Thinking critically about critical thinking

After the first successful Critical Thinking Chat last Wednesday on Twitter (#CTchat) I  got pondering the nature of my ideas around thinking, and in particular critical thinking.  As we went through the hour long chat, I kept seeing that many folks had a different idea about what the definition of critical thinking than me. So in order to try and help organize my thoughts, I thought that I’d attempt to ouline some of my ideas here.

The Wikipedia article on critical thinking gives one definition as ‘reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do’. This is a good starting point, but it has one glaring issue that I see, and one that I think I kept seeing in the various definitions tossed out by people on Twitter.  What constitutes ‘reasonable’ for one person, might not be the same for me.  I think that’s what I was seeing the other night, and it occured to me that I have a different take on it.

I’m a fan of critical thinking as criterial thinking, and that in order to make judgements or decisions, that you have a set of criteria against which you judge evidence or situations.  The establishing of these criteria form the basis of your criticisms.  The Critical Thinking Consortium has decent workshops and training materials that might be helpful in your exploration of this.

Deeper than this, in my thinking, is my background in the skepticism movement. This is a way of thinking about the world that revolves around a questioning, or doubting of knowledge without an established body of evidence behind it. Even more so, I’ve realized that my own personal philosphy is deeply rooted in scientific skepticism. This is the stance that in order to make claims of truth, you need to have acceptable and tested empirical evidence.  I know that many people will argue that there are many things that are not subject to the test of empirical evidence, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I would argue that for everything we experience in our day to day lives, there is a reasonable expectation that we have some good quality evidence to back up any claim, stance or decision that we make.  I think that we live in an objective universe that is not subject to the whims of human desires. If we mis-interpret the evidence, it’s our mistakes, not the universe being subjective.

I don’t see the skills of critical thinking being only something we need to employ when we are watching advertising on television, but rather that we need to apply those skills to everything we encounter on a daily basis. This is not to say that we simply doubt everything, but rather, when a new idea is presented that is counter to the established body of knowledge, we require a quantity of good evidence, that is proportional to the claims being made.

As one of my heros Carl Sagan wrote in Cosmos, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Sagan’s books, especially Cosmon, Demon Haunted World, and Pale Blue Dot have shaped my thinking about critical thinking to an extraordinary degree.

I’m looking forward to other #ctchat evenings on Twitter to further delve into this topic.

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Echos of #ecoo11

It’s been a few days now since the end of #ecoo11. It was quite possibly the best conference experience I’ve had. The 3 days were filled with learning, laughing and conversations with some of the smartest and most dedicated educators I’ve ever met. I’m not sure that I can do justice to things that are in my head, but I thought I’d try to add a few highlights to those that have been made already.

Highlights List

  • Presenting sessions with the likes of @danikabarker and @ITnorma (who was generous enough to fill in as co-host for our recording of This Week in Science and Education podcast)
  • Attending sessions with folks like @shannoninottawa, @gcouros (via Skype), @pmcash and of course keynotes @willrich45 and @snbeach
  • Thanks to the organization skills of @aforgrave, jamming in the glassed-in fishbowl-like area on Friday night with @kevinhoneycutt and @waltguitar
  • Hearing the results of that jam later on #ds106radio
  • Sharing a Minds on Media station with @techguy1717 as we explored Photoshop and other tools to work with images
  • The general feeling of community and fun that pervaded the entire conference.

Of course, you can’t post a bit about ECOO11 without thanking all the organizers (and there were a lot!)  Particular thanks and hugs to @brendasherry and @peterskillen for their inspiration and perspiration for the year leading up to it.

As for those echos, there are projects beginning that saw their birth around tables and over coffees in the rooms and halls of ECOO11. I think that we’ve realized that only having a few days of these conversations is not enough, so things are cooking up that will enable them to continue and lead us right back into ECOO12.

Can’t wait to see what happens next. And I’m not talking about next year. Keep your eyes peeled for the newly minted Critical Thinking Chat on Twitter (#CTChat) courtesy @taniasterling and @digitalnative 

Oh, and there will be Edupunk.

