Thing 8. Critical Thinking
Truth in information and perception of information have been important ideas in all of the Things so far. These concepts are helpful to becoming digitally literate, but perhaps the most important tool in your bag of tricks is the ability to think critically about what you see, read, and hear. This Thing will focus on what we mean by critical thinking, how you can become better at being a critical thinker, and how it applies to our overarching theme of digital literacy.
Critical thinking is aimed at achieving the best possible outcomes in any situation by using analysis, assessment, and evaluation of information. This can (and should!) be applied to any acquisition of knowledge. If you are presented with information, instead of just accepting what you learned, you should:
Analyze the information.
· Where did it originate?
· Is that a responsible source of information?
Assess the information itself.
· What is it you are supposed to understand?
· Is the information presented neutrally or is there a bias to be considered?
Finally, once you have a critical grasp of the information itself, it is time to evaluate.
· How does this information impact you?
· Where does it fit with the other pieces of information you have already gleaned?
· Is this the best information you can find?
Examples of Critical Thinking
Critical thinking happens every day in ways big and small. At work, you may be expected to rewrite a policy or procedure. That requires understanding the current policy, the environment in which it exists, the situation it was designed to address, why it needs revision, and other steps.
At home, you may be faced with a home repair or improvement that entails spending a lot of money, which you want to do wisely. Replacing a furnace requires a lot of exploration before a decision is made: can the current one be repaired, at what cost, what size furnace do I need, how is efficiency measured, available brands, types of maintenance needed, installation costs, are the manufacturer’s claims true, and more.
There are many other examples:
· What school should my child attend?
· Which political candidate should I support?
· What neighborhood should I live in?
· Should I buy a car?
· Should I change jobs?
· Who should I hire for a specific job?
Basically, we use our critical thinking skills when we face a problem, look for & apply information and reasoning, consider the implications, and come up with a solution.
Problem | Thinking | Solution
We often hear critical thinking referred to ‘higher order thinking.’ This is based on Bloom’s taxonomy of learning that shows how the higher order skills are based on the foundational thinking skills of knowledge, comprehension and application. The higher order skills are at the top of the pyramid: analyze, evaluate, and create. https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Blooms-Taxonomy-is-a-classification-of-human-cognition-critical-to-the-process-of_fig1_312261689
While critical thinking is based on our foundation of knowledge, comprehension, and application, it is not the accumulation of facts and knowledge that you can learn once and then use forever. Critical thinking is how we think about particular things at a particular time. It is all about asking questions in order to analyze, evaluate, and create something new from our thinking.
No one thinks critically all the time. Our critical thinking is affected by many things, including our emotions. Impulsive decisions may be the result of happiness, excitement, anger, or other emotions. But, you can learn some techniques for improving critical thinking. The skills that we need in order to be able to think critically are varied and include observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision making—like any research project.
A critical thinker:
- Identifies key questions and problems and states them clearly and precisely.
- Gathers and assesses relevant information, interprets the information effectively, and comes to conclusions and solutions based on that information.
- Has an open mind—identifies different sources of information and different viewpoints in relation to a particular issue.
- Determines bias in sources of information. Evaluates a point of view to determine how strong or valid it is.
- Evaluates personal assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and revises based on the information and alternatives.
- Communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
- Implements the results of their thinking.
- Re-evaluates the results of the implementation and makes changes as needed.
Asking questions helps you practice critical thinking. Think of something that someone has recently told you. It can be a news story, a recommendation for a new book, just about anything can be a source. Then ask yourself the following questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How.
· Who said it?
o Someone you know? Someone in a position of authority or power? Who benefits? Does it harm anyone? Who else said it?
· What did they say?
o Facts or opinions? Did they provide all the facts? Is there more to it?
· Where did they say it?
o Public or in private? Did other people have a chance to respond and provide an alternative account?
· When did they say it?
o Was it before, during or after an important event? Is timing important?
· Why did they say it?
o Did they explain the reasoning behind their opinion? Were they trying to make someone look good or bad?
· How did they say it?
o Were they happy or sad, angry or indifferent? Did they write it or say it? Could you understand what was said?
Filter Bubbles v Critical Thinking
One of the biggest challenges to critical thinking today is the way we get information. Search engines and social media sites create algorithms to track your viewing habits and direct you to more things you already know, understand, and enjoy. This is what is known as the filter bubble. Eli Pariser, an internet activist, coined the term as a warning to be aware of what we see on the internet. You may have heard the term ‘echo chamber’ that describes a similar situation. https://www.newamerica.org/our-people/eli-pariser/
You are experiencing a filter bubble every time you scroll through your news feed on Facebook or search with Google or another search engine. Based on your previous searches or clicks, these sites determine which content you’re most likely to engage with and feed you more information like that, rather than the most accurate or complete source of information. This means that the information you retrieve is already within your preconceived knowledge base. In short, filter bubbles isolate you from new ideas, which is a barrier to critical thinking. If you mostly see what you’ve seen before, you begin to think that there is only one way to think about things—yours—and you may not go further in seeking new information and viewpoints.
You already know from your internet searching that results from search engines are personalized, depending on where you are or which computer you are using. Searching ‘pizza’ in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis will return very different results than searching ‘pizza’ in Rochester. That’s great if you want to order pizza, but filter bubbles carry that even further to personalize all of your results. Try searching a current event topic and asking a friend to search the same topic on their computer and compare results. How different are the results?
