Case studies: using social media to promote critical thinking

In Higher Education: A Critical Business (1997), one of Barnett's central messages to teachers is to stop trying to teach critical thinking, and provide opportunities for students to enact it. The most effective pedagogies, regardless of the discipline, take seriously the process nature of critical thinking, and place the students at the center of the process. Salmon's (2000; 2002) work demonstrates how to structure and channel online sociability to not only encourage students into discussion, but also lead them toward higher-order tasks. This structured approach, implied in the case studies below, is essential for helping students bridge what social constructivists term the "zone of proximal development" (Vygotsky 1978), the gap between that which they have already learned, unassisted, and that which they can achieve when provided with educational support.

This space, or zone, enables new levels of criticality (Wass, Harland, and Mercer 2011), not least because it lies outside a student's accustomed intellectual comfort zone. It can be reached through students' dialogue and conversation (with each other, with the lecturers, with the material), and through problem- based tasks that allow them to practise being a researcher. Researchers have shown that these student-driven, dialogic approaches can be far more effective than having students work alone through materials geared toward knowledge acquisition (Jonassen, Howland, Moore, and Marra 2002; Stahl, Koschmann, and Suthers 2006). Why? Because in order to attain high-level modes of thinking students often need to change their views of knowledge—from something static and non-contestable, to something to which they can contribute, on which they can reflect, and of which they are a part—and firsthand experience of knowledge creation and critique is required to make this shift in perspective effectively. In proposing a theory of online learning, Anderson suggests that "deep and meaningful formal learning is supported as long as one of the three forms of interaction (student-teacher; student-student; student-content) is at a high level. The other two may be offered at minimal levels, or even eliminated, without degrading the educational experience" (2008, 67). Social media are especially helpful in encouraging meaningful student-student and student- content interactions, as is demonstrated in the following case studies.

 
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