Using technology to teach critical thinking skills
by Lindsay Marczak
This blog post is a re-post from the Edgenuity blog. We are grateful to have permission to share their work.
Results from the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) set off alarm bells when they revealed that US high school students lacked critical thinking skills. The test, designed to measure the capacity for 15-year-old students to apply reading, mathematics, and science knowledge to real-world settings, found that American students ranked 31st in math, 24th in science, and 21st in reading, in a comparison with students from 65 other countries. These findings indicated that American students not only struggle to recall rote procedures and facts, but they also had trouble analyzing, reasoning, and communicating effectively as they solved or interpreted problems.
5 Ways Technology Can Help You Teach Critical Thinking Skills
There is little question that critical thinking—the ability to connect new knowledge to previous knowledge, construct and evaluate arguments, and solve problems systematically—is vital for college, career, and beyond. However, ensuring that all students have access to personalized learning environments that build these skills may be nearly impossible without technology. Fortunately, research has uncovered five ways technology can be used to teach critical thinking skills.
1. Interactive activities can stimulate student interest and improve academic achievement.
Education researchers agree that engaging students in interactive, multisensory activities that promote elaboration, questioning, and explanation can simultaneously improve student engagement and academic performance.[i] Games and simulations can be particularly powerful tools to help students activate prior knowledge, apply knowledge in new settings, test hypotheses, search for patterns, use evidence and logic to make arguments, solve problems, and learn from their actions.[ii] This kind of active engagement enables students to take ownership of their learning and improves retention of information.[iii]
2. Multiple representations and models clarify complex concepts and procedures.
Research confirms that students are better able to grasp complex concepts when key information and tasks are explained using a wide array of modalities (verbal, visual, graphical, and symbolic) and instructional formats (video lectures, graphic displays, audio files, and simulations).[iv] Digital learning environments foster critical thinking and increase the accessibility of content by offering learners more options for applying knowledge and skills.[v]
3. Technology-rich environments foster self-regulated learning.
Experts agree that self-regulated learning—the capacity to monitor, evaluate, and control thinking while completing new tasks—helps support critical thinking and transfer of knowledge.[vi] By providing extensive modeling, coaching, scaffolding, and problem solving, technology offers learners richer opportunities to build metacognitive skills.[vii] Effective digital learning environments not only model the thought processes that underlie specific strategies, but also emphasize the conditions for applying a body of factual or procedural knowledge.
4. Scaffolded practice helps students solidify skills.
Cognitive research suggests that extensive student practice is a vital component of learning. Online and blended learning environments provide more opportunities for students to experiment and practice skills and concepts. These experiences help foster critical thinking by transferring knowledge from short-term to long-term memory—an essential process that helps learners remember and apply information to new settings.[viii]
5. Multimedia learning environments enable students to apply knowledge in real-world contexts.
Studies confirm that providing real-world applications of problems that stress student understanding and application of subject matters can increase student achievement.[ix] Experts posit that presenting problems in real-world contexts can make digital learning more meaningful and accessible to students by helping them see the importance of what they are learning. In addition, by allowing students to connect theoretical ideas to everyday experiences, critical thinking is strengthened.
[i] National Research Council (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills, James Pellegrino and Margaret L. Hilton, eds. Board on Testing and Assessment and Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.
[ii] Oblinger, D. (2004). The Next Generation of Educational Engagement. Journal of Interactive Media in Education 8, 1–18.
[iii] Rosenshine, B. (1995). Advances in research on instruction. Journal of Educational Research, 88(5), 262–268.
[iv] Center for Applied Special Technology (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guideline, version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author.
[v] Rose, D. H., and A. Meyer (2002). Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age. Alexandria, VA: Association for Curriculum Development.
[vi] National Research Council (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school, expanded ed. Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning and Committee on Learning and Educational Practice. J. D. Bransford, A. Brown, and R.R. Cocking, eds. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
[vii] Lajoie, S. P. (2008). Metacognition, self-regulation and self-regulated learning: A rose by any other Name. Educational Psychology Review 20, 469–475.
[viii] National Research Council (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills, James Pellegrino and Margaret L. Hilton, eds. Board on Testing and Assessment and Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, D.C. : The National Academies Press.
[ix] National Research Council (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school, expanded ed. Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning and Committee on Learning and Educational Practice. J. D. Bransford, A. Brown, and R.R. Cocking, eds. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
About the Author
Lindsay Marczak leads Edgenuity’s efficacy efforts, managing the design, implementation, and publication of research studies that quantify the impact of Edgenuity’s courses on student achievement. In addition, she develops policy briefs, white papers, and data tools for schools implementing the program. Prior to joining Edgenuity, Lindsay worked at Scholastic, the KIPP Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the National Alliance of Business, conducting research and pinpointing effective educational practices for school leaders and teachers.