Critical thinking is not a school subject, but if taught properly, it will help students in their future endeavours whether they intend to continue to higher education or to enter the workforce immediately after K-12. It is not a single skill, either, but rather a set of different skills working together to allow students to process information, make evaluations, solve problems, and come up with innovative ideas rather than relying without question on what they have been told. In short, critical thinking will prove useful to students not just at school, but in life in general.
Just like it has transformed the teaching of traditional subjects, EdTech can leave a mark on the development of critical thinking too: let’s see how.
A different approach
Teaching critical thinking goes much deeper than adding some technological flavour to the classroom: EdTech is a powerful tool, but developing critical thinking in the 21st century is a matter of blending technology with tried and true pedagogical methods.
Making students think critically starts with asking the right questions, both to them and to yourself. Open-ended questions, for example, foster critical thinking more than multiple choice quizzes because they encourage them to think for themselves and come up with original solutions rather than choose among a pool of pre-determined answers: with open-ended questions, you are putting students in a situation where the concepts of right and wrong are debatable and they are expected to defend their arguments with solid proof, which is an essential part of critical thinking.
But before you ask questions to your students, you should first and foremost question yourself as a teacher: are you actively involving them in your lessons or expecting them to listen passively and regurgitate information? If your teaching style is closer to the latter, you are not encouraging critical thinking. Critical thinking does not mean your students should challenge your authority: it means they should be supported in forming their own opinion on debated issues and in understanding how and why things work rather than accepting it as fact.
Approaching critical thinking from this angle makes it applicable to all subjects: while it is true that some topics are more suited to debate while others involve a lot of rote memorization of unquestionable facts, any class can be made into a training ground for critical thinking if you encourage students to understand why two times two makes four instead of limiting yourself to giving them multiplication tables to learn by heart.
Taking it to the next level
Once you have made it clear that the key to developing critical thinking lies in your teaching method, you can start using technology to supplement said method and make it more effective and more familiar to students who are already steeped in the digital world. The only limit is your own creativity.
Polling students, for instance, can be an excellent tool to assess their knowledge and to spark interesting class discussions: if all or most people in the group choose one answer and no one or only a very small minority chooses the other, it is a sign that they all have the same understanding of the solution; if the class is split evenly, it means you are facing a divisive issue and having both groups defend their side of the argument can be a useful teaching occasion.
Discussion forums are also a safe platform where critical thinking can be developed through carefully moderated debate that can continue after the lesson is over and encourages students to write out their opinion in a thoughtful, articulate way that oral discussion sometimes does not allow, citing their sources and learning to construct an argument in a logical, convincing manner.
Group presentations, too, are an exercise in critical thinking: all members of the group have to agree on what side of the argument to present and how to explain it, and once they have employed all their critical thinking skills in planning their presentation, they can use the multimedia capabilities of technology to enhance it.
In conclusion, teaching critical thinking does not rely exclusively on EdTech, but it is undeniable that a wise application of technology in class can give it a considerable boost.