#ecoo Guitar Jam

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End of a (Short) Era

The Daily Shoot ended last week. For those that don’t know, Daily Shoot was a photography club of sorts. They would post a daily challenge for photographers to attempt. We’d go out, find something that was related to the challenge, and take pictures.  I started it on January 1st, 2010 as a way to attempt to do a 365 project, whereby I’d do one particular thing every day for an entire year.  It was sometimes a hassle, and often the picture was a stretch of the assignment (to say the least), but I did it for the entire year.  It was so much fun that I continued on in 2011 and haven’t missed an assignment since I started. 

Here was my first shot from January 1, 2010.2010/365 Jan 1

After that, I went 649 days in a row taking a photograph and uploading it to the Dailyshoot site. Well, uploading it to Flickr, and then tweeting it to the Daily Shoot site.

Last week, the curators of the site announced that they could no longer manage to maintain the site, and were shutting it down. I was both a little sad, and happy.  Sad that I no longer had the daily kick in the pants to make a purposeful photograph, and happy that I was now free to take shots everyday that I wanted to take.  I will admit that in the course of the (almost) 2 years, I’ve learned a ton about taking pictures, connected with lots of great photographers (and people) via the Flickr community.  None of that would have happened unless I took the leap and started the 365 Daily Shoot project.

I’m now looking for other projects, and have already found several that I will join and continue to shot pictures each and every day.

Thanks Daily Shoot! We’ll miss you, but you did well.

Concerns Based Adoption

I’m working on a project where we are going to be gathering input from our teachers around the rollout of our 1:1 laptop program. I dug through some papers from my MEd program, as I had looked at the CBAM model in one of my classes. I found this paper that I wrote, and don’t think I posted it at the time, but thought I’d share it now.  It’s  discussion of a research article (PDF) on CBAM.

Teacher Concerns During Initial Implementation of a One-to-One Laptop Initiative at the Middle School Level.

This article discusses using the CBAM model to assess the concerns that teachers may have with respect to their participation in a program that provided both teachers and students with laptops in a one to one ratio.   I selected this article because it’s something that exactly mirrors a project we have in our school district right now, as we are rolling out a project that will result in all teachers getting laptops, and we are considering a CBAM approach to dealing with some of the upfront concerns that teachers will have.   In addition, this kind of approach could lead to different ideas around professional development.

The results show that teachers have widely varying concerns as was expected, and that most of those concerns were in the Self and Task levels of the model, which in my opinion was not surprising. They were mostly concerned with how the program would impact them personally in terms of the teaching, and how they would ‘manage’ the classroom with the change in technology as well as integrate it. I find this to be spot on with my personal observations about teachers and technology in the classroom. Whether its the concern over how to modify their existing planning to include tech, or personal concerns about not knowing enough about the technology they are implementing, it’s the kind of thing that slows or prevents many changes.

In terms of the use of the CBAM model in this case, it was useful to assess the various things that teachers where struggling with. But as this was an academic research article, I was left wondering if there were any actual actions taken by the administration or support staff to help support these teachers and alleviate some of their concerns. In the discussion, the author mentions implications of the research and that recommendations were made to the administration to support the teachers, but there was no mention of whether or not this happened.  They did mention that follow up studies should be undertaken to ascertain if there was a shift in the concerns that were originally identified.

The most fascinating aspect of the paper was in the conclusion where it was stated:

Prior research implies that the use of technology in some way encourages this shift toward more student-centered or constructivist classrooms. In other words, the technology causes the shift. An alternative explanation is that the introduction of a one-to-one computing initiative requires a shift toward student-centered practices.”

Isn’t that interesting? The introduction of an innovation like laptops may actual cause or require a shift in pedagogy to a more student-centered classroom.  Could that be the source of some of the resistance as well?


Donovan, L., Hartley K., and Strudler, N.  (2007). Teacher concerns during initial implementation of a one-to-one laptop initiative at the middle school level. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 39(3). 263-286

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