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, suppose you were in 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.)
  • If someone who has authority (e.g., an instructor) introduces an alternative to the position you had adopted, do not feel that you have to abandon your view and adopt theirs.  The challenge, however,  is to a) acknowledge the alternative and b) adjust your position if need be, and, at the very least, c) comment on when and how each view applies.
  • Provide a reference to support each and every assertion you make or fact you state.  Doing this nudges you to check how solid your assertions and facts are and rephrase or omit accordingly.  It also allows readers to assess the solidity for themselves (as well as helping them to inquire further when you get them interested).
  • to be continued (suggestions welcome)

References

Taylor, P. J. (2001) “We know more than we are, at first, prepared to acknowledge: Journeying to develop critical thinking,” http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/journey.html (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.

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

2 Responses to Critical thinking in an arena of abundant information

  1. Teryl Cartwright says:

    Looking forward to more, glad to read the new post. I like focusing on partial agreements as alternatives since variations in one or two details can be as much in tension as direct opposites. In navigating information, word order in a search does make a big difference. Although my results didn’t share Darwin’s “multiple layers of arguments” that I was curious about exploring as a critical thinking method, I enjoyed the distraction of “rhetoric of science” and “multilevel selection theory” anyway. What are some ways to search that allow our choices to be “un-Googled”–can there be search methods in tension too? How would critical thinking be affected by multiple level sourcing?

  2. Net Smart by Howard Rheingold, p. 246-252, provides a bullet-point summary of his suggestions for online literacy. I have not found his points available online, but an overview is given by http://stefaniehadley.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/net-smart-chapter-6-how-using-the-web-mindfully-can-make-you-smarter-howard-rheingold/

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