About Teaching for Critical Perspectives on Technology and the Family

Critical thinking about information and communications technology ICT), the self, family, and others

The book and course around which it was written adhere to Davies’ (2015) model of critical thinking in higher education by placing cognitive skills and arguments at the center.Competencies promoted throughout represent Bloom’s taxonomy (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation) and those represented in problem-solving and decision-making models (Brookfield, 2020). Critical “propensities” further represent the “critical thinking movement:” affective, dispositions, emotions, attitudes, and states of readiness. These relate to the self (e.g., tolerance of ambiguity, perseverance, desire to be well-informed), to others (e.g., respect for alternative viewpoints, understanding of individual differences), and to the world and social conditions (e.g., interest, inquisitiveness, Halpern, 1998; p. 58). [1].

Turning to the book’s central focus, is Mike Ribble’s (2015) reflective framework for teaching digital citizenship:

  • Awareness: Being aware of technology use and its appropriate use (critical and reflective thinking).Students are asked to reflect on their technology use at home and at school.
  • Guided practice: Classroom active learning and out-of-class activities for exploration.
  • Modeling and demonstrating: Instructor use of Creative Commons licensed material, competence with technology, being curious about intersections and other perspectives, respecting privacy and safety in sharing content.
  • Feedback and analysis: Deliberation and debrief, feedback on student writing, commenting on collaborative (classwide) work.
Often questions will appear in the chapters that will prompt thought and application of the content.

Therefore, the book’s text and complementary material encourage the reader to think critically about the topic. And through that critical perspective of analysis – weighing multiple sides of an issue, questioning extant research, searching for policy, applying the content to one’s own life and standing back to ask about the impact on others and the wider society – the goal is that our use of ICT to be more thoughtful and more intentional.

Chapter content and flow:  

  • Text summarizing key content, research and practice. As noted in the About the Book section, the flow of content aligns with an ecological perspective of family life. It also reflects the delivery of content over an academic semester. Chapters 1-3 as introductory and foundational, chapters 4-10 as individual and family specific content, and chapters 11 and 12 and wider field and societal applications. While some content can be covered in a single week, longer chapters such as chapter 5 can take at least two weeks during a semester. Depth of coverage and complementary materials for reading are up to the instructor’s discretion.
  • Complete references are included so that university libraries’ online catalog can be linked and readers can go to original sources if desired.
  • Learning activities include those I created and used in the FSOS 3105 course and many others written expressly for this volume. They include individual, small group and whole class exercises, which can be used in higher education and other adult learning settings. Rather than take attendance, I used activity participation as a measure of engagement.
  • Blog prompts encourage both critical writing for online presence and perspective on issues. Too often, IMHO, young adults offer stream of consciousness in online writing and leave the technical for academic papers that may never see the light of day. For some blogging is a way to not only share one’s professional voice and perspective, but also as a career outlet. [2]. The blog prompts also make for interesting conversation, and can be used to prompt podcast or YouTube channel discussions.

The additional readings at the end of each chapter are a mere path to the wide wide world of evolving knowledge on these issues. Thought leaders, organizations like Commonsense Media, Pew research and the 5 Rights Foundation frequently have updated material. From semester to semester, new material was added from posts I saw on social media.

In FSOS 3105, in addition to blog posts, activity participation, and exams for assessment, students prepared an analysis of their technology use. They logged use for a 24 hour period, then provided a summary of the data and a paper analyzing observations of their use, impacts on their relationships, and ways the exercise inspired their future work as professionals. A copy of the assignment given to students is available here .

Learning through community

In my 40 odd years of teaching and observing what “sticks,” I’ve leaned in to Dr. James Comer’s words that, “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” It is a practice applied to the FSOS 3105 Families and Technology course with great success, based on student feedback, performance, engagement and observation. I’ve learned to lean into Dr. James Comer’s words: “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”

Through relationships and feeling part of a community, individuals feel valued and have a sense that their perspective and their voice matters. That includes the relationship to themselves. As they feel a sense of trust, they begin to open to the perspectives of others; their own perspectives shift, and their understanding deepens. They gain empathy for others’ view points. They may want to take action — for themselves, for others. And they deploy content knowledge that otherwise can seem unrelated to their lives. There is good learning theory behind this (e.g., Lave & Wenger, 1991; Mezirow, 1990; Wenger, 1999) and clear connection to critical thinking.

