Critical Thinking Skills in Virtual Learning Environments

Critical Thinking Skills in Virtual Learning Environments

Julie M. Little (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), USA) and Charles Feldhaus (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8411-9.ch005
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As the increase in the growth of online education continues with the expansion of both online courses and programs within higher education, the most recent challenge faced by educators is how to incorporate the basic skill of critical thinking into synchronous and asynchronous virtual courses successfully. For instructors, it is then crucial to understand the correlation between critical thinking and an online learning environment. The greater goal of this chapter is to better understand the intersection of critical thinking within online delivery systems and virtual learning environments. This chapter also examines the various barriers and challenges to successful integration of delivering critical thinking courses online, while at the same time building on existing critical thinking research in an effort to connect existing critical thinking concepts to current new media and web 2.0 tools in order to reach the ‘digital native' in the online course.
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With the growth in what is referred to as ‘online learning’ in recent decades, faculty are now challenged with the increased use of technology both in and out of their classrooms. Use of learning management systems (LMS), web 2.0 tools, social media and networks, MOOCs and fully online programs are increasing in popularity within higher education institutions. At the same time, the intersection of what technology can bring to the traditional college course and program seems to have no boundaries. This includes ‘live’ courses, global classrooms, online simulations and labs, etc. As courses within both the asynchronous and synchronous virtual environments have continued to mature, the development of the curriculum has also progressed so that higher order thinking, evaluation and analysis have become present to much greater measure.

In an attempt to understand to what extent this advancement of reflective thought and examination may be present within virtual education currently, this chapter will begin by deconstructing both the elements of critical thinking and virtual learning within higher education so that each may be explored as separate constructs followed by their intersections within the barriers and challenges encountered as well as the integration that faculty may choose to incorporate. It is from this examination that a clearer understanding of how higher order analysis and thinking can be achieved within a virtual environment. Suggestions for dealing with the ‘digital native’ student are also offered including current methods of teaching and learning online.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Learning Management Systems: Learning Management Systems (LMS) are administrative structures that house and distribute curriculum. An LMS may be used for both online and traditional campus courses, so that it is a complete system of record and communication for instructors, students and university administrators.

Critical Thinking: Critical thinking is the ability to analyze and evaluate thinking (others or your own) with a view toward improving that thinking. According to Moore and Parker (2007) AU58: The in-text citation "Moore and Parker (2007)" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. , above all else, thinking critically means screening your ideas to see if they really make sense.

Blended/Hybrid Learning: Learning systems that combine face-to-face instruction with computer-mediated or virtual instruction.

MOOC: A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web.

Social media: Users that are connected through hyperlinking so that other users discover the content and link to it. The worldwide web grows organically as a reflection of the collective activity of the users. This allows for users to construct their own unique experiences online versus simply navigating previously organized and set content. In addition, social media users are often exposed to collaborative opportunities.

Digital Native: Digital natives, people born after 1980, are characterized as having access to networked digital technologies and the skills to use those technologies since birth. Major parts of their lives and daily activities are mediated by digital technologies including social interaction, friendships, civic activities, and hobbies.

Virtual Learning Environment: An electronic educational technology system based on the worldwide web that models conventional in-person education by providing equivalent virtual access to classes, class content, tests, homework, grades, assessments, and other external resources. It is also commonly a social space where students and teachers can interact synchronously or asynchronously through threaded discussions or chat rooms.

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