Digital Literacy Does Not Mean Critical Thinking

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

Recently, in “Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability to Tell Fake News from Real, Study Finds” (23 Nov. 2016), NPR reported that Stanford University researchers were shocked to learn that students are unable to distinguish real news from fake, ads from articles. The researchers collected and analyzed data from 7,800 middle school, high school and university students. The participants were from 12 states and were asked to evaluate information from various online sources such as tweets and articles.

The researchers’ “surprising” findings highlight that many people assume that young people are technology savvy because they can use their mobile devices and social media with seeming ease. However, their inability to use technology effectively is reflected in the results of this study. The students generally accept what is presented to them without questioning the validity or the bias. They accept it at face value.

I would hazard a guess that if the same study were done with any group of Internet users, the results would be equally as shocking. Rather than assuming that students or any users of technology and social media understand and are analyzing what they are seeing, our concern should be the quality of their digital literacy, their ability to read critically and not just accept everything without question.

The researchers propose that students and all other Internet users should be trained to read like fact checkers. They need to learn to not just read what is on the page but understand what it connects to. However, educators who work with and study technology use suggest that this is not enough.

Nik Peachey

Nik Peachey

Nik Peachey, for example, in his recent book, Thinking Critically Through Digital Media (2016), talks about how students are generally taught how to work with information through passive engagement. He suggests developing digital literacies, including understanding and analyzing what they are seeing.  They need to “assess the validity, credibility and underlying bias of the information they study” and be “given a range of research tools and techniques for reassessing the information and evaluating how it fits within their personal framework of belief systems and values.”

The International Literacy Association also addresses this issue in “Knowing the Difference Between Digital Skills and Digital Literacies, and Teaching Both” (3 Feb. 2016). The author, Maha Bali, points out that teaching digital skills needs to be embedded in authentic contexts so that learners are also becoming digitally literate. She states that “digital literacy is not about the skills of using technologies, but how we use our judgment to maintain awareness of what we are reading and writing, why we are doing it, and whom we are addressing.”

Creativity Is Thinking Deeper

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

What is creativity? A typical definition might be “the ability to create new things using your imagination.” Using the word “create” in the definition seems to remove some of the definition, however. Merely changing “create” to “produce” may be more satisfying.

Whichever definition you prefer, it’s clear that imagination is involved as is making something new on the face of the planet, at least new to the creator. Much more important than the what of creativity is the how. How do you become more creative?

Being in a creative job (making new online science lessons that are truly different), having a creative avocation (writing fiction and non-fiction), and having been in creative professions previously for a long time (first scientist and then software engineer), I have some thoughts. Many ideas about being creative have been explained by very many people before. There are endless suggestions ranging from meditation to travel.

To all of these, I’ll add one idea. It’s not a new one, but then none truly are. I happen to like this idea because it fits with my concepts of what a scientist, such as myself, must be able to do. It’s an important part of scientific thinking and of many professions that must see something where others do not.  Continue reading

Practical Reasoning – Challenges for Teaching and Assessment

By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

In a faculty brown bag lunch, Molly Sutphen, Associate Director of the UNC Center for Faculty Excellence and author of the seminal book Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation, delivered a talk on Practical Reasoning at the School of Government. The talk was a nice follow-up to the Teaching Palooza that our faculty organized last summer. Since the School’s focus is on teaching adult learners, enhancing practical reasoning skills is an important objective of my instructional design work.

Molly Sutphen, Associate Director of the UNC Center for Faculty Excellence

Molly Sutphen, Associate Director and Teaching and Learning Coordinator, UNC Center for Faculty Excellence

Characteristics of Effective Practical Reasoning

  • To be able to draw on knowledge from different areas, courses, or types of knowledge and use it
  • To develop a sense of salience about a situation
  • To realize the stakes of a situation
  • To put boundaries around a problem or question
  • To be able to envision different outcomes
  • To be able to construct a narrative forward and backward

Assessment and Practical Reasoning

With the pressure of constantly demonstrating impact, assessing the short term learning outcomes of practical reasoning is problematic. “Practitioners may learn, but we don’t know it – what you teach, someone will perhaps not use for another five months – or ten years,” said Dr. Sutphen. She recommends taking “a long view” instead.

Instructional Strategy: Unfolding Cases

Dr. Sutphen introduced unfolding cases as an instructional strategy to teach practical reasoning skills. Unfolding cases are underdetermined (no obvious plan or resolution), scaffolded (controlled amount of information), and orchestrated (prompting specific, relevant questioning). In a plenary exercise, she presented a list of questions to help teachers construct unfolding cases.

  • What is this a case of?
  • Where do you want to start and end?
  • How underdetermined do you want the case to be?
  • Who are the actors? At which point will they be revealed?
  • What is the arc of the narrative?
  • What information will you provide or conceal?
  • Will you give boundaries or expect them to be discovered?

