigate through the decision making process and provides transfer of learning, which leads to academic and job success as well as a clear world view. Within the interconnectedness, rapidity, and complexity of information, the ability to think critically is crucial toward having a successful life. …