January 21, 2008
E-Coaching Tip #55 Spring 2008
First Week Challenges: Jumping Quickly into Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
What do we know about engaging students in sustained discussion about significant ideas? What do we know about what they already know? We often want to wait until the middle or even the end of a course before students start solving more complex or difficult problems, but today's students want to dig in and become involved in "real" stuff from the very beginning. It helps them to see how valuable the course will be!
So, here is a way to get your students doing complex thinking much more quickly! Start with a Challenge! What do we mean? Rather than starting your course with the easier, less complex problems, start with the expected end performance goals. Here's one strategy to do this.
In your introductory discussion, require each of your students to describe a problem, question or difficult question they have about the course content. This may mean that they start at the back of their textbook -- with continuing issues, problems, or future directions and research.
Direct them to select a case study or scenario that is challenging and that they want to know how to either (1) address, (2) manage, (3) resolve, (4) develop expertise, (5) develop a set of alternative strategies.
Yes, there can be problems with starting with this Challenge in First Week strategy. What are they?
Possible Problems with this Strategy
1. Students might complain that they do not know enough to know what they want to know. This is actually a valid complaint. To ask really intelligent questions requires knowing enough to frame a question.
A possible response is that the problems and tasks and goals they specify only need to fit where they are in their current state of knowledge. The problems do not have to be perfect or even make sense within the discipline. The purpose of this challenge is to get them actively engaged, waking up their brain cells and doing an initial mapping of the upcoming course content with how it might apply to them, to their lives, and future ideas and challenges.
Another response is that over the course of the course these problems, questions and goals will serve as touchstones or measures of what they have learned and skills, areas of knowledge yet to come.
2. Students might complain that this will take too much time. Well, it may take a bit longer than they had planned for the first week, but it will be worth it.
3. Students might respond that they would like to do this task with someone. Actually that is a good strategy as students can begin talking and expressing their ideas verbally or in print immediately. Students can be encouraged to work in teams of two for this task. Teams of three might work, but the goal is to really engage the students, so two is recommended. Working in teams for this task requires students to get to know at least one other person well enough to get a sense of what the other student does professionally and the potential relevance of the course content.
Benefits of This Strategy
This Challenge in the First Week strategy also has many benefits. Here are a few and we suspect that you can come up with many more!
5. These types of questions lead to another benefit -- the course is quickly set up as a "Community of Inquiry Model." (Garrison and Arbaugh, 2007 and Garrison, 2004) We talked about this model as a problem-solving model in an earlier tip. www.designingforlearning.info/services/writing/ecoach/tips/tip36.html
Here is that model again for your convenience:
Tools for Supporting First Week Challenges
As mentioned in the first part of this tip, you can use the discussion board and have your students post their problems, challenges, and questions in that space. Another option is to use one of your new Blackboard tools -- the Blogging tool -- that is very well suited to this as it provides for some ownership and identity of the blog and sustained conversation over time. Each of your students or teams of students can use their blog for their own particular challenge, question or problem and you and all the students in the class can return to that blog space as the question, challenge becomes clearer or ideas and resources to help with it are found.
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., and Archer, W. (2004). Critical Thinking and Computer Conferencing: A Model and Tool to Assess Cognitive Presence. http://www.communityofinquiry.com/files/CogPres_Final.pdf Accessed January 19, 2008 at the web site for Communities of Inquiry at the University of Calgary
Garrison, D.R. & Arbaugh, J.B. (2007). Researching the Community of inquiry framework: Review, issues, and Future directions The Internet and Higher Education. 10(3), 157-172.
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