Most people do not understand that this is by design on the internet, nor would they even view it as a negative. However, in terms of critical thinking, this is a giant deficit. In order to think critically, you must be not only open to new ideas, but exposed to them regularly, allowing you to flex your critical thinking muscles. To achieve this, we must gather and evaluate information from as many different sources as possible.
Popping Your Filter Bubbles?
It is impossible to break free completely of the algorithms that are tracking you everywhere on the internet. Here are a few suggestions for reducing some of the tracking:
- Use ad-blocking browser extensions
Not only will this help reduce the ‘bubble’ effect, your reading experience will be more pleasant in general without ads popping up or following you up and down the page as you scroll. Those shoes or that camera you were looking at online won’t keep appearing on every web site you visit. Ad blockers help distinguish between editorial content that you want and commercial/advertising content that may be confusing or misleading. Tom’s Guide lists the Best Ad Blockers of 2021. https://www.tomsguide.com/round-up/best-adblockers-privacy-extensions
- Read news sites and blogs that provide a wide range of perspectives
Hard to do when the thought of watching MSNBC or Fox News makes you cringe or shout at the TV, depending on your viewpoint. Allsides is a site that ‘exposes people to information and ideas from all sides of the political spectrum so they can better understand the world — and each other.’ It also has this Media Bias Chart to help you choose new sources. https://www.allsides.com/media-bias/media-bias-chart
- Know the purpose of the information you are using
- This is part of critical thinking—the who, what, when, where, why, & how—of looking at what you use or believe as a result of your search. Was the info created to entertain? Inform? Deceive? You don’t want sites that offer inaccurate info to keep serving you more.
- Use Incognito or private browsing
Incognito or private mode keeps your browsing history private, but it won’t stop your ISP, school, or employer from seeing where you’ve been online. All browsers will almost certainly offer an incognito or private mode, one which ostensibly keeps your web browsing secret. Cookies and tracking data are deleted when your private session finishes but they can still be used while the session is active, linking your activities between various accounts and profiles.
- Use a Private Browser
- Incognito or private mode still allow tracking and cookies. Private browsers minimize the data
gathered about us by blocking the technologies used to track us. DuckDuckGo, Brave,
and Tor Browser are examples of private browsers. Note that some of the more familiar
browsers—Chrome, Safari, FireFox, et.al.—offer extensions or add-ons that can block
- Delete search history and delete or block browser cookies
- These actions will go a ways to keep your internet browsing history less prominent. Cookies are
used to customize websites and maintain online account security Today most are used to help
companies serve targeted ads. Note that clearing cookies can delete saved usernames and
passwords, so be sure you have a record of both so you can login.
- Stay logged out of your accounts unless necessary
- Logging out of social media accounts will make it less possible to track you. When logged in, social media trackers can tie your browsing activity directly to your social media profile. You will need to login to some subscriptions to read the articles, including most news sites, but logout when you are finished.
- Don’t use your social media accounts to login to different websites, web apps, or web services
- It is convenient to use your Google, Twitter, Facebook, or other credentials to login to services like Spotify, but this gives trackers another way to follow your activity online. The service you used to login is tracking you and collecting whatever information it can about how you use this linked account. Use separate logins for different services (with different passwords!).
- Actively follow people on social media who share more balanced viewpoints
- This makes sense—don’t be in an echo chamber of similar views. Expand your circle for expanded opinions.
If you don’t know how to delete cookies or clear history or add extensions to your browser, a quick search will turn up instructions for all of these.
Knowing some techniques to improve your critical thinking skills is the first step to applying them. These videos help do that. Additionally, there are some tips to help burst your filter bubble.
Critical Thinking Fundamentals: Introduction to Critical Thinking Skills (9:49) | Northern Illinois University
What Is Critical Thinking? (2:30) | Macat
Critical Thinking Skills (6:05) | University of Sydney Technology
5 Simple Strategies for Sharpening Your Critical Thinking (4:29) | BBC Ideas
Beware Online “Filter Bubbles” (9:05)| Eli Pariser
How Filter Bubbles Isolate You (2:37) | GCFLearnFree.org
How can you burst your filter bubble? (1:51) | BBC Trending
More on improving those critical thinking skills.
How to think effectively: Six stages of critical thinking | Big Think
How to Be a Better Critical Thinker: An interview with Kevin Delaplante | Life Lessons
Failure to Improve Critical Thinking | Inside Higher Ed
Critical Thinking Questions That Will Blow Your Mind | Mindvalley
Want to find out what kind of thinker you are? Take this quiz by Adam Grant, the author of the book “Think Again,” about training yourself to become a better critical thinker.
Watch this brief video from TedEd, then take the following short quiz.
5 Tips for Improving Critical Thinking | TEDEd lesson plan (4:30)
Filter Bubble Trouble | Common Sense Media (Requires free account or sign in with Google)
How can you practice critical thinking? With your students or your children?
What are some ways you can broaden your worldview to attract more opposing ideas and views?
Have you tried any of the tracker blocking technologies? Which ones? Tell us how they worked in the Comments.
How Reading Affects Creativity and Critical Thinking. Hana Saleh (18:45)| TEDx
Encourage Critical Thinking With 3 Questions. Brian Oshiro (17:12) | Tedx Talk
Critical Thinking: The Next Step in Human Evolution. Vergard Moller (9:58) | TEDx Talk
Teaching Kids to Ask Questions That Matter | Middle Web
Argument Ninja Dojo – Video Courses (some are free) | Kevin Delaplante
Argument Ninja Podcast | Kevin Delaplante
How to Solve the Biggest Problems with Critical Thinking Exercises | Mindvalley