I am enrolled in “Critical Thinking in Global Challenges,” a 5-week Coursera offering. The class uses global issues to help participants hone their ability to assess and create solid arguments.
I chose this one because critical thinking is a core skill. Starting in Fall 2014, all core curriculum classes at public Texas colleges and universities must teach and assess critical thinking; ideally, it will be reinforced and assessed in every college class, I would think. In English we focus on rhetoric and argumentation in the two-semester Freshman Composition sequence, asking students to judge arguments in their textbooks, create their own original argumentative thesis statements, and marshal a variety of credible evidence to back those arguments. Sometimes they’ve never really been asked what they think about an issue, much less required to provide or cite extensive support.
Basically, I have lots of reasons why I am interested to see how this Coursera class approached the teaching of critical thinking!
Week 1 involved two videos, one of which had an embedded objective quiz over basic concepts. The course started on a Monday, and by Tuesday, the discussion forums were packed with introductions, offers to set up a Facebook study group, reflections on the topic, and observations about the homework. I watched the lectures, did my multiple-choice quiz, and finished my four multiple-choice homework assignments in under 30 minutes. Then I posted three replies to different discussion threads and felt a little like I wasn’t participating enough.
Week 2 had just one video, plus a review quiz and two homework assignments, which sparked a lot of forum talk about “right answers.” I’m not a big fan of black-and-white answers when it comes to encouraging critical thinking; several questions asked us to pick all of the correct answers, which helps, but still…I’m happy to argue five different sides to an argument just for the heck of it. I didn’t make 100% on the second quiz, and I’m cool with that, because I like my answer to the last question better than the “right” one. I explained that reasoning in a forum post and added a critical thinking resource to another thread. I spent probably 45 minutes this week, since the assignments involved examining several research sources for credibility.
For Weeks 3 and 4 the course encourages students to focus on one of four global issues: obesity and human health, climate change, population growth, or infectious diseases. I like this tailoring aspect.
We shall see how it all turns out! I have every intention of completing the entire class (another reason I chose a 5-week offering).