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Critical Thinking

Perhaps by now, we have enough variations of Descartes famous declaration? Apparently not: I think critically, therefore I am:

By studying the theory of critical thinking and tenaciously applying it to classroom practice, I began to see more clearly how to approach content as a mode of thought, rather than as fragmented bits of information. I began to see the intimate connection between thinking and learning, to see how to intervene in thinking deliberately and constructively to deepen one’s understanding, and to interface the content of my subject with the values and motivations of students.

The article goes on to provide a four-stage process to thinking critically. When learners have greater control, they also require greater command of critical thinking skills. Why? Well, if I’m taking a course under the direction of an instructor, I will hopefully be able to learn from the instructor modeling these skills. A course is a sanitized version of messy and chaotic information that comprises a field. Learners (hopefully) encounter only the most established and trusted information during a course. Once a learner steps outside of the course, she’ll inevitably encounter false and biased information. And, I think, it’s somewhat natural to begin connecting with learners who share our own beliefs and views. As a result, self-directed learners may cluster around shared beliefs and ideals. But it is in the friction of differing views that serendipity exists. Admittedly, this might not happen in a classroom either, but a good instructor will at least highlight points of tension in a subject area. When I learn on my own, diversity needs to become an explicit pursuit.


  1. George – very apposite post.
    I did some consultancy for the ECDL Foundation recently (the basic IT skills and competencies people), and the outcome of the research I did for them was that the era of teaching people how to use computers, productivity applications, and the internet in a “conversion course” context was coming to an end.
    The next set of skills people will need to acquire will be how to critically filter, analyze, and synthesize the information at their disposal.
    Great blog BTW!
    Michael Hanley

    Friday, August 7, 2009 at 2:25 am | Permalink
  2. So are you saying that as instructors, we should introduce messiness and chaos into our courses?

    Friday, August 7, 2009 at 5:05 am | Permalink
  3. Zaynab D'Elia wrote:

    I’m not sure about the idea of “only the most established and trusted information during a course” and then encountering biased information outside the course. I think learners need to think critically but I don’t think the lines can be drawn in these terms. I teach online psychology, and a lot of what is presented from “established and trusted” sources, such as the mainstream best-selling textbooks, often offer biased and as we are seeing in the medical journal scandals, false and dangerous information. What needs to happen is to give learners the skills to think critically, and to evaluate their learning experiences, whether these experiences are presented by a university, picked up on a blog, or written on a subway wall.

    Friday, August 7, 2009 at 5:42 pm | Permalink
  4. Ken Allan wrote:

    Kia ora e George.

    There’s a lot at play “in the friction of differing views”. It’s not just sharing and airing. There’s politics and persuasion and ridicule and oneupmanship and pride and the rest. It takes a strong personality to see the wood for the trees in a ‘learning environment’ like that.

    A substantial part of my time sharing with groups has been spent studying the group, and in particular the individuals that make it up. People adopt opinions about ideas debated about the subject for a whole raft of explicable reasons, and reasoning about the subject of the debate does not necessarily prevail among them.

    I often learn more about the individuals than I do of what they have to offer of the subject in debate – and that is perfectly valid learning. Nevertheless I agree with you. For me also, when learning on my own, diversity needs to become an explicit pursuit. It takes a lot of self-motivation and curiosity.

    Catchya later

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 1:31 am | Permalink