Chapter 7_ Critical Thinking and Evaluating Information _ EDUC 1300_ Effective Learning Strategies.p

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Unformatted text preview: EDUC 1300: E ective Learning Strategies Unit 3: Learning About Learning Chapter 7: Critical Thinking and Evaluating Information Critical thinking is a desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and hatred for every kind of imposture. —Francis Bacon, philosopher LEARNING OBJECTIVES By the end of this section, you will be able to: De ne critical thinking Describe the role that logic plays in critical thinking Describe how both critical and creative thinking skills can be used to problem-solve Describe how critical thinking skills can be used to evaluate information Apply the CRAAP test to evaluate sources of information Identify strategies for developing yourself as a critical thinker Critical Thinking As a college student, you are tasked with engaging and expanding your thinking skills. One of the most important of these skills is critical thinking because it relates to nearly all tasks, situations, topics, careers, environments, challenges, and opportunities. It is a “domain-general” thinking skill, not one that is speci c to a particular subject area. What Is Critical Thinking? Critical thinking is clear, reasonable, re ective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do. It means asking probing questions like “How do we know?” or “Is this true in every case or just in this instance?” It involves being skeptical and challenging assumptions rather than simply memorizing facts or blindly accepting what you hear or read. Imagine, for example, that you’re reading a history textbook. You wonder who wrote it and why, because you detect certain biases in the writing. You nd that the author has a limited scope of research focused only on a particular group within a population. In this case, your critical thinking reveals that there are “other sides to the story.” Who are critical thinkers, and what characteristics do they have in common? Critical thinkers are usually curious and re ective people. They like to explore and probe new areas and seek knowledge, clari cation, and new solutions. They ask pertinent questions, evaluate statements and arguments, and they distinguish between facts and opinion. They are also willing to examine their own beliefs, possessing a manner of humility that allows them to admit lack of knowledge or understanding when needed. They are open to changing their mind. Perhaps most of all, they actively enjoy learning, and seeking new knowledge is a lifelong pursuit. This may well be you! No matter where you are on the road to being a critical thinker, you can always more fully develop and nely tune your skills. Doing so will help you develop more balanced arguments, express yourself clearly, read critically, and glean important information e ciently. Critical thinking skills will help you in any profession or any circumstance of life, from science to art to business to teaching. With critical thinking, you become a clearer thinker and problem solver. The word logic comes from the Ancient Greek logike, referring to the science or art of reasoning. Using logic, a person evaluates arguments and reasoning and strives to distinguish between good and bad reasoning, or between truth and falsehood. Using logic, you can evaluate the ideas and claims of others, make good decisions, and form sound beliefs about the world.[1] Questions of Logic in Critical Thinking Let’s use a simple example of applying logic to a critical-thinking situation. In this hypothetical scenario, a man has a PhD in political science, and he works as a professor at a local college. His wife works at the college, too. They have three young children in the local school system, and their family is well known in the community. The man is now running for political o ce. Are his credentials and experience su cient for entering public o ce? Will he be e ective in the political o ce? Some voters might believe that his personal life and current job, on the surface, suggest he will do well in the position, and they will vote for him. In truth, the characteristics described don’t guarantee that the man will do a good job. The information is somewhat irrelevant. What else might you want to know? How about whether the man had already held a political o ce and done a good job? In this case, we want to think critically about how much information is adequate in order to make a decision based on logic instead of assumptions. The following questions, presented in Figure 1, below, are ones you may apply to formulating a logical, reasoned perspective in the above scenario or any other situation: . What’s happening? Gather the basic information and begin to think of questions. . Why is it important? Ask yourself why it’s signi cant and whether or not you agree. . What don’t I see? Is there anything important missing? . How do I know? Ask yourself where the information came from and how it was constructed. . Who is saying it? What’s the position of the speaker and what is in uencing them? . What else? What if? What other ideas exist and are there other possibilities? Critical Thinking IS Critical Thinking is NOT Skepticism Memorizing Examining assumptions Group thinking Challenging reasoning Blind acceptance of authority Uncovering biases The following video, from Lawrence Bland, presents the major concepts and bene ts of critical thinking. Critical Thinking.wmv Critical Thinking and Logic Critical thinking is fundamentally a process of questioning information and data. You may question the information you read in a textbook, or you may question what a politician or a professor or a classmate says. You can also question a commonly-held belief or a new idea. With critical thinking, anything and everything is subject to question and examination for the purpose of logically constructing reasoned perspectives. What Is Logic? Figure 1 Problem-Solving with Critical Thinking For most people, a typical day is lled with critical thinking and problemsolving challenges. In fact, critical thinking and problem-solving go handin-hand. They both refer to using knowledge, facts, and data to solve problems e ectively. But with problem-solving, you are speci cally identifying, selecting, and defending your solution. Below are some examples of using critical thinking to problem-solve: Your roommate was upset and said some unkind words to you, which put a crimp in the relationship. You try to see through the angry behaviors to determine how you might best support the roommate and help bring the relationship back to a comfortable spot. Your campus club has