Critical thinking in an arena of abundant information

Here is the start of a list of themes for critical thinking in an arena of abundant information, namely, the internet:

  • Critical thinking depends on inquiry being informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise. You understand things better when you have placed established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives (Taylor 2001).
  • If you come across an unconventional idea, google the idea along with the terms “criticism,” “debunked,” or “refuted.”
  • If you find research that sounds interesting mentioned in a news article or opinion piece, look up the original and then look into responses to it (e.g., via citations in google scholar).
  • Remind yourself of the thrust of the topic before searching on the internet lest you locate and get distracted by abundant information that does not speak to that thrust.  For example, in relation to a class on the way Darwin used multiple layers of argument to convince his audience of his theory of natural selection, do not search for “Darwin natural selection”—You’ll find hours of interesting reading most of which will not be relevant to his use of multiple layers of argument.
  • to be continued (suggestions welcome)


Taylor, P. J. (2001) “We know more than we are, at first, prepared to acknowledge: Journeying to develop critical thinking,” (viewed 28 Nov. 2014).  Published as ____ (2008). “Developing Critical Thinking is Like a Journey.” In Ollington, G. F., Teachers and Teaching Strategies, Problems and Innovations. Hauppauge, NY, Nova Science Publishers.


If an Instructional Design graduate program produces graduates who work as instructional designers, what does a program in Critical and Creative Thinking produce? A possible answer depends on first noting that the Program is really about changing practice so might be better called Critical, Creative, and Reflective Practice. The answer then could be “SloMoCoCo,” standing for SLOw MOde COach or CO-COach. The graduate has the ability to coach others in the following as well as walking the talk, that is, having established a studio to support their own work:

[I]n order to make best use of the one’s skills, experience, and aspirations, it is valuable to give oneself ample time for connecting, probing, reflecting, and creating (CPRC). In this spirit, students [in the Program are introduced] to many and varied CPRC tools and processes, principles and themes, which… students build into their own toolboxes and “studios” for lifelong learning and mindful practice (from previous post).

The next question might be: What does the process of being introduced to “tools and processes, principles and themes” and “build[ing them] into their own toolboxes and ‘studios'” look like? Can it be laid out as directly as one might lay out the skills needed for instructional design and teaching others instructional design? Graduates of the CCT Program — and anyone else interested — are welcome to provide their roadmaps for moving from applying to the Program to completing a capstone “synthesis of theory and practice.” One addition to what has happened so far in the Program is the new idea of:

a “virtual studio”… with every member taking responsibility for supporting each person’s studio-building initiatives, including those of the faculty member and alum that will join with the 4-6 students in each studio. Each studio creates the guidelines they use about how often to meet…, what processes to use during the meetings, how to bring in newcomers, how to take stock and revise the studio’s processes, and how to share… what they are learning about ways to build and run supportive studio spaces (from previous post).

Move mode: Some exemplars

In the neo-liberal economy, people “make their work and lives in a context in which they increasingly have to be entrepeneurial, take charge of making and taking opportunities, and generate products–including themselves as employable products” (previous post). The following links illustrate or discuss this “move” mode. Indeed, it was from the first video that I took the label. Please use comments to suggest additions to the compilation.

A social design campaign, MOVE touches on the stories of immigrants living in New York performing and undertaking creative projects in all shapes and forms: video made by a design student during a 2-3 week visit to New York City. (For dysphoria, read diaspora)

The girl effect: The simple case for investing in girls:

Real Food Media contest: and entries:

Walkedine, V. (2005) “Freedom, subjectivity, and the neoliberal worker,” Soundings, 25. 47-61. (Walkerdine05extract)

Slow and Move mode in a graduate program for personal and professional development II

[T]he distinction between fast and slow technology is… a metaphorical distinction that has to do with time presence. When we use a thing as an efficient tool, time disappears, i.e., we get things done. Accepting an invitation for reflection inherent in the design means on the other hand that time will appear, i.e. we open up for time presence… Hallnäs and Redström (2001) Slow Technology – Designing for Reflection. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 5, 201-212.

Read more of this post

Indirect paths to critical thinking

This topic: “Explore possibilities of using critical thinking to develop empathy in trying to understand alternate perspectives and behaviors in areas of culture (politics, education, social movements) where polarization exists and tends to push ideas and people to extreme opposing sides” led me to begin to:

1. Catalog indirect paths to critical thinking; and
2. Raise questions about promotion of these paths and their relevance to empathy in polarized culture.

1. Indirect paths to critical thinking

Instead of directly naming what you, perhaps correctly, see as lack of sound assumptions, evidence, and reasoning, work with people in ways that lead them to (re)gain access to their full intelligence.  The paths to critical thinking are not only indirect, but may also be windy and protracted.  (See links for details and references.)

