Showcasing critical thinking in English-language writing assignments is a key problem for Chinese students. While teachers have made various attempts to promote critical thinking in new and innovative ways, to date little has changed. This has led to many students being unable to achieve band 7 or higher on their International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test, leaving them unable to attend more prestigious universities.
The Chinese education system does not encourage students to challenge authority, and as such, Chinese students are reluctant to question existing or generally accepted rules. This can occur within all facets, including families, schools or workplaces – when faced with their parents, teachers or bosses, students will not challenge their ideas or ask questions. This problem can also manifest within students’ academic writing as they often lack critical thinking in written assignments. For example, if you ask Chinese students to give their opinion on the topic “With online learning on the rise, can classroom-based instruction still continue?”, they will focus on comparing the pros and cons of each model; few will provide arguments on the future of classroom-based instruction.
Additionally, Chinese students are taught English-language skills through traditional classroom methods with the use of textbooks to teach theoretical knowledge. This is becoming ineffective as students are often not motivated due to the boring content and a lack of connection to their own context.
As such, our problem statement is that Chinese students need innovative learning content that promotes critical thinking so students can achieve IELTS test scores of band 7 or higher in their English-language writing skills.
The Solution: Digital Storytelling
Our solution proposes to introduce digital storytelling to promote critical thinking within English-language writing assignments of Chinese students. According to Davidhizar and Lonser (2003), using analogies to tell stories about daily life or work is an effective way to capture the interests of students by focusing on life experience and bringing theories to life by putting them in personal scenarios.
Digital storytelling combines traditional ways of telling a story with digital multimedia, including images, audio, and video (Ahmed and Abdel-Hack 2014). As suggested by Yang and Wu (2012), digital storytelling “is becoming a promising transformative technology-supported approach for enhancing learning, including critical thinking skills”.
With inspiration from Ahmed and Abdel-Hack (2014) and Yang and Wu (2012), the following describes the three parts of a typical English-language class for Chinese students that incorporates digital storytelling.
Part 1: Digital Storytelling Video
Students will watch a short (no more than 5 minutes) video showing a familiar scenario in which students will be assessed through in-class exercises and an at-home written assignment.
Table 1 provides a sample storyboard of a couple going shopping and discussing a potential frivolous purchase with the husband delivering three different arguments against the purchase. Fallacies are also depicted throughout the video, such as the bandwagon fallacy.
Depending on the school’s resources, the video is proposed to be created through a common multimedia format (e.g., PowerPoint, Corel Video Studio) or through a digital storytelling platform (e.g., Smilebox). A transcript of the characters’ dialogue will also be provided.
Table 1: Storyboard sample
Part 2: In-class exercise (individual and group)
At the conclusion of the video, students will be asked to complete a timed in-class exercise where they will provide written answers to a series of questions. The questions are intended to assess whether students’ have achieved the three phases of critical thinking. As suggested by Ahmed and Abdel-Hack (2014), the three phases of critical thinking are: (1) understanding, (2) evaluating, and (3) establishing a position.
Table 2 provides a sample of questions and the phase of critical thinking it addresses.
Table 2: Sample in-class exercise questions
At the end of the timed writing exercise, students’ will get into groups to peer review their answers. As found in Yang and Wu’s (2012) study, including a peer review can help students’ performance by providing interaction among students, leading to improvement in their argument skills.
Before the end of class, the teacher will review the fallacies found in the video as they will feature in the at-home assignment that the teacher will assign.
Part 3: At-home assignment
Students will complete an at-home written assignment requiring them to create their own story. As suggested by Ahmed and Abdel-Hack (2012), when students create their own stories, they can create a plot and characters that emulate their own life, which can help students “to reflect on life and find deep connections with subject-matter”.
The following are two sample topics that students can use for their at-home assignment.
In 250 words, write a story that depicts at least 2 characters, with one agreeing and the other disagreeing with the following statements.
