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Thinking Skills to Creatively Enhance Information Competence.


This paper explores strategies utilized by two university teacher educators to incorporate critical thinking into undergraduate teacher education subjects as a basis for developing and enhancing information competence. In an information-rich environment, the ability to critically evaluate information and to develop the skills of critical thinking are key indicators of information competence. Teachers, as information managers, need well-developed skills if they are to guide the development of information competence in their students. The authors of this paper argue that teacher educators must be prepared with the skills of critical, creative, and reflective thinking to empower them to effectively contribute to the development of information competence in their future work roles and to society as a whole.


Education systems across Australia are currently attempting to respond to developments in computer and communications technology. The growth in information resources readily accessible to the learner supports the need for learners to become more critical consumers of information, to be information literate. The Employment Skills Council report defined information literacy as "the ability of students to use information and information technologies effectively to find, select and proficiently use information to create knowledge and insight" (1996, p. xiii). Component skills of information literacy included the ability to critically evaluate information, the ability to understand the interconnectedness of different fields of knowledge, and the ability to identify personal learning strategies in order to evaluate their appropriateness in a given situation.

Communication technologies not only have the ability to redefine what counts as information but also to redirect typical classroom interpersonal interaction between the teacher and student, or among students, towards interaction of the individual with the technology as a source of information. As learning becomes more learner-driven, with reliance on electronic sources of information, teachers need to knowledgeably structure the format and content of lessons to include information technology. An emerging dilemma for teachers is how to develop students' ability as critical consumers of information researched from electronic sources. Conversely, communication technologies can play a significant role in an active learning process as they have the potential to provide unlimited information about a topic, allowing students to link with other students and non-educational sites world-wide. Students have the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of certain areas through actively seeking and using information to solve practical problems of relevance to their context, information that must be viewed critically if the outcomes of the learning are to be of value. Central to the skills students will need as part of a communications technology-based independent learning process is the ability to critically seek, recognize, use, and evaluate quality information to solve problems.

Information literacy also requires self-reflection and metacognitive awareness on the part of the learner. Metacognitive awareness allows students to monitor their learning progress, change strategies where necessary, and adjust the social and environmental aspects of their learning. The growth in available information fostered by electronic media provides a context for learning where students increasingly pursue understanding independent of each other or their teacher. Metacognitive awareness is thus increasingly important in learning environments where there is limited interaction and feedback. Metacognitively aware individuals are a self-correcting system; they have learned how to learn. It is their metacognitive knowledge that enables them to behave proactively or to influence the input that in mm influences their activity (Forrest-Pressley, MacKinnon and Waller, 1985; Hine and Ismail, 1997).

The individual, who will be able to deal with the complexities of a rapidly changing, technological society, will need to have thinking skills of an equally complex nature. Critical thinking involves skillful, thoughtful, reasoned, creative, and metacognitively aware thinking. In developing critical thinking skills, students are enveloped in the processes of thinking where they learn about their own cognitive styles and how to cooperate with and value others who have differing styles, and thereby, heighten their perception of their own metacognitive abilities (Hine and Ismail, 1997). As Richard Paul (1992) states, a fully functioning "critical person" is one who has mastered certain skills and abilities.

It is apparent that the classroom practices of those student teachers currently in our university programs will need to be vastly different from those of our own school teaching careers. In order to adapt to these changing teacher roles, teachers will increasingly need to be information literate. While most university educators would agree that students should become more critical consumers of information, there is little evidence that university courses systematically address the development of critical thinking skills. The impact of computer and communication technologies on school classroom practice presents a challenge to teacher educators who are often straggling to integrate new technologies into their personal practice.

The challenge to teacher educators

It has been recognized that the goals of education should not be limited to the acquisition of information but should teach the necessary skills for independent, critical thinking to enable the intellect to become more creative, more flexible, and more aware in adapting to new forms of knowledge. Starr (1996) predicts that wider access to information technologies will change education from whole class to small group instruction, from lecture to coaching, from competitive to cooperative social structures, and from all students learning the same things to different students learning different things. Thus, the challenges for teacher educators in an information society are to

?? prepare pre-service educators to teach and develop thinking skills and inquiry in the educational environment to ensure that teachers become good thinkers, by experiencing what good thinkers do. They must experience the nurturing of their creative intellect by practicing thinking and metacognitive processes.