Further Reading

Benner, P., Sutphen, M., Leonard, V., & Day, L. (2009). Educating nurses: A call for radical transformation (Vol. 15). John Wiley & Sons.

Colby, A., Ehrlich, T., Sullivan, W. M., & Dolle, J. R. (2011). Rethinking undergraduate business education: Liberal learning for the profession (Vol. 20). John Wiley & Sons.

Schwartz, B., & Sharpe, K. (2010). Practical wisdom: The right way to do the right thing. Penguin.

Gherardi, S. (2012). “Docta ignorantia”: Professional Knowing at the Core and at the Margins of a Practice. Journal of Education and Work, 25(1), 15-38.

Global Literacy XPRIZE Invites Comments

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

On Monday, September 22, the XPRIZE Foundation announced the Global Literacy XPRIZE in New York City. This newest XPRIZE may, in some ways, be more ambitious than the previously announced $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE. It seeks to bring literacy to more than 300 million children who cannot read, write, or do arithmetic.

The XPRIZE Foundation, in the last part of its proposed rules, says, “At XPRIZE, we don’t believe that we have all the answers, but we believe passionately in inspiring and incentivizing people to find solutions to our Grand Challenges… But we want to hear from you… You can email us your feedback at global.learning@xprize.org…” This article summarizes my comments and should stimulate readers to provide theirs. If you have comments for the XPRIZE Foundation, please leave a reply here, in the discussion at the end of this article, for all of our readers to see. Likewise, should you have remarks about my comments, I would love to hear from you. The following comments are my own opinions informed by my own experiences. A good argument may well persuade me to change them. In any event, I look forward to an excellent discussion.

xprize1

Quickly summarizing the competition: Teams will compete to develop software solutions to learning literacy that can be applied worldwide using Android tablets with nearby servers. Literacy includes reading, writing, and numeracy. The language to be learned will be English. The software will be open source. The software and content, ready for trial in the real world, must be completed within 18 months of selection of the finalists. The overall time frame from announcement to final award is 4-1/2 years. Read the official guidelines for all details.

I’ll begin by praising the XPRIZE Foundation for this bold effort to eliminate illiteracy across the entire globe. Education may well be our most serious problem today because a well educated world (really educated and not just schooled) will address all of our other problems such as clean water, climate change, terrorism, poor nutrition, preventable disease, ocean health, renewable resources, and so on. The Foundation is approaching problems that others ignore or give up on but that must be solved. Their competitions to date have energized entrepreneurs and those with entrepreneurial spirit to attack serious, nearly intractable problems. The technologies being developed are likely to have an impact far removed from the competition in which they are created.

I think that the “Proposed Guidelines, V.1” for this Global Literacy XPRIZE competition, have a number of controversial parts and am highlighting the ones that I believe should be altered. While the comments below are intended to be constructive, they are also definite, blunt, and tough. I feel that they should be if they are to get any attention. The controversial parts I see are: open source, teaching English, writing, and the Android platform. I wrap up with two comments: a contrarian view and literacy as fire.

1. OPEN SOURCE

The rules require that the five finalists, each of whom receives $1 million dollars and a chance at the $10 million grand prize, place their software source code in open source. This requirement is unusual in XPRIZE competitions. I think that it creates problems. Here is what the guidelines say:

An essential component of the Competition design is a commitment not only to open source software solutions, but also to an open source development process. In order to maximize the potential for the growth of this solution beyond XPRIZE, the Finalist Entries will be released under permissive licenses allowing both commercial and non-commercial use.

Software must be released on the Apache License, 2.0. Content and assets must be licensed under the Creative Commons CC BY (4.0) license. In essence, all work must be made available to anyone anywhere for free. Anyone can use the sources to build a copy and load it onto tablets without paying any fee at all.  Continue reading

Study Shows College Education Often Worthless

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

According to a New York Times article (“The Economic Price of Colleges’ Failures,” 2 Sep. 2014), our colleges and universities are doing a terrible job of educating our youth. The conclusions are academic dynamite.

The article, by Kevin Carey, depends on two books by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa: Academically Adrift (Jan. 2011) and Aspiring Adults Adrift (Sep. 2014). According to Carey, Arum and Roksa lean heavily on a test of critical thinking and other skills known as the “Collegiate Learning Assessment” (CLA). For this reason, conclusions depend on the value of this particular test instrument, which some have called into question.

Even if the CLA is flawed, it cannot be totally inaccurate, and the findings should indicate a general direction. According to the article, students who graduated from college “improved less than half of one standard deviation” in the test.