been languishing due to lack of participation and funds. The new club president, though, is a marketing major and has identi ed some strategies to interest students in joining and supporting the club. Implementation is forthcoming. Your nal art class project challenges you to conceptualize form in new ways. On the last day of class when students present their projects, you describe the techniques you used to ful ll the assignment. You explain why and how you selected that approach. Your math teacher sees that the class is not quite grasping a concept. She uses clever questioning to dispel anxiety and guide you to new understanding of the concept. You have a job interview for a position that you feel you are only partially quali ed for, although you really want the job and you are excited about the prospects. You analyze how you will explain your skills and experiences in a way to show that you are a good match for the prospective employer. You are doing well in college, and most of your college and living expenses are covered. But there are some gaps between what you want and what you feel you can a ord. You analyze your income, savings, and budget to better calculate what you will need to stay in college and maintain your desired level of spending. Problem-Solving Action Checklist Problem-solving can be an e cient and rewarding process, especially if you are organized and mindful of critical steps and strategies. Remember to assume the attributes of a good critical thinker: if you are curious, re ective, knowledge-seeking, open to change, probing, organized, and ethical, your challenge or problem will be less of a hurdle, and you’ll be in a good position to nd intelligent solutions. The steps outlined in this checklist will help you adhere to these qualities in your approach to any problem: STRATEGIES ACTION CHECKLIST[2] Identify the problem 1 De ne the problem Provide as many supporting details as possible Provide examples Organize the information logically Use logic to identify your most important goals 2 Identify available solutions Identify implications and consequences Identify facts Compare and contrast possible solutions Use gathered facts and relevant evidence 3 Select your solution Support and defend solutions considered valid Defend your solution Critical and Creative Thinking Critical and creative thinking (described in more detail in Chapter 6: Theories of Learning) complement each other when it comes to problem-solving. The following words, by Dr. Andrew Robert Baker, are excerpted from his “Thinking Critically and Creatively” essay. Dr. Baker illuminates some of the many ways that college students will be exposed to critical and creative thinking and how it can enrich their learning experiences. THINKING CRITICALLY AND CREATIVELY Critical thinking skills are perhaps the most fundamental skills involved in making judgments and solving problems. You use them every day, and you can continue improving them. The ability to think critically about a matter—to analyze a question, situation, or problem down to its most basic parts—is what helps us evaluate the accuracy and truthfulness of statements, claims, and information we read and hear. It is the sharp knife that, when honed, separates fact from ction, honesty from lies, and the accurate from the misleading. We all use this skill to one degree or another almost every day. For example, we use critical thinking every day as we consider the latest consumer products and why one particular product is the best among its peers. Is it a quality product because a celebrity endorses it? Because a lot of other people may have used it? Because it is made by one company versus another? Or perhaps because it is made in one country or another? These are questions representative of critical thinking. The academic setting demands more of us in terms of critical thinking than everyday life. It demands that we evaluate information and analyze myriad issues. It is the environment where our critical thinking skills can be the di erence between success and failure. In this environment we must consider information in an analytical, critical manner. We must ask questions—What is the source of this information? Is this source an expert one and what makes it so? Are there multiple perspectives to consider on an issue? Do multiple sources agree or disagree on an issue? Does quality research substantiate information or opinion? Do I have any personal biases that may a ect my consideration of this information? It is only through purposeful, frequent, intentional questioning such as this that we can sharpen our critical thinking skills and improve as students, learners and researchers. While critical thinking analyzes information and roots out the true nature and facets of problems, it is creative thinking that drives progress forward when it comes to solving these problems. Exceptional creative thinkers are people that invent new solutions to existing problems that do not rely on past or current solutions. They are the ones who invent solution C when everyone else is still arguing between A and B. Creative thinking skills involve using strategies to clear the mind so that our thoughts and ideas can transcend the current limitations of a problem and allow us to see beyond barriers that prevent new solutions from being found. Brainstorming is the simplest example of intentional creative thinking that most people have tried at least once. With the quick generation of many ideas at once, we can block-out our brain’s natural tendency to limit our solution-generating abilities so we can access and combine many possible solutions/thoughts and invent new ones. It is sort of like sprinting through a race’s nish line only to nd there is new track on the other side and we can keep going, if we choose. As with critical thinking, higher education both demands creative thinking from us and is the perfect place to practice and develop the skill. Everything from word problems in a math class, to opinion or persuasive speeches and papers, call upon our creative thinking skills to generate new solutions and perspectives in response to our professor’s demands. Creative thinking skills ask questions such as— What if? Why not? What else is out there? Can I combine perspectives/solutions? What is something no one else has broughtup? What is being forgotten/ignored? What about ______? It is the opening of doors and options that follows problem-identi cation. Consider an assignment that required you to compare two di erent authors on the topic of education and select and defend one as better. Now add to this scenario that your professor clearly prefers one author over the other. While