This content first appeared at APUEdge.com
Thinking is a skill that can always be further developed and improved upon. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares insight into the concept of parallel thinking, which focuses on constructive and creative thinking. Learn more about this unique approach to thinking that uses the concept of “thinking hats” that enables individuals to view something from six unique viewpoints to more fully understand it.
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Read the Transcript:
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Thank you for joining me today. If you’re here listening to this podcast, I assume that you’re either an online educator or you work with online educators. Or perhaps you’re a parent who is working with your young person at home in an online education fashion. Either way, regardless of who you are or from where you approach online education, one thing is certain that education comes with some traditional Western views. In the United States, we often think of Socratic analysis or Socratic discussion, which is largely the discussion—the question and answer method—and we’re looking for the truth.
We might have some kind of logical analysis, definitions, categories, principles, and analysis that we use in critical thinking, generally speaking. And a lot of what we’re doing in our online education pursuits and education generally is to describe how things are, what it is. We want to define it, we want to use the terms correctly, we want to use them to describe it so we can speak the language as if we’re in that subject matter as participants.
What is Parallel Thinking?
Today I’m going to introduce to you something called parallel thinking. This is a little bit different than the traditional way we look at things in our educational world. This comes from “Six Thinking Hats” by Edward de Bono. It’s an international bestseller and it has changed the way the world’s most successful business leaders think.
The idea is that thinking is a skill and we can develop it further and we can improve upon it. If you think about traditional critical thinking, we’re analyzing, we’re judging, we’re arguing. We are describing what is. We’re trying to understand something from various points of view.
In the idea about “Six Thinking Hats” in the book, we’re talking about how there’s another aspect of thinking, which is what can be. It is constructive thinking, creative thinking, and it’s known as “designing a way forward.”
The idea behind parallel thinking is that it is a new and unique approach to seeing something. Instead of judging the way forward, we’re going to “design the way forward” using parallel thinking. We need to be thinking about what can be and not just what is.
Now, if you think about the jobs that exist in the world today, many of the jobs people hold never existed 10, 15, or even 20 years ago. And I can give you an example of my own job. I’m an online educator. I’m a professor at an entirely online university. I’m also a faculty director and I manage a large team of online faculty in my department.
When I was going through my bachelor’s degree to become a band teacher, face-to-face, I would have never imagined in the mid ’90s, early 1990s, that this kind of a career was even possible. I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know I would want to do it, nor did I know I would do it.
Over time, online education emerged. The internet became a staple of modern society, and now we have online careers. Of course, due to the pandemic, even more work has moved online than we ever thought would be possible.
As we think about the changing world that we live in, and we know that careers that exist today as we now know them never existed in the past, the world of tomorrow could yet be different, still. We need to think about our students and what they will need to move into the future that lies before them, and to have the thinking skills and capacities to meet the demands of tomorrow.
In the introduction to his book, “Six Thinking Hats,” Edward de Bono gives a really great example to explain what parallel thinking is. And I’m going to just share that example with you today to share the concept generally.
So in the introduction, he tells us to think about a large, beautiful country house. We’re just going to pretend for a minute that I’m standing in front of that house and you’re standing behind the house. Two of our friends are standing on each side of the house. We’re not seeing the same side of the house, but all four of us have a view of the house.
We’re all arguing over our cell phones. So we’re kind of on a group call and each of us is standing on one side of the house and we’re arguing that the view we are seeing is the view of the house. I’m describing this front door, big garage doors, and all of the plant features. You’re describing the back door, the things that are in the backyard, all of those features. And likely we’re going to disagree because we’re not looking at the same side of the house.
As de Bono says, using parallel thinking, we would walk all around and look at the front. Then we would all walk around to one side and look at that. Then we would all look at the back of the house and look at that together. And finally, we would all look at the remaining side together.
And in doing this, each of us is going to be looking in parallel from the same point of view. We’re all going to be looking at the front of the house at the exact same time. Instead of being an argument, this is really the opposite view point. We’re not going to be having adversarial thinking. We’re not discussing whose viewpoint is right, and we’re not taking the opposite view. We’re looking at all sides of the house and we’re exploring the subject of the house fully, each of us.