All of that time and all of that money resulted in little benefit to the students. Interestingly, the students themselves did not see it that way. They thought they received a good education. The problem, as the second book pointed out, is that the job market does not agree with their self-assessment. According to Carey, “Because they didn’t acquire vital critical thinking skills, they’re less likely to get a job and more likely to lose the jobs they get than students who received a good education.”

Reading between the lines, some colleges still provide a good education, but a great number do not. Note the emphasis on critical thinking skills that stand in strong contrast to the memory skills that so many courses support. The CLA claims to test critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and communications.  Continue reading

Unite or Die

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

For at least two centuries, education has been divided up into separate compartments. In most recent educational history, the so-called core compartments or “subjects” have been social studies, English (now known as English language arts or ELA), mathematics, and science. Along side these have been physical education and a number of other artistic or artisan activities such as music, drama, art, and woodworking.

A great number of educators have noticed that this separation has made less and less sense as time has passed. Similar issues exist within these disciplines. For example, my own area of science was divided up long ago into physics (the original natural philosophy encompassing motion, light, and other physical phenomena such as electricity and magnetism), chemistry (changes in matter), and biology (study of living things that was mostly limited to classification in its earliest days). Biology has changed enormously and now no longer depends on classification. Understanding chemistry requires plenty of physics and often heavy-duty mathematics. And so it goes.

If we are to educate our youth, we must break down the artificial barriers between the compartments formed so long ago. They make little sense these days.

For example, mathematics and science are kept separate in our schools, and their teachers are trained separately. Yet, mathematics, as taught in grades K-12, is mostly applied mathematics at its heart. It was created for commerce, engineering, and surveying. Calculus was created for science. These connections are lost in most mathematics courses. Once you’ve learned to count, that is, learned the names of the numbers, the rest follows logically as you begin to figure out the world around you. Were science and math merged into a double-period class, it could make much more sense to students — especially if engineering is included in science, and commerce is included in math.  Continue reading

Understanding the Brain, Flipped Teaching, Suicide Prevention, Common Core Shifts

inmynet

University of Chicago MOOCing in a big way… a free MOOC, Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life (Coursera), begins on April 28. According to Hannah Nyhart and Steve Koppes, “enrollment for [the] course has reached 27,000 and climbing” (“Neurobiology Online Course to Attempt World’s Largest Memory Experiment,” Medical Press, 4/23/14). Last fall, the university’s Asset Pricing MOOC enrolled 41,000 and Global Warming, 15,000.

Getting What You Pay For? A Look at America’s Top-Ranked Public Universities (ACTA, April 2014) is available for download. Here’s a quote from the 75-page document: “In a 2013 survey of over 300 employers, 93% of the executives responded that critical thinking, clear communication skills, and problem solving ability are more important to them than the undergraduate major. A majority called upon colleges to put more emphasis on writing, science, and mathematics, and over 40% called for greater emphasis on foreign language proficiency” (8). If you’ve been following studies such as this, you’re probably thinking, So what else is new. Seems the year is interchangeable, with the results remaining constant.

In an email conversation earlier this morning re this ACTA report, Harry Keller said, “At least in K-12 education, we should … merge these into a single curriculum that reaches into ELA, math, and science and that uses, as necessary, art, engineering, history, etc.” I agreed with Harry. The separation of subjects to fit schooling is unnatural. In the real world, they’re all part of a whole. Teachers have tried team teaching and interdisciplinary approaches to simulate an integrated approach, but these are always awkward and, IMHO, not sustainable. The integration has to be within the teacher. The implication for schools is flipped teaching — instead of teaching from the inside (classroom) out, they would be teaching from the outside (real world) in. This would also mean a whole new breed of teachers, with significant background in the arts and sciences as well as skill in bringing the different disciplines together in seamless learning activities in a way that’s similar to the project-learning approach.

Engaging College Students in Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention (Kognito and Active Minds)… “a free one-hour webinar to discuss best practices for engaging and training students in gatekeeper skills” and suicide prevention. Scheduled for Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM EDT. A second webinar is scheduled for Fri, May 2, 2014, 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM EDT. Hopefully they’ll include a segment on detecting the need for help among students enrolled in online courses.

The Most Challenging Instructional Shifts in the CCSS for English/Language Arts (Education Week)… a free webinar with an emphasis on changing the way students think as well as instruction and administration. “Four of the most challenging shifts” are: Emphasis on Academic Vocabulary, Complex Text, Close Reading, and Greater Emphasis on Informational Text. Scheduled for May 1, 2014, 2 to 3 p.m. ET. As an online teacher, I’ve learned that the ability to read, correctly interpret, remember, and apply textual information is the most important skill for students in online classes.

Flipping Without Flopping: A Three-Year Study. Real Results (Echo 360)… a free webinar. Two separate sessions, May 8 for US/Europe at 11am EDT and May 14 for ANZ/Asia at 11am AEST. Review the research.