Contemporary Approaches to Critical Thinking and the World Wide Web

By Buffington, Melanie L. | Art Education, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Contemporary Approaches to Critical Thinking and the World Wide Web


Buffington, Melanie L., Art Education


The benefits of critical thinking1 are frequently heard and promoted by today's educators. Critical thinking is now an oft-cited issue in most school subjects. Because of its prevalence, and because making art is a way of thinking, I began researching the concept of critical thinking.

David Jonassen (2000) wrote, "Among the contemporary conceptions of thinking in schools, I believe that the concept of critical thinking (generalizable, higher order thinking, such as logic, analyzing, planning, and inferring) is the most common..." (p. 22). Teaching critical thinking skills is often endorsed as a means to help students develop their abilities to navigate the complex world in which we live and, in addition, as a way to help students succeed in school.

Over the past few years, I explored the idea of teaching critical thinking using the World Wide Web (WWW). I began in-depth research on the topic to understand what critical thinking entails and the potential for art educators to use the WWW to help their students develop critical thinking skills.

This article begins with a review of the history of critical thinking and some current ideas on the topic. Then, I explain my working description of critical thinking and how critical thinking is currently articulated in discussions of the WWW in schools. I conclude with ideas for teachers related to developing critical thinking in art classrooms using the WWW.

Previous technologies, including motion pictures, radio, television, and computers, entered education with grandiose claims about their potential effects on teaching and learning (Cuban, 2001). However, these technologies did not bring about the vast revolutions predicted when they first entered the realm of educational technology. If educational uses of the WWW are to fulfill even a fraction of the claims made when the movement to wire every school was in its heyday, then educators must continually evaluate developing trends with its use. Many authors in education write about the benefits of using the WWW to teach critical thinking. In art education, there is significant scholarship about the following areas related to critical thinking: cognition and art, art criticism and its relationship to critical thinking, art projects that relate to critical thinking, work with preservice teachers and critical thinking, as well as the concept of critical thinking in general (Efland, 2002; Housen, 2002; Kader, 2003; Kundu & Bain, 2006; Leshnoff, 1995; Milbrandt, Felts, Richards, & Abghari 2004; Short, 1995; Stout, 1995; Walker, 1996). However, there is currently not a significant published dialogue in art education about how critical thinking relates to using the WWW. The following review of literature from general education about using the WWW to development of critical thinking skills should be useful for art educators.

Development of Critical Thinking

James Streib (1992) traced the notion of critical thinking back to early Greek philosophers. In the more recent past, he identified four distinct phases in the ideas that constitute critical thinking. The first phase of the critical thinking movement lasted from 1910-1939 and emanated from John Dewey's (1910) writings on reflective thinking and the scientific method as the basis for thinking and inquiry. The second phase, 1940-1961, built on the work of Dewey and includes Edward Glaser (1941), David Russell (1941), and B. Othanel Smith (1953), the originator of the term "critical thinking." During this phase, the phrase critical thinking was used in relation to judging the accuracy of statements. The third phase, 1962-1979, involved narrowing the definition of critical thinking to focus on evaluating a statement as correct or incorrect and teaching students to come to "correct" conclusions based upon given information. Though it seems to contradict the idea of correct conclusions, this phase is when the role of creative thinking entered the discussion on critical thinking. …

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