Critical Thinking & Technology
I. Definition of Training Piece
Henry Smith married 150 women in the course of 10 years. He was never arrested for bigamy although each marriage was witnessed and recorded with the proper authorities. Why?
When you ask students to define "critical thinking," they will often refer to this type of puzzle or brainteaser. And although developing critical thinking skills will help students solve this puzzle, critical thinking skills will also help students as they face crucial decisions in education and in life. Students, and all of us, are bombarded with ideas and with people trying to persuade us to accept the ideas they are promoting. You only have to turn on a television talk show to see this in action. At least when watching a talk show, the viewer is given some background information about the speaker's credentials or lack of credentials and is usually aware of the personal bias that the speaker brings to the topic. The advent of the computer information age has presented us with a new challenge: a wealth of information distributed with few restrictions and often limited information about the author of the material. With the increasing use of web-based technology to gather and interpret information, teaching critical thinking skills to students is even more important.
By the end of this module, you will be aware of research that verifies that critical thinking can and should be taught and have explored methods for integrating this into your current curriculum. In addition, this module will offer suggestions for both using technology as a tool for teaching critical thinking and ways to assist students to think critically about the technology resources they are using in their academic, professional and personal lives.
(If you haven't solved the brainteaser, the answer appears in the resources section)
This content module will introduce you to research supporting the directed teaching of critical thinking and some basic methods for teaching critical thinking. The module will propose three ways to use technology to assist students to develop critical thinking skills:
John Chaffee in The Thinker's Guide to College Success defines thinking critically as "carefully examining our thinking (and the thinking of others) in order to clarify and improve our understanding." He suggests providing students with practice and guidance in the five activities listed below:
The World Wide Web provides a wealth
of materials and is a wonderful tool for teaching critical thinking to students. The Instructor and
Student Exercise sections of this module offer many suggestions for teaching critical thinking with
Once we acknowledge that critical thinking is an important skill, the question becomes can we teach it? The answer is a resounding "yes." The latest research demonstrates that thinking can be taught and furthermore that it must be taught in a directed manner providing students with practice evaluating ideas. Critical thinking is not a natural byproduct of taking college courses, even courses whose subject matter necessitate critical thinking for success. In Developing Critical Thinkers, Stephen Brookfield emphasizes that "a willingness to risk experimentation in one's teaching is an important aspect of modeling change and promoting critical openness in learners" (81). As teachers, we influence whether a student will learn critical thinking skills in our classes.
Exploration: Choose one course that you are currently teaching or will be teaching next semester, and set aside a block of time each week or each class meeting to emphasize and practice critical thinking in your discipline area. Create a name for this time, for example "CT Time" or "Monday's Critical Think," so students begin to recognize and expect it. Acknowledging that critical thinking is the focus of the exercise will help students begin to examine process as well as the content of the discussion.
One suggestion for your weekly critical thinking time is to begin the class with a problem or controversy that is relevant to the current course material. Then focus on assisting students to practice the five activities listed in section II: thinking actively, carefully exploring situations, thinking for themselves, viewing situations from different perspectives, and supporting diverse perspectives with reason and evidence.
For example, you might find a controversial issue that is addressed from two different perspectives in two web sites. You can show the two web sites at the beginning of class and ask students to determine what questions they would ask the authors of the web sites, so the students can draw their own conclusions. As the instructor, you could role-play the parts of both authors and answer students' questions or bring in a guest speaker to class to play the part of the second author. Each student can then write about his/her perspective on the issue and support the perspective with reason and evidence.
As the semester progresses, you can ask student teams to be responsible for researching and presenting a current problem.
