Creating critical thinkers should be a primary focus of higher education. Incorporating Socratic questioning into our instruction, especially in an online environment, can be incredibly effective as shown by research.
What is the purpose of higher education? What is the responsibility of an online instructor? The answers to these questions vary depending who is asked (and when). However, I think at the heart of every answer lies a common theme: online instructors should help students become critical thinkers so that this skill can help students make the most of their lives.
As any online instructor, at times I struggle with getting my students to think critically. With the excess of information available online, it is too easy to find a site (hopefully not Wikipedia) and form an opinion based on that one site's perspective. Challenging students to go beyond this single point of view and gather information until a decision can be made that is based on accuracy, authority, purpose, and objectivity is my responsibility and one that I do not take lightly.
To stimulate my students, I often employ Socratic questioning in our discussions and in my feedback. By arousing their curiosity and encouraging additional questioning, I have seen some students provide additional thoughts about the topic and at times, change their points of view. In the article "Using Socratic Questioning to Promote Critical Thinking Skills Through Asynchronous Discussion Forums in Distance Learning Environment," the research showed that the online environment was conducive to Socratic questioning since the environment "affords students the time for thoughtful analysis, composition, negotiation, and reflection as their discussion of an issue evolves" (Yang, Newby, & Bill, 2005, p. 179). Since our students are able to access our discussions and feedback every day, why not present them with the additional challenge of developing critical thinking skills?
Yang, Y.C., Newby, T.J., & Bill, R.L. (2005). Using Socratic questioning to promote critical thinking skills through asynchronous discussion forums in distance learning environments. American Journal Of Distance Education, 19(3), 163-181. doi:10.1207/s15389286ajde1903_4