critical thinking can get you as far as identifying the similarities and di erences between these authors and evaluating their merits, it is creative thinking that you must use if you wish to challenge your professor’s opinion and invent new perspectives on the authors that have not previously been considered. So, what can we do to develop our critical and creative thinking skills? Although many students may dislike it, group work is an excellent way to develop our thinking skills. Many times I have heard from students their disdain for working in groups based on scheduling, varied levels of commitment to the group or project, and personality con icts too, of course. True—it’s not always easy, but that is why it is so e ective. When we work collaboratively on a project or problem we bring many brains to bear on a subject. These di erent brains will naturally develop varied ways of solving or explaining problems and examining information. To the observant individual we see that this places us in a constant state of back and forth critical/creative thinking modes. For example, in group work we are simultaneously analyzing information and generating solutions on our own, while challenging other’s analyses/ideas and responding to challenges to our own analyses/ideas. This is part of why students tend to avoid group work —it challenges us as thinkers and forces us to analyze others while defending ourselves, which is not something we are used to or comfortable with as most of our educational experiences involve solo work. Your professors know this—that’s why we assign it—to help you grow as students, learners, and thinkers! —Dr. Andrew Robert Baker, Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom Evaluating Information with Critical Thinking Evaluating information can be one of the most complex tasks you will be faced with in college. But if you utilize the following four strategies, you will be well on your way to success: . Read for understanding . Examine arguments . Clarify thinking . Cultivate “habits of mind” Read for Understanding When you read, take notes or mark the text to track your thinking about what you are reading. As you make connections and ask questions in response to what you read, you monitor your comprehension and enhance your long-term understanding of the material. You will want to mark important arguments and key facts. Indicate where you agree and disagree or have further questions. You don’t necessarily need to read every word, but make sure you understand the concepts or the intentions behind what is written. See the chapter on Active Reading Strategies for additional tips. Examine Arguments commitments, values, and standards. Do you approach problems with an open mind, a respect for truth, and an inquiring attitude? Some good habits to have when thinking critically are being receptive to having your opinions changed, having respect for others, being independent and not accepting something is true until you’ve had the time to examine the available evidence, being fair-minded, having respect for a reason, having an inquiring mind, not making assumptions, and always, especially, questioning your own conclusions—in other words, developing an intellectual work ethic. Try to work these qualities into your daily life. CRAAP Test In 2010, a textbook being used in fourth grade classrooms in Virginia became big news for all the wrong reasons. The book, Our Virginia by Joy Maso , had caught the attention of a parent who was helping her child do her homework, according to an article in The Washington Post. Carol Sheri was a historian for the College of William and Mary and as she worked with her daughter, she began to notice some glaring historical errors, not the least of which was a passage which described how thousands of African Americans fought for the South during the Civil War. Further investigation into the book revealed that, although the author had written textbooks on a variety of subjects, she was not a trained historian. The research she had done to write Our Virginia, and in particular the information she included about Black Confederate soldiers, was done through the Internet and included sources created by groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization which promotes views of history that de-emphasize the role of slavery in the Civil War. How did a book with errors like these come to be used as part of the curriculum and who was at fault? Was it Maso for using untrustworthy sources for her research? Was it the editors who allowed the book to be published with these errors intact? Was it the school board for approving the book without more closely reviewing its accuracy? There are a number of issues at play in the case of Our Virginia, but there’s no question that evaluating sources is an important part of the research process and doesn’t just apply to Internet sources. Using inaccurate, irrelevant, or poorly researched sources can a ect the quality of your own work. Being able to understand and apply the concepts that follow is crucial to becoming a more savvy user and creator of information. When you begin evaluating sources, what should you consider? The CRAAP test is a series of common evaluative elements you can use to evaluate the Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose of your sources. The CRAAP test was developed by librarians at California State University at Chico and it gives you a good, overall set of elements to look for when evaluating a resource. Let’s consider what each of these evaluative elements means. Currency One of the most important and interesting steps to take as you begin researching a subject is selecting the resources that will help you build your thesis and support your assertions. Certain topics require you to pay special attention to how current your resource is—because they are time sensitive, because they have evolved so much over the years, or because new research comes out on the topic so frequently. When evaluating the currency of an article, consider the following: When was the item written, and how frequently does the publication it is in come out? Is there evidence of newly added or updated information in the item? If the information is dated, is it still suitable for your topic? How frequently does information change about your topic? Relevance Understanding what resources are most applicable to your subject and why they are applicable can help you focus and re ne your thesis. Many topics are broad and searching for information on them produces a wide range of resources. Narrowing your topic and focusing on resources speci c to your need...
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