Option 1: As new technology continues to be used in education, some people believe that there is no justification for lectures.
Option 2: Some people say advertising is negative and should be banned.
Evaluation of digital storytelling
The success or failure of introducing digital storytelling would be based on future IELTS test scores. For example, currently in a class of 6 students using the traditional lecture method, usually only 1 out of 6 students use critical thinking in their writing and obtain a score of band 7 or higher.
For the purposes of our solution, adopting a digital storytelling method would be considered a success if at least 4 out of 6 students use critical thinking in their writing and obtain a score of band 7 or higher.
Since digital storytelling has already proven to be successful in other studies (e.g., Yang and Wu’s 2012 study), we are confident that digital storytelling will provide an innovative solution that can be adopted by other English-language teachers and for online courses.
Ahmed Helwa, Dr.Hasnaa & Abdel-Hack, Dreman. (2014). Using Digital Storytelling and Weblogs Instruction to enhance EFL Narrative Writing and Critical Thinking Skills among EFL Majors at Faculty of Education. Educational Research.
Davidhizar, R., & Lonser, G. (2003). Storytelling as a teaching technique. Nurse Educator, 28(5), 217–21.
Pappas, C. (2013, February 28). 18 Free Digital Storytelling Tools For Teachers And Students. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/18-free-digital-storytelling-tools-for-teachers-and-students
Yang, Y.-T. C., & Wu, W.-C. I. (2012). Digital storytelling for enhancing student academic achievement, critical thinking.; learning motivation: a year-long experimental study. Computers and Education, 59(2), 339–352. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2011.12.012
Following are some of the tools I used in my ID design, divided into 3 categories according to the classification proposed by Lachheb & Boling (2018).
Hardware (e.g., laptops, projectors, cameras, cables): when preparing for classroom-based courses, I use these tools lecture sessions and recordings to upload online for students reviews.
Instant messaging software: it is a widely used and most effective communication tools in digital environment, making it possible for teachers and students to contact by both asynchronous and synchronous models. Software such as Microsoft teams and WeChat are most frequently used in my design, particularly the latter one, which is a smartphone-based APP that incorporates multi-functions; it also serves as a platform for information publication and transfer.
Tools for mind maps (Mindjet Mindmanager): such tools are particularly practical in my illustrating and explaining problems such as logical reasoning and essay outline. The visual expression makes some hard to understand points easy for young students to follow.
Visual editing software: the most used ones in my design are photoshop and Coral Studio, Unlike students in classrooms, those in digital environment are prone to information in multimedia forms, such as audio and visual recordings which are convenient for them to listen or watch via portable devices. Therefore, professional visual editing software becomes an imperative tool in my design of course materials.
Online classroom platforms (Class-in): besides the core function of classroom, the platform serves as a management system, which provides dataveillance of students’ behaviors and academic performance during their online learning. The data is the reference for my adjusting the content, pedagogies, making the course align with students’ preference.
Searching engines (Google scholar): one of the most used searching tool to search articles, for which I used for my preparing course contents, assignment and other learning activities.
Social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook): I rely on social media as an alternative source to collect information that can be used as supportive materials, particularly the posts in some educators’ profiles offers useful information in both academic materials and methodology.
Textbooks: they serve the same role as Google scholar, both are the most authoritative information sources of my material preparation.
Stationary (e.g., whiteboards, markers, notebooks): these tools still play a key role in my drafting course contents, sometimes a pen and a notebook work more practical than a laptop.
Brainstorm: to ask for other educators’ comments is an essential part in my course design, which helps me realize the blind spots ignored in my original design. The process also provides an opportunity for me to establish a mentality of inquire, as mentioned in the critical instructional design (Morris, 2018).
Feedbacks from students during the process of a course: as mentioned in agile instructional design model, students’ feedbacks are an indicator for designers to reflect on the efficacy of the course, and therefore make improvements accordingly (Bates, 2015).
