Open-ended questions hinge on critical thinking and allow students to explore multiple points of view and write in that context, arriving at a reasoned judgment on an issue or research question that is controversial. Closed-ended questions--because they general can be answered with either a yes or no or with factual data--do not offer a writer a chance to show his or her mind at work making choices based on reflection, creativity, analysis, and evaluation. Closed-ended questions invite writers to present information and observations and therefore often fall into the genre of report writing rather than essay writing. So given the rhetorical situation of college argument, closed-ended questions usually do not allow the writer to investigate the issues looking for the "best" answer, given the information available.

Open-ended questions cut down on two types of errors; we are not likely to forget the answers we advocate if we are given the chance to respond freely using academic standards of argument. Writers cannot simply fill in the blank with data. Writers must use critical thinking skills in a presentation of their particular point of view.

In the link above, on reasoned judgment, Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder suggest that students sometimes mistakenly divide questions into only two categories. One is a question of fact; the other is a question asking for an opinion. In other words we may see the world argument dividing into either facts or opinions. Yet there is a third category that teachers really want students to acknowledge. College writers must make reasoned judgments. Open-ended questions ficilatate this learning objective. Close-ended questions do not.

Why understanding this matters. The assignments in this class necessarily are based on open-ended questions. In this rhetorical situation, I want to know what you think. You will construct, evaluate, and use knowledge in ways that will surprise me and your readers. How boring and uninteresting would an education experience be if all you did was what the teacher told you to do? In writing an argumentative response to open-ended questions, college writers often begin with some tolerance for uncertainty. For some students this premise may seem untraditional. That is, college writing requires not only a great deal of intellectual curiosity but also an appreciation for intellectual perseverance: having a consciousness of the need to use intellectual insights and truths in spite of difficulties, obstacles, and frustrations; firm adherence to rational principles despite the irrational opposition of others; a sense of the need to struggle with confusion and unsettled questions over an extended period of time to achieve deeper understanding or insight. This is the nature of college writing. Ambiguity is built in and has a purpose.

Critical thinking requires self-regulatory judgment and creativity that results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanations of the considerations on which that reasoned judgment is based. Thus the need for dialogue is apparent--we will see just how important it is in this context to participate in the Discussion Board Forums in an active way. The task of critically and analytical interpreting information and then making a reasoned judgment supported by evidence is complex. The forums can help you practice this process.

Here is the deal. Humans live and write in a paradox. We use ideas, concepts, language and explanations to make sense of things--topics. We strive to be as clear as possible, precise; we want to apply the aspects of writing and thinking defined by the Universal Intellectual Standards. And yet, humans also have biases, deeply rooted in all kinds of assumptions we may hold about reality. College writing asks that we do NOT unquestionably believe what seems spontaneouly to be true. We should never assume that our experiences are unbiased. As your teacher I ask that you foster an openness to different and new ideas and learn to explore and evaluate your logical foundations. This process begins with thinking about your attitudes toward learning. In 1933, John Dewey argued that reflective thought requires a state of doubt. John Dewey's statement still holds water today. Writing about open-ended questions with no clear right answer puts thinking in motion. In other words, before students can learn to think reflectively and critically, they must experience some degree of confusion, puzzlement, and disorientation. This is not a bad thing. It puts us on the pathway to seeking answers. We learn to respect other viewpoints. As Aristotle said, we learn to entertain ideas that we may initially not agree with. We want to place intellectual curiosity at the forefront using doubt and uncertainly is a catalyst. Elements of attitude about uncertainly are the pivots on which your learning evolves. The kind of thinking I hope to mentor begins with pondering new possibilities when bewildered. Be inquisitive. Scrutinize new and existing knowledge. Base your evaluations on compelling discovery and logical evidence.