Education is constantly evolving with school curricula trying to incorporate new enhanced methods to improve the overall school experience and student learning. In recent years, classrooms are becoming increasingly digitized. Schools are providing students with their own laptop computer, netbook, or digital tablet. Schools purchased more than 23 million devices for classroom use in 2013 and 2014 alone and they spend more than $3 billion per year on digital content. (Benjamin 2018).
Critical Thinking SkillsWith this increasing use of technology in classrooms, studies have been conducted in order to analyze the impact of digitization on student engagement, motivation, and test scores. According to a study done by Stanford University, there was evidence both for and against laptop use in classrooms. For instance, they found that “the more students used their laptops, the lower their class performance, the less attention they paid to lectures, the less clear lectures seemed to them, and the less they felt they understood the course material” (Helene 2003).
However, they also found that online content can actually be stimulating and can actually be engaging and less distracting from classroom movement such as passing notes and talking. (Helene 2003).
While there was already research conducted on these factors, within the realm of digitization and student learning, critical thinking skills in students was a major factor that was left out of the puzzle. Critical thinking skills are an important factor to analyze because they are constantly needed in problem-solving situations, college, and the workforce. In fact, it is one of the eight major factors that is pushed for in school curricula. (Snyder n.d.).
There are even three current outlines methods in trying to teach critical thinking skills. These include promoting active engagement amongst students rather than rote memorization, trying to teach the actual process of learning itself rather than the actual content, and having assessments that actually challenge students intellectually rather than having them recall facts. (Snyder n.d.).
Overall, studies have found that active student engagement environments tend to promote critical thinking skills among students while traditional lectures seem to hinder them (Rothstein, Wilder, & Jacobsen, 2007).
This lead to the main focus and hypothesis of this study- does all this increased digitization in the classroom facilitate critical thinking skills amongst students? With the hypothesis being that it does since technology seems to be a more engaging learning method than the traditional rote memorization method of a classroom. In this study, critical thinking skills will be defined as a “student’s ability in analysis, interpretation, evaluation, explanation, inference (based on the Ross Test for Higher Cognitive Thinking – a test that measures critical thinking skills in students) (Callahan, Corvo 1980).
In the article “The Impact of Digitization on higher education” by professor Pierre Dussauge who holds a Ph.D. in Management Science from Paris-Dauphine University, he mentions, “I see the increased emphasis on interactive learning and discussion as one of the primary advantages of digitalization, since for me it’s the more interesting part of Learning.”
In addition, he mentions that digitization really helps improve the livelihoods of people pursuing higher education who tend to have extremely busy schedules and that digitization of their learning material helps them manage, and organize things that are more efficient according to their schedules. This can help clear minds and help people focus more on the present allowing them to be more engaged – another possible factor that could contribute to the hypothesis that digitization in classrooms can help facilitate critical thinking skills (Pierre n.d.).
However, he also mentions that digitization in classrooms does not allow for as much human interaction and debate, a major aspect of the traditional classroom setting that greatly promotes student engagement, (possibly even critical thinking skills). He claims there should be a fine balance between the traditional classroom and digitization with digitization being a supplement to the classroom rather than the majority of it. (Pierre n.d.).
Another disadvantage that was presented about digitization in classrooms was there is less and less hands-on experimenting in classrooms with the increasing use of technology which is a major drawback since students are able to learn greatly from doing hands-on activities. (Mandušić, Blašković).
Clearly, online or digitized based learning cannot achieve hands-on experimenting hence students may lack critical thinking skills in certain areas. Another perspective from which the notion of critical thinking skills and digitization has been analyzed was through looking and building trust and communication between students. According to Paul I Elder, known for studying human behavior, “Critical thinking is a self-governing, self-disciplined, self-controlled and self-correcting opinion that requires strict standards of prudential procedures and impose effective communication and problem-solving skills and a commitment to overcome our innate egocentrism and sociocentrism” (Paul I Elder, 2004).
Furthering this notion that critical thinking goes beyond the academic realm, it was found that critical thinking involves claims, reasons, evidence, and guarantee – all of which are promoted through academic discussion and debate among students. (Bjelanovic Dijanic, 2011.)
Hence it is necessary for any education method to make sure that it provides a method for the students to interact with each other. With the right technology including audio and video conference, it is possible for the students to interact with each other, however, a drawback for this is that proper technology must be in place and the tutorial or lesson would also need to be interactive in nature.
Overall, in terms of student engagement relating to peer communication and hands-on learning, it seems as though digitization can hinder critical thinking skills developed in those areas. However, studies have also shown how online content can be a great way to remain organized, and possibly help have a clearer mind when learning and online learning itself keeps students more engagded than rote memorization both of which can help critical thinking skills.
Thus, with these contrasting perspectives, it seems as though a combination of digitized and traditional teaching methods (as mentioned by professor Pierre) would be the ideal situation which will be further investigated in this study. There have been studies done to show how blended education affects students critical thinking skills. Blended learning is a combination of face-to-face and online learning.
It is “A new and different philosophical approach to learning, that incorporates classroom and communications technology with the capability to the transform higher education in a better quality. It provides deeper insight into learning and critical thinking through the integration of online courses and traditional classrooms” (Garrison & Vaughan, 2007) .9 Some researchers even used a blended learning environment to develop or teach critical thinking.
For instance, in a study done by Akyüz and Samsa, both researchers part of an educational science faculty, they examined the effects of blended learning environment on the critical thinking skills of students and showed that if students had enough time and computer access, the blended learning environment had a positive impact on a student’s critical thinking skills (Akyüz, Samsa 2009). 10 Furthermore, research has shown that professors have mass amounts of material to cover in their courses and using traditional teaching methods takes a much longer time compared to using digitized learning.
Hence, due to the shorter time required to learn the material in a digitized curriculum, students have more time to think deeper about the material enhancing their critical thinking skills. (MacKnight 2000)11 A final perspective that was presented in the investigation of digitization and critical thinking skills was that since all students learn differently, using digitization in the classroom can allow them to be more free with how they learn and deeply connect with their material.
Allowing students to use their preferred learning method can greatly enhance their critical thinking skills. (Glowacki-Dudka, Horton 2000).12 Overall, while there are conflicting perspectives on the effectiveness of digitized curricula in classrooms, it can be seen that there are a great number of positive aspects of using technology within classrooms. While there are many factors left out of digitized classrooms such as student interaction and hands-on learning that could help facilitate critical thinking skills amongst students, this isn’t to say that incorporating technology in classrooms as a supplement wouldn’t be the optimal method to use.
Even including perspectives from a professor, digitization would greatly decrease the time spent trying to teach material and would allow for more time for students to engage and analyze the material themselves improving their critical thinking skills. In addition, having digitization in classrooms allows for better organization allowing for more “headspace” and concentration in student, promoting not only their work-life balance but possibly also their critical thinking skills. Overall, studies seem to encourage blended education (both classroom-based and online) to have maximum improvement on student’s critical thinking abilities.
Further studies or research comparing between classroom-based, on-line based and blended education is necessary to develop final conclusion on finding the best method which can increase critical thinking in students. However, comparing the two methods on separate bases while measuring and tracking students critical thinking skills would truly give insights into the positives and negatives of each method which will be further discussed in the methods of this study.