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Community Coach
Community Coach

Higher Order Thinking in Memorization-Heavy Courses

Hi everyone, 

I am working with some faculty who teach content/memorization-heavy courses such as medical terminology, introductory-level science, and similar courses.  We are working to offer more of these online and I am teaching a class on effect course design and facilitation in online classes.

One of the questions that frequently arises is how can we facilitate higher levels of thinking (Bloom's Taxonomy) in these type of courses?  It is easy to end up with learning objectives such as "list", "define", etc. and not plan more for students to achieve.  There are some great ways to be more active, which is fantastic, but this isn't the same as fostering higher-order thinking.

I was just curious if those in the Canvas Community have had to address similar questions and what ideas have come up to push (or maybe pull) students into those top tiers.

Thanks in advance!

33 Replies
Community Coach
Community Coach

Hi ericwerth

I teach medical terminology, and answered you off-line, but want to copy and paste that here for others..............

Some of accomplishing this will depend on that faculty's skill with writing assessment items for higher levels in Bloom's.  One of the best ways to create assessments and assessment items that measure learning at a higher cognitive level, is to use those same action verbs that would be used to write learning  learning outcomes at a specified level, and then use  those same verbs to craft your assessments and assessment items.  Here is a simple chart for Blooms with nice examples of action verbs.

Here are some quick tips for other related activities, and of which can also be assessment activities.

  • I make big use of Discussions in Canvas for higher level applications of their terminology skills. I have the students researching various topics that will require them to be able to read and understand medical information well enough to explain to me and to their classmates.
  • I also provide example medical reports, then ask them to clearly describe in layman's terms what is happening in the reports. Beyond just translating the words, because often a straight translation does not really describe what is happening.
  • I provide diagnoses, then ask them to provide a list of treatment options or likely prognoses for those diagnoses; or give them a procedure and ask them what that procedure would be used for.
  • I tend to ask them for opinions on current medical issues, then research information that supports their opinions.
  • I also have them record themselves pronouncing medical terms from lists I provide.And read lists of terms to them that they then have to spell correctly and define.
  • I make heavy use of detailed grading rubrics and submission examples, so that they understand exactly what I expect.

That really is about the limits, because MT is foundational knowledge where the memorization of definitions, and spelling are the primary goal. In the students' subsequent courses in their chosen fields they will be applying those terms to more and more complex applications and situations.

I hope this helps,


Thanks, I really like these ideas in that they help point out the value of learning the material in understand real-world situations.  Hopefully this increases their motivation to memorize the terms and definitions!

Community Coach
Community Coach

This is more of something I do myself and when I’ve tutored students in these types of fields, but what seems to help get to those high level of understandings is organizing or grouping terms things together and explaining why they go together. So you don’t have to understand just the definition of the different parts of the circulatory system, but where and how they fit together. I’ll admit I’ve always done this with notecards on the floor or a table. I’ll work with the person to organize/lay out the notecards into some type of structure and then talk about how they fit or how one leads to the other. I’m guessing you could do something like this as an assignment, just add the terms as text boxes to a document so you can move them around and then write up your explanation underneath. 

I appreciate the suggestion! It seems like one of the places where students struggle is fitting items into a bigger picture so that memorization isn't just a bunch of seemingly unrelated facts.  This should help and the assignment is a good idea.  I guess another option is categorization quiz questions on practice quizzes or low point-value questions. 

I’m originally a Bio major and learning my (ridiculously huge stack of) notecards in the context of how they fit together with each other was always a HUGE help when it came to quizzes and exams.

Even if I wasn’t sure of the answer I could normally remember which “group” that term or idea was with in my notecards and that would then help me remember which system or structure something went with, which normally helped me make an educated or pretty spot on guess to the correct answer. I also killed it on essay questions because I would remember to hit all the import terms for different processes or other higher level questions. 

Learner II

Great suggestions by others & I will add: Compare and contrast tasks are good; I use a lot of claim-evidence-reasoning  questions.  One of my favorites is what I call the Agree/Refute scenario: I provide a scenario that 3 or 4 fictional students are discussing - the scenario could be anything (I've used students discussing related things such as far/near point of vision, near- & far-sightedness and how that relates to the power of the corrective lens; I've used experimental data; anything you want them to think critically about.) I just provide the "dialog" between the fictional students & I try to make it sound as much like students talking as I can. I also try to incorporate common misunderstandings into what the fictional students say.  Then I ask my students who they agree with and why as well as how they would refute the students they disagree with. Their arguments have to be science-based (supported by evidence or science theory). Sometimes there's one fictional student who's absolutely correct and the others are wrong; sometimes all students are "a little wrong and a little right" - this generally leads to good discussion.  Case studies are good for that, too. There's a really great book on Teaching and Learning STEM by Richard M. Felder that you might want to share with faculty - it provides some good insight on how to plan (or recreate or slowly modify) a course to develop more of those critical thinking skills.

Great thoughts! Thanks for suggesting the book.  I'm going to add that to my summer reading list.  I'll definitely pass on your idea of the dialog activity.  In my classes I will often ask students to write quiz questions for practice in finding information for these questions and creating plausible distractors.  I bet that as a group activity, students could try to develop the student dialog you describe as well. It would give them experience identifying common misunderstandings as well as providing an exercise they could share with other groups for practice.  I wonder, have you tried this before?  It sounds like it could work, but ???

I haven't tried having students write the dialog, but I like the idea - especially as a learning tool for other groups.  My only hesitation would be that the activity would have to be structured or they'd have to be given guidance (at least initially) so that "dialog" leads to good discussion/understanding (and not just relying on not understanding definitions).  Maybe giving students the situation and then prompts for developing the dialog (such as, "What processes are involved? How is X different than Y"?)  I'd have to think on it more (it's finals week for me so my brain is a little fried Smiley Wink ),

Hi Gloria R -- just joined Canvas so this is my first post.  I'm really happy I came upon this thread.  I've benefitted from all the submissions, but I find yours the most interesting to me.  Your use of scenarios and simulated students seems brilliant to me!  I have always advocated for simulated experiential activities.  When memorisation is called for, it greatly promotes the process by having students engage with what teachers seek to have them memorise.  All the flashcards and mnemonic acronyms in the world are no substitute for such engagement.  You understand this very well!  Your students are very fortunate to have you as a teacher!