This problem is a Wicked one!

During our Think Tank virtual meeting, we looked for commonalities among all of the brainstorming questions posted by each group member to arrive at our three defining questions that we will use as a focal point for the wicked problem of teaching complex thinking. The three defining questions are as follows:

  1. Why is it referred to as computational, critical, and complex thinking?
  2. Why does creativity play a role in complex thinking?
  3. Why is the classroom environment important for teaching complex thinking?

Question Mark by Gerd Altmann -

Why is it referred to as computational, critical, and complex thinking? had us all in agreement after noticing that simply doing a Google search or a MSU library search for “complex thinking” brought up results that used complex thinking, critical thinking, and computational thinking terms interchangeably. Do all of these terms mean the same thing or does each term have a different meaning? We thought this to be an appropriate question to try and answer since it’s the basis or our wicked problem.

Why does creativity play a role in complex thinking? Each of us viewed creativity as part of the complex teaching (and learning) process even thought we interpreted it slightly differently but in the end arrived at the same conclusion that it does in fact play a role in complex thinking. We thought it would be important to find out why.

Why is the classroom environment important for teaching complex thinking? We were in agreement on it being necessary to use a combination of both traditional and nontraditional teaching methods to teach complex thinking. With further research, we hope to determine which teaching methods are most effective and the role a classroom environment plays in teaching complex thinking.

I created a Teaching Complex Thinking Infographic using Canva that summarizes the wicked problem of teaching complex thinking and a wicked problem it is!


Altmann, G. (2014, May). [Question Mark] [Image]. Retrieved from


The Wicked Problem of Teaching Complex Thinking

Over the next few weeks, my group will be examining various solutions and attempt to answer questions related to the wicked problem of “teaching complex thinking”. How do educators effectively teach complex thinking and reasoning in order to prepare students to solve complex problems creatively and then in turn be able to effectively organize their ideas and successfully communicate them to others?

This problem is extremely challenging because it has many facets. Communication and creative problem solving are integral components of complex thinking and how educators successfully teach each of those components within the classroom may require taking a step back from traditional teaching methods and examining new ones. In A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger (2014) explains that “Upon stepping back and reexamining something you’ve been looking at the same for years, you might suddenly feel as if you’re seeing it for the first time” (p. 84).

What are the most effective methods and techniques used to teach complex thinking and what types of classroom activities are essential for teaching students to “think outside of the box” and engage in creative problem solving?
Think outside the box - Independent of the subject matter, “Students should be encouraged to be inquisitive, ask questions, and not believe and accept everything they are told” (Walker, 2003, p. 266). As educators, we have to discover the most effective ways to promote questioning in learners.

What is the most effective way to teach the valuable communication skills needed to bring a learner’s complex and creativity thinking to fruition? You can have the greatest ideas in the world but if they cannot be communicated effectively, those ideas remain in isolation “communication skills must also be mastered for complex thinking to be applied meaningfully” (NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition, p. 32).

I believe that a single strategy, technique, and method is not the solution to teaching effective communication and creative problem solving which are essential components of complex thinking – a variety of strategies, techniques, and methods are needed, “…thought develops with practice and evaluation over time using multiple strategies” (Walker, 2003, pg. 266).

As educators we need to explore new teaching methods or modify traditional methods that will allow complex thinking and all its components to flourish in our classroom. This requires educators to seek that “vuja de” moment that Berger describes happens “when you look at something familiar and suddenly see it fresh” (Berger, 2014, p. 84).

Please take a moment to share your thoughts and complete my survey related to teaching complex thinking.


Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breathrough Ideas. New York City, NY: Bloomsbury USA.

Grabowska, K. (2015, May). [Think of the Box] [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Walker, S. E. (2003). Active Learning Strategies to Promote Critical Thinking.Journal of Athletic Training, 38(3), 263–267.

The Socratic Method – Making a Comeback?

Socrates Louvre - Sting [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia describes the Socratic method as “form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions.” (“Socratic Method,” 2016, “Definition,” para. 1).