So parallel thinking is the idea that we’re all looking in the same direction at that object at the same time. It could go a little bit further if we were just using traditional critical thinking. If you and I were to disagree, there’s an argument in which each of us is going to try to prove each other wrong. We’re going to assert our points and gather evidence and support our point of view.
If we were to be using parallel thinking, we’re going to use both of our views and, even if they’re a little contradictory, we’re going to set them down in parallel, then we’re going to choose at that point whose viewpoint we’re going to adopt. We’re going to really consider all the possibilities when we’re looking at things from the same vantage point. And the emphasis is to have a cooperative viewpoint, to have a way forward.
Understanding Parallel Thinking by Wearing Different “Thinking Hats”
Basically, parallel thinking as presented in “Six Thinking Hats” introduces six different perceptions or directions of thinking. We would put on the same hat at the same time and we’re all going to try to take that perspective. There are some labels we’re going to use here to talk about parallel thinking. And so the metaphor is colored hats.
For example, we’re going to put on a white thinking hat, and while we’re wearing the white thinking hat, we’re going to all be deliberately focusing on the information. We’re going to find all the information that’s available, determine what information is still needed, what questions we need to ask, and how else we could get the information. So the white thinking hat is about information. We’re not trying to argue it, we’re not trying to interpret it or get emotional about it. We’re just looking at all the information we have and all the information we need. And we’re doing this together. So this is a group effort, and we’re all coming at it from that same white hat perspective.
It’s not really me choosing the white hat because I like information and you choosing a different hat because you like that perspective. It’s all of us practicing one single point of view at the same time. We’re all going to put the white hat on and we’re going to look at information.
We’re going to go to the red hat and we’re going to look for feelings, intuition, and emotions on a particular issue. We can all put the red hat on and adopt this perspective at the same time and we can all explore what the intuition and emotions of that issue might be.
Then we could switch to black hat thinking. This is also going to be about cautiousness. It’s going to point out possible difficulties, loopholes, and problems, with this thinking.
We’re going to then go to the yellow hat, and the yellow hat is about benefits, values, and things like that. And we’re going to take each of these perspectives in turn so we can practice coming at a problem from each of these points of view.
How to Use the Principle of Thinking Hats in Your Teaching
The main idea is we want to be able to see things in different directions. We want to practice that with our students, and we want to use it in our online educator role. There are a lot of different ways we can use these six thinking hats.
One, we could have a forum discussion. So in the discussion space, we could teach the thinking hats ideas, introduce each of the “Six Thinking Hats” and the orientation. And we could have our students try on one or two of these hats in this particular discussion.
Or maybe when we are having them prepare for an assignment, we could do an advanced organizer, which would be sort of like a preparatory activity. We could teach the “Six Thinking Hats” and have them use one particular thinking hat to gather all the information they know about the issue.
Then when we’re having them talk about the implications or the impact of the issue in reality, we could then have them put the red hat on and write about the emotional impact of other people. We could also talk about whether we’re going to put on, say the black, the yellow hat, or one of the other colors.
The six hats are basically ways to get out of our stuck thinking about something and try on a new viewpoint. There are a lot of other ways to do this as well. And it’s possible you’ve already got your own strategies as an educator that you might employ.
I’m throwing this out there to you today because the “Six Thinking Hats” method is also used in business, and it’s a great way to objectively move between viewpoints or perceptions. We don’t want to use these hats to describe people. We don’t want say like that’s a white hat thinker or a black hat thinker or a red hat thinker, or maybe a green hat person.
If we start labeling people that way, we put them in a box where they are only going to be capable of one thing. It’s not about labeling people or labeling schools of thought. It’s really about the mode of behavior. That we’re looking at something in a certain way. It is true that you might know some people that sound like descriptions of these hats and it’s okay to notice that, but we definitely don’t want to use them for that purpose. It’s not why they’re there.
You might even prefer one of these thinking directions or modes to another one. Either way, understand that this is not about categorizing people. We want to teach every person to be skilled at looking at a problem or a situation in each of these six directions. The more we teach people about parallel thinking and looking at a problem or issue in six different directions, the more we equip them with skills to truly evaluate things, to look at things from so many angles that they have a thorough understanding. And problems can really be solved when we’re doing this.
