Assessing Critical Thinking Skills

Using essays, discussions and project work (group and individual) to assess student learning in your course are excellent strategies to evaluate critical thinking, problem solving and analysis skills, while also assessing student knowledge of the content. Using a well structured project, discussion or essay question you can easily determine how well students know the content and whether or not they have developed the skills to synthesize course material and apply it to new situations.

Your course assessment strategy will be more robust if you include a variety of elements, such as:

  • computer marked quizzes to assess knowledge and comprehension
  • essays and discussions to assess critical thinking, analysis and evaluation
  • project work to assess synthesis and application of knowledge to new situations (creation)

Discussion Questions

Discussion questions in online and blended learning promote reflexion and critical thinking about the course material. Effective online instructors ask stimulating and thought provoking questions that will engage students in active learning by having them brainstorm ideas and compare them with their peers' before linking those ideas to the context of the course content.

Crafting Good Discussion Questions

Much like good essay questions, good discussion questions avoid asking about factual information, such as 'What are the steps involved in soldering two metals together?' or 'What are the characteristics of diesel engines?'

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If you needed to have a discussion about diesel engines in an automotive course, a more appropriate question might be:

Compare and contrast the differences between diesel and gas engines by analysing elements of efficiency in fuel consumption, environmental sustainability and maintenance safety in different physical environments.

To craft a good discussion question, make sure that you consider the learning objectives, the question type most appropriate to the learning situation and the scope of the question so that learners are able to meet the learning objectives. Too broad a question is bound to not zone in on what you need.

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Watch the videos about creating forums in Moodle and then work on the Create a Discussion Question assignment.

Project Work

Including project work in your assessment strategy is one of the best ways to assess application of knowledge and knowledge creation.Giving learners projects to work on as part of the learning process, not necessarily only as part of the assessment process, provides many opportunities for active learning and deeper learner engagement.

Project work can be performed individually and in groups. Regardless of whether the intention is to have learners work individually or as part of a team, project assignments or tasks need to be clearly structured so that learners know exactly what is expected of them. A good strategy is to:

  • State the objective(s) for the project in a quantifiable manner.
  • Describe the deliverable for the project in clear and concise words. If possible provide examples of the deliverable.
  • When possible, structure the project in several phases, and invite learners to submit their work for each phase so that you can provide continuous guidance in a timely fashion.
  • Provide clear instructions for project tasks, ideally in the order that they are to be performed.
  • Use active verbs for the instructions.
  • Provide a rubric with the assessment criteria and the grading scheme, if applicable.