In Chapter 2 of “A More Beautiful Question“, William Deresiewicz and Sebastian Thrun make mention of Socratic teaching. In relation to the online world, Thrun hopes that this method of teaching makes a comeback. The topic of Socratic teaching sparked my interest not only because it poses the question of being able to “teach ourselves to question” but also because it references the online environment which makes up 100% of both my personal learning education and professional teaching career. Food for thought: Is it easier for online learners to question simply because of the online environment? Are college institutions becoming more technocratic when it comes to education? Can we teach ourselves to be a better questioner? Is the Socratic method of teaching making a comeback?

Deresiewicz believes that the college education students are receiving now is more technocratic in nature. He states that, “They’re trained to develop expertise in a particular area–trained to solve problems that are particular to that area. It’s about jumping through hoops, and mastering what’s on the test” (Berger, 2014, p. 67). Instead, students don’t have the opportunity to stop and actually think about what and why they’re doing it let alone ask the “big questions about values and meaning and purpose” (p. 67).

According to Deresiewicz, professors that can inspire students to ask the big questions are rare. How did his favorite professor and mentor “spark inquiry”? Deresiewicz noted that Man with many questions - professor had “an ability to reframe things–to ask questions that got at something fundamental” (Berger, 2014, p. 68). Do teachers always have to the answers to every single question? How do learners perceive a teacher that doesn’t have the answer? Essentially, the Socratic method doesn’t always find the answers to every question, but rather may provoke additional questions for consideration, “…students find it really liberating t have a teacher say, ‘I don’t know the answer–so let’s figure this out together.'” states Deresiewicz (p. 68).

Sebastian Thrun, professor and founder and CEO of Udacity, is trying to bring the Socratic method of teaching as described by Deresiewicz, to online teaching. A Udacity course isn’t about broadcasting lectures while a learner absorbs information, it’s about interjecting “thoughtful questioning at critical junctures” (Berger, 2014, p. 68) so that it provokes the learner to really think about what they’re learning and to ask the big questions that can spark inquiry. Is questioning easier in an online environment? Thrun and one of his partners Irene Au, believe this to be the case and they believe that anonymity plays a role. Although Deresiewicz and Thrun don’t see eye-to-eye on the notion that questioning is easier online, they do both agree that questioning is critically important and necessary and support the Socratic method.

Since 100% of my everyday teaching takes place in an online environment, I am able to observe student interaction and questioning first hand within a higher education setting. A portion of the final grade is based upon discussion forum interaction and asking/answering questions related to the week’s topic. There is also a “help” forum that I highly encourage students to use for asking questions as well as for collaborating and assisting others. I participate within the weekly discussions and respond to students by asking questions about their questions to get them to think outside of the box and “spark inquiry”. Often I find that when I question, it has an avalanche effect and students follow my lead. When this occurs, amazing discussions take place! Whether it’s obvious to the students or not, they are essentially teaching themselves to be better questioner.

I also find that students are more open to asking questions in an online environment, giving credence to the statement made by Thrun and Au that anonymity plays a role. Comparing the discussion forums in my online classrooms to my traditional classrooms from previous years, the amount of complex, out-of-the-box type of questions, are greater in my online classrooms.

Is the Socratic method of teaching making a comeback and replacing more of the technocratic method of teaching in college institutions? If teachers are sparking inquiry within their students and students are critically thinking about what they are doing and the reason(s) why, and are encouraged to ask the “big questions”, then yes, the Socratic method of teaching is making a comeback. As a teacher will you always have the answer to every question? No, but that’s okay.


Altmann, G. (2014, October). [People] [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breathrough Ideas. New York City, NY: Bloomsbury USA.

Gaba, E. (2005, July). [Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1st century), perhaps a copy of a lost bronze statue made by Lysippos.] [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Socratic Method. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September, 8, 2016, from


Enhancing video with audio descriptions for learners that are visually impaired

Technology Keyboard Computing by Daniel Agrelo:

“A picture is worth a thousands words.”

The chances are very good that you have heard this English idiom at one time or another. Conveying a message, idea, or concept through the use of a visual element (e.g., video) rather than words may prove very advantageous when it comes to presenting something that may be more complex in nature or better understood by using a visual reference. But what if you are a person with a visual disability? What if that visual element and the message it conveys plays a vital role in understanding the task at hand?