As evidence somewhat of the importance of relationships for learning critical thinking skills related to technology and the family, in spring 2022 the fabulous Samantha LeBoeuf (my Teaching Assistant at the time) and I analyzed student responses to the end-of-course question: How did relationships, if at all, influence your learning in this course? (Walker & LeBoeuf, 2022). Again validating the ecologies that inform our lives, students offered three relationship types, each with unique influence:

  • Family and friends: Discussion of topics in the course made the content more relatable. As one student said,“applying theories and technology to my life is how I learned better; if I can apply something to my life then I think I will be able to apply it to other families.”
  • Classroom peers: The shared experience of learning the same content, together and for a common purpose, bonded students in their discussions. One student shared, “[My group] has influenced my learning in this course. I believe that not only did our ideas for group discussion come from what we learned in class but also how we related to the topic. As a result, it was really fun to hear about all of our ideas and how [they] related to our personal lives, which made the course even more meaningful.”
  • Instructor and TA: These set the tone for community and for shared learning as a class. In so doing, they encouraged each student to feel valued and heard. “[The instructor] made everyone always feel included and that made me personally want to be there in class.”

The graphic below reveals these relationships and summarizes processes that foster learning through relationships.

 

There are MANY ways to accomplish these learning relationships to foster critical thinking. The flow of content in this book, and the occasional questions and blog prompts and learning activities, all aim to do this. The instructor is key to creating a supportive classroom community.

The instructor is key to creating a supportive classroom community. I do this through a) power diffusion, b) respecting and encouraging all voices, c) attunement, and d) humor. In formal education there is a clear power dynamic through the conferring of grades and the hierarchy of academia. Students begin to see themselves valued only as numbers — their student number, their GPA, their last score on an exam. This depersonalization does not encourage them to “see themselves” in the material. So even before a course begins, my messaging, my video greeting, and then my classroom climate are all aimed toward equity. Students are called by their first names, we make eye contact, celebrate birthdays, and laugh. A lot. Often at me. I look at posts like this one in Edutopia to find even more ways to build community. As I do as a parent, I also try to attune myself with the class (some call it “reading the room”) and pick up energies — sometimes addressing events, oftentimes tuning into student mental health (during the course of the first five years, the Parkland shooting, George Floyd and Philando Castile murders in the area, January 6 insurgency and of course COVID-19 occurred). That might mean spending more time discussing a particular topic or event, or clarifying key points when I sense that students are not feeling prepared for an upcoming exam. I’m well aware of my age; I use my geezer experiences in teaching, and encourage discussion by using the age difference to ask what things are like for young adults. I’m also well aware of my position of power, and always default to communication and compassion. And my personal “brand” is humor. I post funny videos, pictures of my dog, and ask students to tell stupid jokes.

But you do you. ❤️

As our use of technology is less reflexive and more intentional, we will know where our advocacy and where change for the future is needed.There ARE many ways to foster our learners’ (and our own) critical perspectives about information and communications technology use in our society, it’s impact on our own well-being, relationships with others, use as practitioners or researchers or leaders and family members. The advice and resources I offer here are but a few.

 

References.

Angelo, T., and Cross, P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A handbook for college teachers, 2nd Ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S. (2020) Teaching for critical thinking. In V. Wang (Ed.), Handbook of research on ethical challenges in higher education leadership and administration. IGI Global publications. DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4141-8.ch012

Brookfield, S. (2017) Becoming a critically reflective teacher (2nd. ed.). Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

Casigrahi, B. (2017). Fundamentals of teaching critical thinking in higher education. Journal of Education and Human Development, 6(3), 98–103. doi:10.15640/jehd.v6n3a11

Davies, M.  (2015). A model of critical thinking in higher education. In Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (pp. 41–92). Springer.

Halpern, D. F. (2014). Thought and knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking (5th ed.). Psychology Press/Routledge.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press.

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. Jossey-Bass.

Ribble, M. Digital citizenship in schools (3rd ed.). International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

Walker, S., & LeBoeuf, S. (2022) Relationships in teaching for critical thinking dispositions and skills. 7th International Conference on Higher Education Advances (HEAd’20), Universitat Politecnica de Valencia, Valencia.

Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: The career of a concept. In C. Blackmore (Ed.), Social learning systems and communities of practice (pp. 179–198). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-84996-133-2_11


  1. Here are some helpful ideas for integrating critical thinking into teaching: https://www.teachthought.com/critical-thinking/critical-thinking-questions/) Additional ideas are offered at the back of the book through 50 Classroom Assessment Techniques by Angelo and Cross
  2. Guidance and a grading rubric offered to students for their blog posts can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzmNDCEoQttaSlRfSjZGWXhUZUU/view?usp=sharing&resourcekey=0-QX87TTny0ipCMlQrjA3vOg .

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