A variation of this exercise is to send students to specific web sites that you have previously viewed and know contain valuable information on critical thinking. Here is a suggested web site for this exercise:
www.sjsu.edu:80/depts/itl/index.html. This web site, designed and maintained by San Jose State University, is called " Mission Critical." It is an interactive instructional site designed to promote and teach critical thinking. It has great information and fun interactive quizzes. Some of the topics covered include arguments, common fallacies and applied critical thinking. Note: like many educational sites, "Mission Critical" asks for your feedback. This can serve as an opportunity for real-life application for your students. Student reports can be prepared for the author of the site and used to help improve the site for future students.
Exercise Two: Ask students to think critically about and evaluate web sites. We use web sites to research an array of topics in our personal lives, and students may be asked to use web sites for research in your course or other courses. Assist students to determine the validity of the sites by giving them direct instruction in this area. Ask students to explore and evaluate three web sites that are pertinent to the course material. You will probably want to give students a list of acceptable topics for search purposes. For example, if you teach Child Development, the list might include disciplining children, diagnosing learning difficulties, mainstreaming children, and prenatal development. Have students visit the following web site to obtain a web evaluation checklist or ask student to create criteria for evaluating web sites or modify an the existing web evaluation check list:
www.ithaca.edu/library/training/hott.html. (This site also provides a presentation mode. If you have Internet access in your classroom, you can present this material to students and as a group create a classroom web evaluation checklist by modifying the one shown here. The information is presented in a colorful and interactive format and includes a sample exercise comparing two web sites that supply statistical information about AIDS.)
There are many web sites that deal with the issue of evaluating web sites. For an interesting twist on this exercise, you can have your students evaluate the validity and usefulness of "web evaluation" web sites. Many of the sites have great suggestions that students can put to immediate use. For suggested web evaluation sites, visit the Helpful Resources section of this module.C. Skill Connections:
IV. Frequently Asked
Q: I have a lot of content material to teach. How can I justify spending time teaching critical thinking?
A: Directly teaching critical thinking skills will help students to be successful in your course and help students learn to analyze and apply the course materials creating higher level learning for students. The time spent teaching critical thinking skills may replace time previously spent explaining the importance of concepts and connections that students can now determine for themselves.
Q: Can you teach critical thinking without technology resources?
A: Absolutely. This module suggests using the World Wide Web as a source of content to teach critical thinking for two reasons. First, web sites provide engaging, current and easily accessible material on a variety of issues and interactive exercises in critical thinking. Secondly, it is important that students, and everyone, employ critical thinking skills when using information that is found on a web site.
VI. Helpful Resources
Learn more about critical thinking:
www.criticalthinking.org. This web site, The Center for Critical Thinking, is sponsored by many educational non-profit organizations including the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking. The site provides research and assignment for use by educators from primary to university level.
www.thinkersway.com. This is John Chaffee's web site and provides an interactive quiz, "How Effective a Critical Thinker Am I?" It also has a wonderful section on problem solving as well as other activities.
www.philosophy.unimelb.edu.au/reason/critical/. This site has an extensive directory of quality on-line resources.
Learn more about evaluating web sites: www.slu.edu/departments/english/research/. This is a web search and evaluation guide tutorial. It was designed for first-year writing students, but can easily be used by all students.
www.library.ucla.edu/libraries/college/help/critical/index.htm. This site, "Thinking Critically About World Wide Web Resources," also has a page on thinking critically about discipline-based www resources.
www.namss.org.uk/evaluate.htm. This is a wonderful site with a multitude of links for sites that deal with everything from web evaluation to plagiarism. Some great interactive sites here too!
Learn more about the books mentioned in this module: www.hmco.com. Browse Houghton Mifflin Company's college catalog for more information on John Chaffe's textbook The Thinker's Guide to College Success as well as other critical thinking texts.
www.edwdebono.com. This site provides information about de Bono's Thinking Course and Edward de Bono's other books.
Learn more about workshops on critical thinking: www.facultytraining.com to attend a workshop on this topic or bring one to your campus, visit this site or call Faculty Development Programs at (800) 856-5727.
Learn the answer to the brainteaser: Henry Smith was the officiating clergyman at each of the weddings.