?? embed thinking processes in collaborative, practical activity in order to develop individuals who are aware of what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they learn best.

To become good thinkers, pre-service educators should learn how to think analytically and creatively; collect, process and apply evidence; and imagine new possibilities, focusing on the development of a "habit of mind" (Duffy, 1994). They must experience the nurturing of their creative intellect by experiencing what good thinkers do. In relation to becoming critical consumers of information gained via communication technologies, students must exercise their critical thinking skills, such as distinguishing between verifiable facts and value claims; distinguishing relevant from irrelevant information, claims, or reasons; and determining the credibility of a source (Paul, 1992). A key goal of our teaching is to provide collaborative activities in tutorials and assessment tasks that will enhance the metacognitive abilities of students. Explicit formulations of cognitive and metacognitive strategies need to be modeled with university teaching centered on activities designed to convey these strategies to students. Our work has shown that perceptions of individual metacognitive capability improve when pre-service educators are encouraged to talk together, engage in public reasoning, share problem solving responsibilities, and otherwise jointly construct knowledge and meaning (Hine and Ismail, 1997). Armed with critical thinking skills and awareness of their own metacognitive strategies, (MacKinnon and Grunau, 1994, McNamara, 1990), beginning teachers can be better equipped to assist learners to use communication technologies.

Responding to the challenge

Analysis of a first semester assignment in core subjects in 2000 at our two educational sites revealed that approximately thirty percent of the students had researched information for assessment tasks from the Internet. This use of Internet sources raised several issues for us as we responded to the students' papers, foremost of which was the quality of the information that had been investigated. Whilst some sources cited were clearly authored and of an appropriate academic standard, other information might be labeled as "for popular consumption." Our response has been to infuse a variety of strategies into individual subjects in an attempt to help student teachers become more critical consumers of electronic sources of information. Critical thinking skills have been utilized as the basis of most strategies to enable students to become good information consumers and empower them to evaluate the validity of information on the Internet. These critical thinking skills include separating relevant from irrelevant information, distinguishing between verifiable facts and value claims, determining the credibility of a source, recognizing inconsistencies in a line of reasoning, and determining the strength of an argument or a claim. These strategies are discussed in terms of strategies intended to promote better thinking and those that use collaborative inquiry as a means to enhance metacognitive ability.

The authors' commitment to better thinking stems from a conviction that pre-service educators best learn how to infuse thinking strategies into their classrooms by experiencing those strategies firsthand. As educators, we realize that thinking is a highly complex task that is difficult to define. Whilst experts may disagree about how thinking works, and exactly what thinking is, they tend to talk about the same full range of human activities that can be conceptualized into a thinking framework of "better thinking" (Swartz and Perkins, 1989).

Through thoughtful intellectual skills, attitudes, and in-depth knowledge, students come to realize that each discipline is not simply a repository of accumulated knowledge but rather the outcome of dynamic, creative thinking activity encompassing a set of concepts and methodologies used to organize experience, to approach problems, and to explain. Development of the intellect, learning to learn, knowledge production, metacognition, decision-making, creativity, and problem solving are the subject matter of the broad and general title "better thinking." Better thinking purports that students should not merely master information, they should also develop a progressive understanding of the process each discipline uses to generate and think about information (Beyer, 1987). As part of the development of better thinking, students need to be introduced to both the facts and theories of a discipline and the ways in which a proponent of that discipline thinks about the world. Through application of better thinking processes, we aim to assist students to develop new ways of viewing their world and to become more critical consumers of information. Thus, processes of thinking such as problem solving, reasoning, and decision-making become a joint focus with the knowledge inherent in the tasks assigned to students. By being aware of the outcomes of better thinking, students learn, -- through brainstorming, inventing metaphors, creative thinking, thinking aloud, and concept mapping -- to release their creative juices and share the challenge of a learning journey of exploration and discovery.