“…if people who are blind are using materials that are designed to enhance and maximize learning using text and images, they may be more at a disadvantage if they are accessing only textual content.” (Evans and Graeme, 2008)

There have been numerous studies that have “shown that the multimedia presentation of learning content can lead to an enhanced learning experience and better performance” (Mayer, 2003; Mayer and Moreno, 2003; Moreno and Mayer, 1999; Najjar, 1998). Being able to provide a video component that is accessible and useful for a learner with a visual disability is the ill-structured problem that poses an issue not only within the online learning environment but the traditional classroom as well.

So the question is, how can technology and the various digital tools available be used to assist learners that are visually impaired so that he/she can successfully interact with multimedia content and participate in an enhanced learning experience in the same capacity as a learner that is fully sighted?

The Web-Based Tool

A college level course in basic Web Programming that is taught fully in an online environment can be difficult for any learner that is new to the field. Visual, as well as written references, are not only used for explanation but also to provide reference points to enhance better understanding of a specific topic.

The use of various types of assistive technologies such as screen readers and magnifiers are commonplace for learners with a visual disability. In addition, I found a free web-based accessibility tool called YouDescribe, that allows for providing audio descriptions within a YouTube video. Audio descriptions are used to provide additional narration, which is beneficial to individuals with a visual impairment. YouDescribe was developed by The Smith-Kettlewill Video Description Research and Development Center (VDRDC) which focuses on “developing 21st century tools for a new age of video accessibility”.

A YouDescribe Video discussing Basic web page components found on the Macomb Community College website.

All of the video components that are used within my online courses are uploaded to YouTube and made available to my students, which makes YouDescribe a very useful tool for adding audio descriptions to my existing video content. YouDescribe doesn’t modify or redistribute the original YouTube video, everything is kept in tact allowing two separate versions of the video that the learner can access depending on their individual needs and/or preferences.

YouDescribe provides easy step-by-step instructions on Recording within their website along with a Google-based support forum and FAQs for both “Viewers” and “Describers”. There aren’t any special software requirements for the “describer” or the “viewer” other than access to a web browser. YouDescribe accesses the microphone on your computer, which is used to record the audio descriptions that accompany the YouTube video.

The following are enhancements that I would like to see become available within YouDescribe that would provide additional options both for the “describer” and “viewer”:

  • The ability to set the listing option for the video (public, unlisted, or private) similar to what you can do within YouTube
  • The ability to create an audio description for a single image (currently you can only add audio descriptions to videos)

How YouDescribe Enables a Learner

YouDescribe assists learners with a visual disability by providing additional instruction and narrative to a video component. This additional information can be used to enhance other assistive technologies already in use. Using a tool such as YouDescribe levels the playing field for learners that are visually impaired and sighted. Both learner groups have access to the same information and in some cases; the learner who has a visual disability is supplied with additional information simply because of the nature of the tool.

“In a practical sense, instructors and designers of learning resources must continue to think carefully about the technical accessibility of their materials and constantly seek ways of refining and updating them to optimize the learning experience of users who are blind.” (Evans and Graeme, 2008)

See YouDescribe in action and how it can be useful in helping to support learners that are visually impaired.

The completed YouDescribe video referenced within the YouTube video above is located here.


Agrelo, D. (2015, May). [Technology, Keyboard, Computing, Peripheral] [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Audio Description. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 2, 2016, from

Evans, S., & Douglas, G. (2008). E-learning and blindness: A comparative study of the quality of an E-learning experience. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 102(2), 77-88. Retrieved from

Mayer, R. (2003). The promise of multimedia learning: Using the same instructional design methods across different media. Learning and Instruction, 13, 125-139.

Mayer, R. G., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning,  Educational Psychologist, 38, 43-52.

Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. G. (1999). Cognitive principles of multimedia learning: The role of modality and contiguity. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 358-368.

Najjar, L. J. (1998). Principles of educational multimedia user interface design. Human Factors, 40, 311-323.