Empirical knowledge based on my personal experience: such knowledge is personalized but works more practical sometimes than others’ theories or principles – it serves the very basis for the innovation of my design, because of my in-depth understanding of the local context in which certain pedagogies and tools are used, and the real effects these tools relative to my needs.
Bates, T. (2015). Chapter 4.7 ‘Agile’ Design: flexible designs for learning. In Teaching in the digital age.
Lachheb, A., & Boling, E. (2018). Design tools in practice: instructional designers report which tools they use and why. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 30(1). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12528-017-9165-x
Morris, M. (2018). Critical Instructional Design. In An Urgency of Teachers.
In this article, I will analyze two ID models (Agile and Critical ID models) in terms of aspects such as origins, principles, pros and cons, and applications.
The Agile Design is developed by Agile Alliance in 2001, based on the principles of Embracing change to deliver customer value, delivering learning processes and platforms frequently, human centric, technical excellence, and collaboration with business people (Sidky & Arthur, 2008). The assumption of the model is to help knowledge workers to deal with new challenges and conditions in a VUCA environment, which means volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (Adamson, 2012). As for the question how the model fits within the continuum of innovation, the model doesn’t simply impart knowledge or skills to learners, but to teach them the managerial skills to deal with knowledge. Students cultivated in this model will have the ability and critical judgement to search, scrutinize, evaluate legions of resources available online, and then can learn to tackle problems in the real world (Bates, 2015).
The key advantage of agile design is adaptability to different situations in which it operates. It responses instantly to students’ feedbacks during a course and makes adjustment accordingly. The differences between to the agile model and its counterparts is describe as a jazz combo to a big band (Bates, 2015). Another benefit is the accessibility of courses. Agile courses are open to diversified learners rather than registered students, such as training sessions in YouTube available to anyone interested in the topic. Nevertheless, the above benefits can be also considered from a negative angle. One apprehension may be the course content being misguided by students. As mentioned before, the contents are influenced by feedbacks of learners over the course, the discussion during the course might be involved in sensitive topics (e.g. politics, religions, etc.) if not well controlled. To make things worse, the openness to the public online may exert undesired repercussions. One example regarding this is from my personal experience of an open course on different ways of thinking between children China and Canadian. The topic transformed from academic field to political debate when some students introduced the political influence in relation to democracy and autocracy on younger generations. The problem might have been avoided should it be designed in a less agile and open model.
The other ID model analyzed in this article is the Critical Instructional Design, which was proposed by Sean Morris in 2016, the Director of Digital Pedagogy Lab. Rather than an iteration of traditional instructional design based on behaviorism or the ideologies of B. F. Skinner, the principle of the Critical Instructional Design stems from the philosophy of Paulo Freire and its contemporary counterparts, namely Howard Rheingold, Audrey Watters, Henry Giroux, bell hooks, and Jesse Stommel (S. Morris, n.d.).
The target learner in this model are students of all backgrounds, particularly groups such as minority groups (e.g. people of color, aboriginal students), LGBTQ folk, people with disabilities, etc. The model aims to cultivate practical capabilities such as job-related skills and mentality; these qualities are more prioritized in their future roles as an informed member of society (Aronowitz, 2015)
As for the question how the model fit within the continuum of innovation, the model doesn’t iterate the methodologies employed by other instructional designs; Rather, it follows a concept derived from Zen – to have “beginner’s mind” , meaning educators eradicate their stereotype of theories and preferred pedagogies, but explore a new method to re-approach the understanding of teaching, materials, and digital environment.
Its benefits include stimulating innovation of digital pedagogy (not limited to a set of supposed best solutioins), greater freedom to explore alternative pedagogies – it encourage a culture of questioning, which I see ass the key contribution to the understanding of innovation. It helps practitioners go out of their entrenched perception of distant learning and look for new answers. Likewise, the culture of questioning also changes the forms of students’ self-and social recognition, forming a space of translation between the private and the public. Nevertheless, the supposed new possibility may lead to risks caused by uncertainty. One apprehension is about the jeopardy of privacy online, given that the new learning activities will go beyond the surveillance of Learning Management System (LMS) and extend into students’ online life (M. Morris, 2018).
