Critical Thinking Ethic

Tue, Jul 14, 2015

Distance Learning, Uncategorized

By Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth, Program Director, Government Contracts and Acquisition at American Public University


How do we teach critical thinking as part of our cognitive presence in a classroom?

Critical thinking is problem solving. That sounds easy but today’s technology-based society seems to be creating barriers to developing this skill.

I think critical thinking is directly linked to critical reading. Today’s working generation and the generation coming of age is dependent on getting information via technology — the Internet, texting, emailing, iPods and iPads, smart phones, etc.

Critical thinking involves pulling information from different sources and creating something new from that information. It is like throwing flour, sugar, milk, and chocolate into a recipe and the product is a chocolate cake. Are we providing students with a recipe for critical thinking?

As teachers in an online world of education do you experience your student’s concentration lacking at times? Carr says, that people’s “concentration starts to drift after a page or two” (p. 5) of reading. And, “that reading lots of short, linked snippets online is a more efficient way to expand (you) mind than reading a 250-page book” (p. 8). So, are we forcing our students to read a textbook for each class or shorter lessons outlines and short articles?

Critical thinking is part of the “intellectual technology” (p. 44) of our society. We draw this conclusion based on how Carr defines intellectual technology as those that “include all the tools we use to extend or support our mental powers—to find and classify information, to formulate and articulate ideas, to share know-how and knowledge, to take measurements and perform calculations, to expand the capacity of our memory” (p. 44).

He lists different types of intellectual technologies as the typewriter, the abacus, the slide rule, the sextant, the globe, a book and newspaper, a school, a library, a computer, the farmer’s plow, the microscope, and the Internet (pp. 44-45). You can think of a list of these intellectual technologies if you use Carr’s description that intellectual technologies “are our most intimate tools, the ones we use for self-expression” (p. 45).

As teachers and designers of curriculums, we teach students to read and write or we advise them to read and we hope that they can write. In this environment, that is some element that is part of critical thinking. Carr says, “That the tools we use to write, read and otherwise manipulate information work on our minds even as our minds work with them” (p. 45).

Carr focuses on these intellectual technologies as being part of “an intellectual ethic, a set of assumptions about how the human mind works or should work” (p. 45). Carr lays out a framework of thinking about this intellectual ethic in that it “places a new stress on measurement and abstraction, on perceiving and defining forms and processes beyond those apparent to the senses” (p. 45). He indicates that the map and the clock “shared a similar ethic” (p. 45).

So, to carry this ethic discussion into the realm of critical thinking, does the concept and practice of teaching critical thinking skills also embrace a critical thinking ethic? The evidence of description of critical thinking seems to point toward an ethic.

So, what is the critical thinking ethic as part of the cognitive presence in the online classroom from the viewpoint of the professor or designer of curriculum?

Within the parameters of the ethic of critical thinking, the message we impart to the student about how to approach critical thinking and how we measure their ability to perform a critical thinking task, becomes a tool for that student to use.

Questions to ask your students as part of an end of class survey:
How has your book reading habit changed in the last ten years?
How many books have you read in the last ten years?
Do you find your concentration drifts after reading a page or two online?
Do you find your concentration drifts after reading a page or two from a paper bound book?
When reading or using the web, do you find it a struggle to stay focused?
Has the way you think changed in the last ten years?

It is time to examine what critical thinking is in modern society and how to teach it to students.

Carr, N. (2011). The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.


About the Author: Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is the program director for Government Contracts and Acquisition at American Public University (APU). He is the former program director of Reverse Logistics Management and Transportation and Logistics Management. Prior to joining APU, Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. His book, RFID Metrics, was published in 2007 by CRC Press and is in revision.

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