You could also do this for different stages of an assignment. As I mentioned, the advanced organizer might start out with white hat thinking. And through the steps of creating the assignment, a student might want to put on each of these hats for different parts of their work. In any kind of presentation, you’re certainly going to want to present the cautious side of things, why one should be looking for potential holes in thinking, and we can also come up with a lot more considerations when we’re trying on each of the different hats.
If we’re working in groups or having our students work in groups and they do this together, they’re going to be able to see things the same way very quickly in each of the thinking hat categories and work together as a group a lot more effectively.
And if you’re in asynchronous online education, that’s particularly important. Students are logging in at all different times of the week, and it’s easy for them to get off base from each other, or see things in different ways, and have a conflict.
Benefits of Trying Different Directions of Thinking
One of the great benefits of exploring the Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono in our online teaching is that this is no longer about being right. Instead of being right, what we’re doing is sort of playing a game. We’re asking our students to try on different directions of thinking. And whether they are shy or assertive or participate a lot or a little, as long as they are able to try on the thinking hat that we’re working with at the time, they’re cooperating. They’re playing the game. And this is a great way to bring all kinds of students together that might otherwise have different types of behaviors or different habits.
As you think about trying on “Six Thinking Hats,” these are the six descriptions and I hope there’ll be useful to you. The white hat is neutral and objective, concerned with facts and figures. The red hat is the emotional view. The black hat is careful and cautious, the “devil’s advocate” hat. The yellow hat is sunny and positive. The green hat is associated with fertile growth, creativity, and new ideas. And lastly, the blue hat is the coolness, the color of the sky, above everything else, the organizing hat.
If you think about how you might use these different hats with students all at the same time to unify groups into trying on different types of thinking, it’s possible something might occur to you that you could try in a forum discussion, in a group activity, or even in an assignment.
I hope that you’ll step into the shoes, or rather step under the hat, of each of these colored thinking hats and try them on as an educator, as well as in the online classroom. For more information about Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono, the international bestseller I’ve been mentioning throughout this podcast, please see the link in the podcast transcript. I wish you all the best this week trying on Six Thinking Hats in your online teaching.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.
This content originally appeared at APUEdge.Com.
The holidays can be a difficult time for everyone, but especially for online students whose coursework continues over the holiday break. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen offers suggestions for how online educators can incorporate flexibility and sensitivity into course design to accommodate students who may be struggling. Also learn about scaffolding assignments and other accommodations to help students succeed during the holidays.
Read the Transcript:
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hanson. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
At the time of this recording, it is December 2020, and we are in the midst of a pandemic. Online students everywhere are preparing for the holidays, which might include a break from online classes, or it might not. If you’re at an institution like mine, you have classes that overlap the holidays. So students will still be working and learning and submitting assignments throughout those holiday breaks that others might take for granted.
Today, we’re going to talk about how to prepare students for the holiday break or the holidays working through assignments, either way, in three ways. The first one is through some flexibility and sensitivity to your students’ needs. The second will be scaffolding assignments and other interactive activities. And the last one will be special considerations in three areas of physiology, focus and connection. So let’s jump in.
Why should we think about preparing our online students for the holidays? This year, the year that this was recorded, there are some special considerations around the holidays. Now, we all believe that the holidays are a time of celebration, a time to connect with others, as well as a time of loss for some people who have been significantly impacted at this time of year. For whom those memories and experiences come back again and again.
Regardless of what your students are experiencing right now, the whole world is in a tense and stressful situation with COVID-19 and this pandemic adds a lot to what is going on. Online coursework can be challenging anyway, because there is a lesser degree of connection. However, your students are in good hands with you at the helm, because you will be able to be flexible and sensitive, scaffold the work, and also help them in three special ways.
Build Sensitivity and Flexibility into Classroom Communication
The first area of flexibility and sensitivity is an important one when working with adult learners online and with a variety of other groups. Knowing that for some, the holidays are a time of celebration, while for others, it’s a time of loneliness and loss, you can exercise a lot of sensitivity in working with your students.
