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Critical Thinking 
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Critical Thinking & Technology

I. Definition of Training Piece

  1. Purpose for Instructor

    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)

  2. Material Covered

    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:

    • Use web resources to help student research critical thinking to define, understand and value its role in their lives.
    • Use web resources designed to develop and practice critical thinking skills.
    • Evaluate web sites and think critically about the validity of the content.

II. Foundation

  1. Definition of Concept & Theory
    What is critical thinking? There are a variety of answers to that question, but most experts agree that it includes the ability for a person to use his/her intelligence, knowledge and skills to question and carefully explore situations to arrive at thoughtful conclusions based on evidence and reason. A critical thinker is able to get past biases and view situations from different perspectives to ultimately improve his/her understanding of the world. In those two sentences lie a lifetime of work for an individual, work that begins with a formal education in critical thinking skills. A student once told me, "Whatever you teach me, what I believe is true." This is the crux of teaching critical thinking. It cannot be taught as an absolute. There are no formulas to memorize or tests to take. Teaching critical thinking is about helping students discover the answers. That said, there are some basic tools that you can use to begin to teach critical thinking to students.

    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:

    • Thinking Actively by using our intelligence, knowledge, and skills to question, explore, and deal effectively with ourselves, others, and life's situations.
    • Carefully Exploring Situations by asking--and trying to answer--relevant questions.
    • Thinking for Ourselves by carefully examining various ideas and arriving at our own thoughtful conclusions.
    • Viewing Situations from Different Perspectives to develop an in-depth, comprehensive understanding.
    • Supporting Diverse Perspectives with Reason and Evidence to arrive at thoughtful, well-substantiated conclusions.

    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 technology.

  2. Summary of Relevant Research
    There was a time when educators believed that content knowledge was enough for students to succeed. For the most part the information that students learned in school was the same information that their parents learned. Today, however, all of that is changing. The increasing power of technology has created a world where information changes quickly, and new ideas can be distributed and adapted almost instantaneously. Today it is important that students learn critical thinking skills, so they can be both the inventors and the critics of the new information. Edward de Bono in de Bono's Thinking Course writes, "Knowledge is not enough. The creative, constructive, design and operating aspects of thinking are just as important as knowledge" (6).

    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.

III.  Benefits

  1. Instructor
    Teaching students to think critically is incredibly rewarding because what you provide to students is the opportunity for them to understand and take charge of their learning and their lives. Helping students develop critical thinking skills will also have an impact on your classroom. Students will approach the material in a more thoughtful and effective manner, will ask more and better questions and will participate in the learning process. Students will also develop the skills necessary to evaluate the resources that they consult for research purposes.
  2. Student
    The benefits to students are innumerable. Developing critically thinking can change a student's life. Students will develop higher order thinking abilities necessary for academic and job success. But more importantly, students will expand the perspectives from which they view the world. Critical thinking skills will help them navigate the important decisions in learning and in life.

IV. Implementation

  1. Exploration Exercise for Instructors

    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.

  2. Student Exercises
    Exercise One:
    Assist students to define, understand and value critical thinking. Have students visit web sites about critical thinking. Students can start with a search engine like google (www.google.com) and type in "critical thinking" in the key word search or further define their search given your perimeters by adding "education," "employment" or others. There is a multitude of web sites and the vastness of information can be overwhelming, but it can also assist students to see what an important role critical thinking plays in life. Have each student report on one web site including in her report the definition of critical thinking, reasons given in the site for the importance of developing critical thinking skills and any activities in the web site that assist individuals to build critical thinking skills. If you assign students to work in teams, have them view 3-5 web sites and also rank the web sites from most useful to least useful for students.

    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:
    1. Invisible Curriculum: Developing critical thinking skills will assist students to make better decisions about their education and their lives. The Invisible Curriculum module discusses other ways that instructors can help students take responsibility for their learning.
    2. Active Learning: Critical thinking can be taught to students. The Active Learning module provides examples of strategies that can be used to teach critical thinking through collaborative and student-centered learning.
    3. Paired Courses: One of the most effective ways to teach critical thinking skills is to pair a critical thinking skills course with a discipline course. Students have an entire course devoted to learning critical thinking skills (a crucial need in higher education and life) and have the opportunity to apply that learning immediately to the content of another course. In addition, the content instructor can provide reinforcement of the critical thinking skills by employing critical thinking activities in his/her classroom.

    IV. Frequently Asked Questions
    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.



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