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Critical Thinking with Digital Media is EASy

Since the beginning of formal education, instructors the world over have struggled with how to get their students to dig deeper, reach farther, and push themselves beyond mere adequacy. Teachers, too, are pushed to challenge ourselves to be more than just average, to do more than just accept the status quo. We instructors are to become active, daily, practitioners of critical thought. We must regularly model for our students what it is to reflectively examine, critically assess, and effectively improve the way we live (Criticalthinking.org, 2008). Benjamin Bloom, by designing his model of Cognitive Learning (Bloom, 1956) helped 20th century instructors make better intentional choices in directing their learners toward this higher level thinking. But the world has changed quite dramatically since the mid 1950s, and its high time we teachers take a fresh look at the way we approach critical thinking with our students. In the 21st century, using digital media is the key to making critical thinking EASy in the on or offline classroom no matter the grade level.

Background of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Thinking

In order to better understand the EASy Taxonomy, it is helpful to do a quick refresher on Bloom’s Taxonomy in case you don’t have your Intro to Educational Learning Theories textbook handy. Here’s how my co-author Dr. Lehmann and I explained it in our book Making the Move the eLearning: Putting your Course Online (2009):

Teachers are often taught to incorporate critical thinking in the design of lessons, tests, and discussion questions by applying Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom, 1956). According to the taxonomy, learning activities start with low-level thinking at the base of Bloom’s Pyramid of Cognitive Learning and work their way toward the highest point to help demonstrate students thinking at the highest cognitive levels.

In developing the EASy Taxonomy, there is an acknowledgement that the upper level of Bloom’s pyramid, especially evaluation, has come to represent testing. This is as much a by-product of our assessment-driven mandates like No Child Left Behind as it is the misuse of Bloom’s, which was never meant to be used in such a linear fashion as it is employed most often these days. Even Dr. Lorin Anderson, a former student of Bloom’s and now a distinguished professor of education at the University of South Carolina saw the need for a change in the way Bloom’s Taxonomy had been utilized. In partnership with Dr. David Krathwhol, a Bloom’s researcher, Anderson set about revising the taxonomy to better meet today’s educational environment. Interestingly enough, Anderson and Krathwhol (2001) also shifted synthesis, now renamed “creating,” to the top of the pyramid” (p.72-73).

According to Benjamin Bloom (1956), the lowest level of learning in the cognitive domain is referred to as knowledge (i.e., label, list). Moving up the pyramid, the next level of thinking is comprehension (i.e., restate, paraphrase); followed by application (i.e., apply, solve); analysis (i.e., classify, infer); then synthesis (i.e., construct, design); and finally evaluation (i.e., critique, persuade, often interpreted as test or assessment these days), which Bloom suggests is the highest order of critical thinking behaviors.

Bloom’s Taxonomy as an OER

One of the great aspects of Open Education Resources is the idea that the resources are meant to be reused, remixed, and repurposed. In our course (and our book), Dr. Lehmann and I do just that with Bloom’s Taxonomy. We treat it like an OER. We remix and repurpose the three higher order thinking skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

Bloom’s Becomes EASy with Digital Media

When digital media is introduced in the classroom (and by digital media I mean all things digital that can be shared in some way), the top level of Bloom’s pyramid, Evaluation( in the sense of a test), somehow seems to be a very low bar for students to achieve. When students have the ability to interact with others halfway around the world on a global-scale project, asking them to recall the three main exports of Chile on an end-of-unit exam is not making the best use of educational resources or the students’ cognitive ones. (No offense intended to Chilean exporters, I am sure they are very nice people).

With the EASy Taxonomy, the term evaluation is remixed to become the verb evaluate and is repurposed to ask students to use the descriptors investigate and explore as in “evaluate what data is available for a particular topic”. For students to evaluate the EASy way, they need to learn search skills, be open to exploring topics in non-linear paths (outside-of-the-box thinking), and they will be more efficient if they know (or discover) how to use the digital tools of tagging, and RSS feeds. With this knowledge students can bring the information to the themselves, rather than chasing after it (Dr. Michael Wesch’s video http://bit.ly/9d4Je explains this best ).