You might consider asking them what they are thinking about for the upcoming holidays. Maybe ask them if they are going to be able to be at home. If they will have a chance to connect with others. If they have anything planned that they would like to share, and so forth.
There are a lot of reasons why students will reach out to you about the holidays. And some of those might include just sharing what they’re experiencing. I know I’ve had online students occasionally reach out to me to let me know so that they are having a struggle. They’re not able to get through the work as usual at that time of year. Maybe things slow down for them and they’re a little depressed.
Some of them have so much going on with family and friends, that they’re also torn between their school commitments and their other connections. And they have to figure out a way to balance that.
Either way, sensitivity can be in the way we communicate with our students, either through our videos or our typed messages to them, the frequency of our communication and the word choice that we use. Consider a variety of circumstances your students might be facing as you communicate about the upcoming holidays with them.
Secondarily to that is the flexibility. Some students will just need a little bit of extra time. They might need another day or two. Other students might need an entire week to submit an assignment under these kinds of circumstances.
Some colleagues and I were speaking together the other day, and we were talking about how maybe COVID-19 hasn’t impacted one or more of our homes specifically, but the stress of the ongoing pandemic adds a lot to our emotional palette anyway.
Consider this as your students are struggling through this time of year. They might also be dealing with seasonal issues, inclement weather, cloudy skies. A lot of things can pile up to create an emotional climate that makes it very difficult for them to work as usual.
Flexibility might include giving a little extra time, choosing not to deduct late points or late deductions you might normally include, and other kinds of accommodations that might work for your students and sound reasonable to you.
Although, it might be difficult to be in tune with students’ emotions when you’re working online, we have had occasions where faculty members experienced students in distress. A student might actually tell you that they are not feeling up to doing anything, that they are feeling depressed, or maybe even that they are feeling suicidal.
If those kinds of things come up as you’re teaching your online class, be sure to reach out to the appropriate services at your institution to support them, the suicide hotline or the local police, if that is appropriate. Follow through on those things students say and take them seriously.
Scaffolding Assignments for the Holidays
A second area I want to talk about is scaffolding the assignments up to the holiday period. As a holiday is approaching, some faculty members just extend an assignment a few days, or maybe even an entire week. When you do this, students feel that they have the appropriate time to complete the work.
This might require adjusting the class before the course even begins to make sure your syllabus lines up with the calendar. If you haven’t done that, you could simply move the due date out and post announcements and reminders to let everyone know you’re giving them a few extra days.
One word of warning there, students do not appreciate the extra time, when they have already submitted the work. So it’s very helpful to tell students upfront, to give them a little bit of notice when you’re going to extend a timeline and also to help them understand when things are due and what is included in that assignment.
To scaffold assignments up to the holiday period, you might consider giving them some kind of advanced organizer to help them think through the work that is coming up. As I mentioned with the added stress of the pandemic and the holidays combined, many people find it difficult to perform up to their normal level of standard for themselves, and also find it difficult to think clearly as they would like to do.
When you scaffold an assignment, what you’re doing is giving a preparation to help people think. Maybe you’re taking the big assignment and you’re breaking it down into some smaller pieces, so that they’re a little easier to complete. And then they can be combined together, to submit as that final assignment.
For example, if a student is writing an essay, you might give an advanced organizer like a brainstorming chart, so they could break down the topic, solicit their sources, explore options, and even give you an outline ahead of time to have it briefly checked and given some feedback.
Scaffolding assignments really is twofold. The first is to break it down into smaller chunks that are easier to do. But the second is also to have easier pieces building up to the more complex parts, so that students can think through each step clearly, and then have a pleasing whole at the end.
Encourage Physical Activity
The last area I want to share today when you’re preparing students for the holidays, is considerations that are in the physical or physiology area, focus, and connection.
In the physiology area, it’s helpful to make suggestions for your students and for yourself to get up and change locations regularly. The more we stand up, take a little walk, stretch, even get some exercise, that will really help us to be focused. To be able to be on target when we’re doing our online work. And also to be able to endure the long stretches of work time that we tend to be under, either as the faculty member or as the online student.
