Results from the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) set off alarm bells in when it revealed that US high school students lacked critical thinking skills. The test, designed to measure the capacity for fifteen-year-old students to apply reading, mathematics, and science knowledge to real-world settings, found that American students ranked thirty-first in math, twenty-fourth in science, and twenty-first in reading, in a comparison with students from sixty-five other countries. These findings indicated not only that American students struggled to recall rote procedures and facts, but also that they had trouble analyzing, reasoning, and communicating effectively as they solved or interpreted problems.
5 ways digital learning can foster 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 digital learning can foster 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.
Blended Learning EdTech Education Reform Personalized Learning Teaching Strategies
Engage Students in Critical Thinking Activities With These Great Applications
The most important gift that educators can give to students is the ability to think critically. Critical thinking is the ability to take information, then instead of simply memorizing it…
- Analyzing it
- Drawing Conclusions
- Finding Practical Applications
- Integrating That Information With Other Information
- Forming Opinions Based on Information And Defending Those Opinions With Data
- Recognizing The Difference Between Good Information And Bad Information
- Summarizing And Synthesizing Information
- Strategizing And Collaborating
Students who are taught good critical thinking skills grow into life long learners, productive employees, and active and engaged citizens. They also tend to make better life decisions. The key to getting students to pick up these important skills is to keep them engaged in the learning process. Web based technology tools can be a great tool to help facilitate student engagement.
Take a look at these 10 tools and resources for using technology to teach critical thinking skills (we've also noted the skills they can help teach!).
1. Mind Meister
This is a mind mapping app that can be used both in the classroom and at home to help students develop higher level thinking skills by helping them to:
- See How Various Topics Relate to One Another
- Take Insightful Notes
- Engage and Collaborate With Other Students
- Break Complex Concepts Down Into Simpler Chunks
- Present Their Thoughts And Ideas to Others
In additon to these things, Mind Meister works for students with a variety of learning styles and can be used by children who face learning challenges.
Critical Thinking Areas Covered: Strategizing and Collaborating, Analyzing, and Drawing Conclusions
2. Neo K12 FlowChart Games
FlowChart Games are a simple but very enjoyable set of games that students can play to learn more about a variety of topics. These include, the phases of the moon, various biological life cycles, food chains, photosynthesis, the various organ systems of the human body, and much more. Students are presented with incomplete flowcharts representing whatever topic they are exploring. They are then required to drag and drop the missing elements of the flowchart to the right position. This helps students to learn about sequencing, cause and effect, and how multiple small elements make up a large process or phenomenon.
Critical Thinking Areas Covered:Summarizing and Synthesizing Information
3. Civilization V
This is the 5th edition of the extremely popular online strategy game. While many people might balk at the idea of using video games in education (or at least those that are associated with recreational game play), the truth is that that playing strategy games absolutely helps build critical thinking skills. Students playing Civilization V must take the human civilization from the time that man first walked the earth to future times. This includes solving social justice problems, discovering and using new technologies, and interacting with important historical figures.
Critical Thinking Areas Covered:Strategizing and Collaborating, Planning, Analyzing, and Drawing Conclusions
If students are not interested and engaged, they are lost. They may phone it in when it comes to doing homework and studying to pass tests, but they are not going to get the things that they need out of the learning process. One way to get them engaged is through the use of augmented reality. Augmented reality uses trigger images and smart device technology to create augmented learning experiences that might include 360 degree environments, videos, 3D modeling, videos, and animations. Imagine a biology student being given the ability to examine the human brain from every possible angle. How helpful would it be for a student who is struggling with a concept while doing homework to be able to aim their tablet at an image on a worksheet and watch a video of their teacher giving them advice on the assignment? AugThat provides educators with a series of AR enhanced lessons that can be used in the classroom to create a more engaging learning experience.
Critical Thinking Areas Covered:Summarizing and Synthesizing Information, Analyzing and Drawing Conclusions
One important part of developing critical thinking skills is learning to think with empathy and to consider the views, experiences, and perspectives of others before drawing conclusions. Spent is an online game that plays a bit like a text based, choose your own adventure game from the eighties or nineties. The hook is that students playing the game play the role of somebody who is unemployed and homeless who must find a new job and get their lives back on track. Students gain insights into the social justice issue of poverty while also learning problem solving skills as they make decisions throughout the game.
Critical Thinking Areas Covered:Planning, Summarizing and Synthesing Information, Finding Practical Applications, Learning the Difference Between Good Information and Bad Information
6. Whooo’s Reading
If educators do nothing else to encourage students to pick up the ability to think critically, getting children to develop a love of learning is absolutely key. Whooo’s reading is an online reading program that teachers can implement to encourage students to read. The program provides students with coins as rewards for meeting reading goals that can be used to customize their avatar. In addition to this, students also have access to a fun, interactive newsfeed. Unlike other programs where students simply log their reading time or pages, teachers can be sure that students are understanding concepts by having students answer questions about what they have been reading.
Critical Thinking Areas Covered:Analyzing and Drawing Conclusions, Forming Opinions and Learning to Defend Those Opinions, Learning to Recognize the Difference Between Good Information and Bad Information
7. Discovery Education’s Puzzlemaker
This is a free, online crossword puzzle maker that teachers and students can use to create word puzzles on a variety of subjects. Sometimes, when students are struggling to learn concepts, they can be helped by reversing things and finding ways to teach and challenge others. By coming up with hints and answers, students can gain new insights. In addition to this, teachers can also use the puzzlemaker to create crossword puzzles that challenge students to employ higher level thought processes to interpret clues and solve those puzzles. When students gain the confidence to challenge other students with their puzzles, they might just gain important leadership skills.
Critical Thinking Areas Covered:Summarizing and Synthesizing Information, Finding Practical Applications, Drawing Conclusions
Edmodo is a social networking sight that has been created to provide students and teachers with all of the appealing elements of social media such as sharing thoughts and ideas, engaging in conversations, and collaborating. All of the less appropriate elements have been removed. As a result, students and teachers can engage in conversations, share ideas, and work with one another on group projects. Edmodo even gives kids means to interact with their instructors and to seek advice on assignments and in classroom lessons.
Critical Thinking Areas Covered:Strategizing and Collaborating, Planning, Forming Opinions Based on Information and Defending Them With Data.
9. Google Docs
This isn’t an educational tool per se. However, Google Docs and other related tools provided by Google are excellent for for students when it comes to sharing information and collaborating with one another. Collaboration is a key element in learning critical thinking skills because students are able to receive input from their peers on their ideas and thoughts. The Google suite which also includes Google slides has built in tools that allow students to research topics without exiting the documents that they are working on.
Critical Thinking Areas Covered:Strategizing And Collaborating
Socrative is an interactive app that teachers can use to poll students, create quizzes on the fly, and even create formative assessments. Teachers simply create a quiz or question using Socrative’s teacher dashboard. Then, the students log in and select, or type in the correct answer. The teacher can then take the answers and use them to engage the students in further discussions about what they have learned and whether or not they are effectively applying critical thinking skills. The resulting discussion can result in a great exchange of ideas and further analysis.
Critical Thinking Areas Covered:Forming Opinions Based on Information and Defending Them with Data, Planning and Strategizing, Analyzing.
As long as educators are willing to keep an open mind and focus on what keeps kids interested and engaged, technology can be used to teach critical thinking skills. The ten apps listed above are great resources for teachers who want their students to reap the benefits of becoming curious individuals with the ability to think for themselves.