As with all taxonomies, it helps to understand EASy better if you have a graphic aid to tie the concept together. The starting place for EASy is the basic knowledge base the student begins with from the lesson’s introduction and background activities. This may be any scaffolded activities from readings to direct instruction by the classroom teacher.

 

The student then evaluates what data is available (both digital and non-digital) and adds the results to his/her knowledge base.

EASy Evaluate

Analyze

The next step in the EASy Taxonomy is to take Bloom’s Analysis stage and remix it into the verb analyze. To analyze in EASy means for the student to choose and apply a set of decision filters in order to make informed choices from among the gathered data. This stage may vary a bit depending on the sociocultural experiences of each student. Teachers can challenge students as to how they are determining the validity of their sources, how they are defining experts from average Joes (especially in emerging fields), and how they discern quality from among all the noise on the Internet. Certainly, state and district guidelines could dictate this information for the students, but if we want critical thinkers, we have to give them opportunities to wrestle with ideas like these and define the answers for themselves. Besides, more often than not, due to the ever-evolving nature of technology, the validity of a resource is completely dependent upon how it is utilized at that moment (Lankshear & Knobel, 2005).

In the graphic, the analyze stage is represented by showing only some of the incoming data being selected.

 

EASy Analyze

Synthesize

The final step in the EASy Taxonomy is to have students add their voice to the collective digital learning consciousness. They do this through collaborating. Students can collaborate statically, which means Johnny interacts only with fixed-state information he has chosen when he analyzed the data. Then Johnny synthesizes that data together with his own ideas to make a new product.

Or, students can collaborate dynamically, which means Eva uses social networking tools to collaborate with other students, who along with all their analyzed data, create a new product. It is dynamic synthesizing because the continued influence of many collaborative voices makes this process fluid and subject to many changes before the final product emerges.

Either way, the final new product must add a new voice to the collective conversation surrounding the topic in some incremental way, not just mimic the old voices that have come before. This is not just regurgitation of old ideas; it is the creation of new ones. The idea here is to get students to realize that by standing on the shoulders of other learned individuals who came before them, the students can go even further.

To represent this part of the process, the filtered data advances in a different direction as a new product. It then, in turn, becomes the new knowledge base for the next learner who searches for the topic.

EASy Synthesize

Summary

Bloom’s Taxonomy made it too easy for teachers to lean on the crutch of standardized or prepackaged assessments and think they are encouraging critical thinking.� Occasionally, we teachers have even assigned other types of assessments, like essays, under the guise we are utilizing Bloom’s highest level of cognition. But we aren’t really looking for new products when we do this; we are looking for students to repackage someone else’s ideas in the students’ own words (i.e. Show me you understood what Harper Lee meant when she wrote, “She seemed glad to see me when I appeared in the kitchen, and by watching her I began to think there was some skill involved in being a girl” (TKAM� Chapter 12).

In my years as an American Lit teacher, I was certainly guilty of this kind of assignment. I was comfortable that my students would prove to me through this essay whether they understood the chapter or not.� But I’ll be honest, I knew deep down this wasn’t a demonstration of true learning in the best sense of the word. At least not in the way I’ve come to believe learning should be defined now.Not in the educhaos, ZPD, transformative, rock-their-foundations-to-the-core kind of way. It was just a fancy re-gifting of someone else’s ideas. Like Chris Dede (2006) says, my students were “putting old wine in new bottles” (p. 1).

Not anymore.

EASy isn’t quick.EASy isn’t a shortcut for teaching or learning.� But with EASy-based lessons, students are engaged, motivated, and in the zone.

 

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Is your teaching EASy?

If you use social networking and digital media in the EASy way described in this post, leave me a comment or tweet me. I’d like to link to your class projects and show case them on my site!

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Posted by on December 12, 2009 in Teaching Online

 

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