One case of using the Critical model can also be seen from my experience of an online course of Chinese speaking, where my methods align with the Critical design. I let myself go out of the normal way of simply ingraining knowledge into students, thus, but questioning the problems in existing material relative to students’ feedback and adjust content and tools to meet discrete needs of individual student, which is highlighted by the critical design as respect and care for students.
The implications of both models for practice is to transform traditional instructional design to an innovated measures share the same characteristics – to let me question the existing principles based on positivist and empirical knowledge, but to explore alternative strategies to achieve innovation.
Adamson, C. (2012) Learning in a VUCA world, Online Educa Berlin News Portal,
Aronowitz, S. (2015). Against Schooling: For an Education That Matters (1st ed). Routledge.
Bates, T. (2015). Chapter 4.7 ‘Agile’ Design: flexible designs for learning. In Teaching in the digital age.
Kent, B., Mike, B., Arie, B., Alistair, C., Ward, C., Martin, F., James, G., Jim, H., Andrew, H., Ron, J., Jon, K., Brian, M., Robert, M., Steve, M., Ken, S., Jeff, S., & Dave, T. (2001). Manifesto for Agile software development.
Morris, M. (2018). Critical Instructional Design. In An Urgency of Teachers.
Morris, S. (n.d.). www.seanmichaelmorris.com. https://www.seanmichaelmorris.com/about/
Sidky, A., & Arthur, J. D. (2008). Value-driven agile adoption: Improving an organization’s software development approach. SoMeT_08 – The 7th International Conference on Software Methodologies, Tools and Techniques.
While various factors are taken into account when educators select design models according to discrete objectives, I will place emphasis on the following determining factors when selecting an instructional design model. The first thing is reflection of my personal experiences, the pedagogies I used to, thus lifting myself out of personal cognitive limits such as presupposition, entrenched stereotype of education, or any bias based on empiricism beforehand. The second thing is to set up course objectives as a reference point, which is imperative to choose a suitable Instructional Design model that aligns with the desired methodologies, materials and behaviors. Not to be left behind is the needs and learning behaviors of students，which are the basis for the design of course materials and pedagogies (Ertmer & Newby, 2013). The last thing to consider is learning approaches of courses, whether these be digital courses or classroom-based, synchronous or synchronous – it will decide which ID models to use based on their different features.
After the scrutiny of the key considerations beforehand, the next step is to choose the appropriate design model. During the process of design decision, I will follow the Plan, Implement, Evaluate (PIE) model from Newby, Stepich, Lehman, and Russell (1996), which helps focus on the employment of technology in instructional design (Dousay, 2017).
During the design decision process, the role of design models is to move the process to a desired state to meet the requirements of various stakeholders, whether these be students, instructors or institutions. Models is also conducive to the selection or development appropriate operational tools and technology during the design process (Dousay, 2017). By the same token, innovation provides alternative methodologies during the process, introducing uncommon tools or materials that may bring fresh learning outcomes to students.
Of various design models, the one that stands out as especially useful in making decision is the ADDIE paradigm. Its 5 stages clearly identifies learning objectives of the courses, with the design of materials and content, controls the task and workloads for faculty and students, the evaluation of learning outcomes. Apart from a tool that implement instructional design in a highly systematic way, ADDIE also serves to be a management tool that guarantees distant courses at a high standard (Bates, 2019).
Bates, A. W. (Tony). (2019). Chapter 4.3 The ADDIE Mode. In Teaching in the digital age (2nd ed.).
Dousay, T. (2017). Chapter 22. Instructional Design Models. In Foundations of Learning and Instructional Design Technology (1st ed.).
Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (2013). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(2). https://doi.org/10.1002/piq.21143