• Re-evaluation of past hurts through supportive listening with a forward-looking orientation, extending
• Restorative justice processes,
• Cycles & epicycles of action research,
• Slow mode refractive practice,
• Building a studio or supportive space,
• Critical thinking as a journey,, including

The central challenge… is that of helping people make knowledge and practice from insights and experience that they are not prepared, at first, to acknowledge. Some related challenges for the teacher/facilitator are to:
a. Help students to generate questions about issues they were not aware they faced.
b. Acknowledge and mobilize the diversity inherent in any group, including the diversity of mental, emotional, situational, and relational factors that people identify as making re-seeing possible.
c. Help students clear mental space so that thoughts about an issue in question can emerge that had been below the surface of their attention
d. Teach students to listen well. (Listening well seemed to help students tease out alternative views. Without alternatives in mind scrutiny of one’s own evidence, assumptions and logic, or of those of others is difficult to motivate or carry out; see also point i, below. Being listened to, in turn, seems to help students access their intelligence—to bring to the surface, reevaluate, and articulate things they already know in some sense.)
e. Support students on their journeys into unfamiliar or unknown areas. (Support is needed because these journeys involve risk, open up questions, create more experiences than can be integrated at first sight, and yield personal change.)
f. Encourage students to initiative in and through relationships, which can be thought of in terms of themes that are in some tension with each other: “negotiate power/standards,” “horizontal community,” “develop autonomy,” “acknowledge affect,” “be here now,” and “explore difference.”
g. Address fear felt by students and by oneself as their teacher.
h. Have confidence and patience that students will become more invested in the process and the outcomes when insights emerge from themselves.
i. Raise alternatives. (Critical thinking depends on inquiry being informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise. People understand things better when they have placed established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives.)
j. Introduce and motivate opening up heuristics [themes], that is, propositions that are simple to convey, but always point to the greater complexity of particular cases and to further work needed to study those cases.
k. Be patient and persistent about students taking up the alternatives, opening up heuristics, and other tools and applying them to open up questions in other areas. (Experiment and experience are needed for students to build up a set of tools that work for them.)
l. Take seriously the creativity and capacity-building that seems to follow from well-facilitated participation, while still allowing space for researchers to insert the “translocal,” that is, their analysis of changes that arise beyond the local region or at a larger scale than the local.

• Others? — please suggest

2. Questions

• Examine how any of these paths can get co-opted to delay change and perpetuate privilege
• Examine, in turn, how co-optations can get turned around
• Identify fertile or strategic locations for change
• Examine whether focusing on these allows other locations to get more entrenched

Slow and Move mode in a graduate program for personal and professional development

An attempt to clarify what I think we do in the graduate program in Critical & Creative Thinking at UMass Boston.  I think we can claim to prepare students for the roles just above the edge of the red oval, but not for the two MOVE roles across the top. Moreover, I don’t think the Program can or should compete with organizations and people who focus on the MOVE mode in government, corporations, consulting, and education.


Read more of this post

Caveat lector (written as I orient myself to the audience for the next book I want to write)

The conceptual themes advanced in this book emerged from puzzling over the positions and propositions of others that did not, for me, fit together. I hope readers appreciate the coherence of the picture I paint, but, even more, that they become engaged in fresh directions of puzzle posing and probing. After all, to move beyond the gaps I identify in the study of variation and heredity requires a wide range of inquiries from people in many different areas… Nature-Nurture? No, 2014

…the book as a whole becomes an opening-up theme. The book does not provide a theory to explain unruly complexity in any specific field or situation, but opens up issues about addressing complexity in ways that point to further work that needs to be undertaken to deal with particular cases.  Unruly Complexity, 2005

A few years ago an experienced facilitator admonished me not to think too much about how to support the translation into everyday work and life of tools and processes [for collaboration and reflective practice] introduced in a workshop setting.  The advice was to the effect that tools and processes are taken up only if they are introduced in actual work settings. 2013

The conceptual themes advanced in this book emerged from puzzling over positions and propositions until they fitted together for me. I hope readers appreciate the coherence of the picture I paint, but, even more, that they become engaged in fresh directions of puzzle posing and probing.  However, I am well aware of the limitations of building from the conceptual side and writing not to a specific audience.  My themes may well open up or point to the complexity to be addressed by others in particular cases that concern them.  Yet the uptake of themes—just as for the collaborative and reflective tools and processes—still depends on the extent to which a person is able to weave them into their heterogeneous construction of knowledge and action from diverse resources and practical considerations that are given by their particular situations and life histories.  This limitation can be seen as an invitation to readers to translate the themes into the terms of their own fields of inquiry and action, and to explore what difference they make.  The invitation may be passed by, especially when I do not demonstrate the payoff and cannot support readers in such efforts.   So I certainly understand if important concrete—local or global—projects of caring, collaboration and change in response to challenges and crises take precedence over the conceptual explorations I want to encourage.  With this caveat lector, I will continue.




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 156 other followers