Many people sit in the chair in front of that computer and they might go for hours without a break. This is going to slow circulation. It’s going to lower the mood and the overall effect and make it easier to feel sluggish, less clear thinking as well.
The more we make suggestions for small physical movement or encourage people to get up and just stretch and walk around, the more we help them to shake off that stuck state that they might be in, being in front of the computer. And it’s a great suggestion to offer your students as well.
I myself have a treadmill desk. If I need to be in a meeting where I don’t have to be on video, I can set my computer on the treadmill and I can take a walk while I’m in the meeting. Your students might be able to do the same thing.
Many of them are online students right now and also working online. So there’s a lot of sitting around that can add to a deflated mood and more sluggish thinking, as well as lower circulation. So suggesting physiological changes will help everyone to be able to get through the holidays with a little bit more energy and a method to interrupt stuck thinking.
The focus area of this triad of the physiology, focus and connection piece, is about what people are thinking about. Our students might be thinking ahead to when the course is over and they’re going to need to celebrate the holidays. Or maybe they’re going to not be with their family; maybe they are going to be with their family.
Students are already starting to project forward to the holidays themselves, even though they might be in the middle of a class with you. As they’re doing that, a lot of added stress can come with that, especially if their plans have changed because they’re not able to travel or they’re not able to connect with the people they love.
If you find that’s the case with your students, you might help them to focus on the present, what they can do to stay present in their course. And also to think about those things that they do have and those times that they have been able to connect with others, to foster a sense of gratitude.
This brings the idea of abundance, instead of the focus on what we’re lacking, and it can help generate creativity, innovation, ideas, and the sense of being present to complete the work they needed to do. To keep learning and to also do well at their studies.
Lastly, the connection piece. I was at a virtual party the other day, I wasn’t really sure would be like a party. And I was surprised at the degree of planning that went into this virtual event. And I was also surprised at the great connections that happened at this online party.
There are a lot of ways for us to connect with other humans, other people, whether it’s our family, friends, or our fellow students, or our classmates. We really want to connect with other people around the holidays, but it can be very difficult when people are physically separated or largely just know each other in the online environment.
One of the suggestions I’d like to make for connecting during the holidays when people are working online and being online students is to use a video platform, to plan ahead for the day and time, to even create an agenda and consider including some interactive technologies.
The party that I attended had a spinning wheel where some prizes were given out that were virtual gift cards that were delivered by email. Each person’s name was put on the spinning wheel. And they were able to spin it online during the party and then it would stop on its own and a person would win here and there.
There was also the opportunity to share ideas through the Mentimeter platform. That’s a really great way to vote, to collaborate on ideas, to create word clouds. This might even be a good tool to integrate in your online teaching generally. But if you decide to have some kind of a live gathering, it’s especially useful.
So you can suggest connecting with each other, but you could also have a class gathering. A holiday gathering of some sort using virtual means with your students might be just the ticket to wrap up the semester nicely and also wish them well as they wrap up the year that has passed.
Consider these ideas, the flexibility and sensitivity, the scaffolding the assignments, and also the physiological, the focus and the connection pieces that students are going to need as they wrap up the year and whether they are taking a break or not, as they wrap up this month as well.
Lastly, I’d like to encourage you as the online educator. There’s a great podcast that was done, where I interviewed Dr. Lisset Pickens, and she shared some great ideas for balancing your work and home life.
If that’s an area you’d like to work on in the month ahead, definitely check it out. Some great suggestions in there about shutting off the work-life and turning on the home life at the end of the workday were made. And those suggestions are incredibly valuable.
I’d like to also suggest doing the things that you love, that go with holidays. For example, if you’re a person that likes to decorate at the office, decorate the classroom, and if you’re working from home right now, go ahead and decorate that space you’re working in. Go ahead and wear your holiday sweater or your holiday blouse, that you might have worn to the office or the classroom.
Taking those little extra steps to celebrate what’s important to you is going to add energy to what you’re doing. And it’s also going to give you a sense of normalcy in a very difficult time. Thank you for being here and I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week. And happy holidays!
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.