From Content Memorization to Critical Thinking with Digital Assessment

From content memorization to critical thinking with digital assessment

Critical thinking is a key skill that empowers learners in their academic and professional careers. For educators to teach critical thinking skills applicable to students’ goals, learners must first gain a strong command of content — a process that often begins with remembering, reinforced by repetition to gain a basic interpretation of the subject matter.

Educators use a variety of approaches to reinforce students’ knowledge of a given subject. For instance, an anatomy instructor may ask students to correctly identify bones on numbered anatomical models using fill-in-the-blank quizzes. Once learners have demonstrated a firm grasp of core content, they can progress to activities that call upon critical thinking, which the Digital Learning Collaborative (via Imagine Learning) defines as “the ability to connect new knowledge to previous knowledge, construct and evaluate arguments, and solve problems systematically.”

There are a number of traditional exercises to help students practice critical thinking skills, such as in-class writing prompts and classroom debates. But with online and hybrid learning on the rise, more educators are turning to edtech to teach critical thinking. With a solution for computer-based testing, educators can create assessments that call upon higher order thinking, provide timely feedback to support deep learning, and prompt learners to apply knowledge in true-to-life scenarios.

Strengthen Learners’ Grasp of Complex Concepts

As noted in “Using Technology to Teach Critical Thinking Skills,” research shows that students can more effectively build on foundational knowledge when educators present complex concepts “using a wide array of modalities (verbal, visual, graphical, and symbolic).” With the right digital assessment solution, educators can create and administer quizzes containing multiple question types of various modalities, including those that call upon more advanced cognitive processes.

True/false, fill-in-the-blank, and multiple-choice items are common choices for formative assessments. These item types are useful to help students “Remember” and “Understand” — action verbs that correspond to the foundational levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. But they aren’t as effective for helping students use their knowledge to “Apply,” “Analyze,” “Evaluate,” and “Create” — the higher levels of Bloom’s. Additionally, a quiz composed of only true/false or multiple-choice questions may not reinforce students’ understanding of complex concepts as effectively as a multimodal approach.

A digital assessment platform with multiple item types available in quiz creation gives educators the tools they need to deliver formative assessments that call upon critical thinking skills. In addition to short-answer and essay questions, consider including questions like drag and drop, which prompt students to group, categorize, or even arrange answers in a certain sequence. Hotspot questions, which involve selecting areas of an image in response to a question stem, also allow students to demonstrate critical thinking skills. In nursing courses, this may involve asking the student to identify the area of concern within a nursing note, based on the provided information. Finally, by adding image and video attachments to enrich more traditional multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank items, educators can help strengthen students’ grasp of complex concepts.

Support Deep Learning with Timely, Personalized Feedback

When taking an assessment for learning approach, educators use quizzes and exams as opportunities to facilitate student learning and reinforce key concepts, rather than simply testing students’ memorization skills. By centering a sequence of assessments around key learning targets, assessment for learning helps students strengthen their knowledge with each assessment. And with a digital assessment solution, educators can use learning objectives to inform instant and differentiated performance feedback.

According to “8 Classroom EdTech Strategies That Develop Critical Thinking Skills,” instant feedback is key to content retention and building on core knowledge. If a learner receives personalized feedback immediately after submitting a quiz or exam, they’re more likely to retain the feedback, which can inform and improve their critical thinking skills. As noted in “Strategies for Assessing Students Remotely,” “Providing feedback weeks later doesn’t help the student learn and adjust at the moment of assessment.”

With a digital assessment platform that offers category-based performance reports, educators can provide immediate, personalized feedback to support knowledge retention and aid in the development of critical thinking. Tagging questions to key topics during test creation helps generate differentiated reports that allow students to view their performance by category without revealing answers to questions. Rather than memorizing the correct answers to specific questions, students can revisit any topics they struggled with, thus deepening their understanding of the subject matter.

Evaluate Learners in Realistic Scenarios with Digital Rubrics

By evaluating learners in true-to-life scenarios, performance assessment can be one of the most effective exercises of critical thinking skills. In “Performance Assessment of Critical Thinking: Conceptualization, Design, and Implementation,” the authors posit that “performance assessment provides the most realistic — and most credible — approach to measuring [critical thinking].” Educators can use performance assessments to evaluate students’ reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making skills in real-world situations that students are likely to encounter in professional settings.

A rubrics-based, digital assessment tool enables educators to administer and score performance assessments and assignments from a single, centralized platform. For quick and convenient scoring of assignments, such as essays, research papers, presentations, or videos, some tools provide a way to upload and digitize assignments for a convenient side-by-side view of each student submission with its corresponding digital rubric.

Digital rubrics tools that are accessible via tablet are ideal for educators who administer performance exams in-person. Tablets allow educators to easily move through experiences with exam stations to score student performance in various activities. This can be particularly helpful for educators in health sciences programs who regularly evaluate students in a rotating series of clinical scenarios, such as OSCEs.

A digital assessment platform with built-in rubrics tools can also provide data-driven insights to generate comprehensive student feedback across multiple assignments and assessments. For instance, a rubrics tool with category-tagging capabilities allows educators to tag rubrics to the same key learning objectives that appear on other types of assessments. In aggregate, this assessment data can reveal rich performance insights, both for individual students and the course as a whole.

Using Digital Assessment to Promote Critical Thinking Skills

By providing educators with a variety of item types and assessment formats, as well as timely, category-based performance insights, a digital assessment solution can equip educators with the tools they need to promote critical thinking in the classroom and beyond.

Contact us to learn how ExamSoft’s core platform and assessment solutions can help educators advance students’ critical thinking skills.


Digital Learning Collaborative: Using Technology to Teach Critical Thinking Skills

Edutopia: Low-Stakes Writing and Critical Thinking

Resilient Educator: Teaching Critical Thinking Through Debate

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching: Bloom’s Taxonomy

Future Focused Learning: 8 Classroom EdTech Strategies That Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Tech & Learning: Strategies for Assessing Students Remotely

Frontiers in Education: Performance Assessment of Critical Thinking: Conceptualization, Design, and Implementation

Published: March 29, 2022

Updated: July 18, 2023

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