Fostering thinking skills in teacher education subjects

1. Specific examples of strategies addressing critical thinking At both the University of Western Sydney and the University of Newcastle, subjects are offered that focus on the theoretical understandings that link thought processes, cognitive and metacognitive development, cognitive styles, and their application to educational practices. Opportunities are provided for students to participate in a range of strategies that develop and enhance their own critical thinking and metacognitive abilities. Specific strategies and skills that are infused throughout the subject content at both Universities to develop students' skills of critical thinking are briefly outlined below.
 1a. Reflective Journals

 The use of weekly journals requires that students identify key points from
 the weekly reading and pose questions that remained unanswered. This
 process establishes the need for students to engage higher order thinking
 skills--namely, analysis and synthesis of information. Opportunities are
 provided in tutorials for students to articulate and explore their
 questions with a small group of peers. This small group activity requires
 students to engage in a range of critical thinking skills, including
 distinguishing between verifiable facts and value claims, separating
 relevant from irrelevant information, determining the credibility of a
 source, identifying ambiguous claims or arguments, recognizing
 inconsistencies in a line of reasoning, and determining the strength of an
 argument or a claim. Lecturer response to individual journals takes the
 form of questions and is intended to guide the formation of more critical
 questions in subsequent journal entries.

 1b. Concept Mapping/Mind Mapping

 Concept and mind mapping strategies encourage students to become more
 information literate by conceptualizing, clarifying, organizing, and
 understanding their knowledge. Students are introduced to both concept and
 mind mapping throughout the semester. Cognitive organizers are used
 initially to give structure (Lanzing, 1999) to the students' thoughts.
 These are subsumed as students become more familiar with the process. Mind
 mapping using colors, symbols, and codes, as well as words, to represent
 interconnected ideas is promoted. At various times, students map
 individually, in pairs, and in small groups. Through this learning
 strategy, students are able to construct a visual representation of an
 organized knowledge structure that is centered on a key concept. Concept or
 mind mapping enhances students' thinking skills by forcing them to
 conceptualize--to identify examples and attributes of a concept and to form
 relationships among concepts (Novak, 1991). Maps are a means to represent a
 topic and its relationship to associated subsumed concepts or ideas
 (Pankratius, 1991). The understanding gained through the mapping process
 leads to the modification of conceptual understanding.

 1c. Metaphors

 Metaphor-building coherently develops insights into ideas that are not
 explicitly or consciously held. Metaphors can be evocative, stimulating the
 individual to tease out connections that may not become explicit through
 direct questioning. Engaging in the information processing skills of
 recall, interpretation, application, analysis, and synthesis, students
 express their metaphors both in diagrammatic and written format that
 encourages creative originality, fluency, and flexibility in their
 thinking. Students find that visualizing or drawing the metaphor helps them
 to articulate, clarify, and reflect upon their thinking as they relate the
 idea to their individual experience. For example, students conceptualized
 the following metaphors of learning:

 "Learning is like waves at a beach. No matter how smart you are you always
 get dumped."

 "Learning is like the light at the end of the tunnel. Ignore it and it will
 turn out to be the headlights of an oncoming train. Go towards it and it
 will be the sunshine on the other side of the mountain."

 "Learning is like Mary Poppins' magic carpet bag, there is always something
new in it."

 "Learning is like men at war, conquering one empire is never enough."

2. Specific examples of strategies addressing metacognitive abilities The following strategies are used to foster students' metacognitive perceptions of their thinking, its relationship to their teaching, and its potential impact upon the learning of children in their care. These strategies are designed to assist students to become conscious of and able to control their own thinking and problem solving abilities.

2a. Metacognitive strategies

?? Modeling: the lecturer carrying out a task so that students can observe and build a conceptual model of the processes required to accomplish the task.

?? Exploration: encouraging students to frame questions, pose problems and solve problems.

?? Articulation: having students articulate not only their knowledge but also their reasoning and problem solving processes.

?? Coaching: observing students while they carry out a task and providing progressive feedback.

?? Scaffolding: providing support to help the student carry out a task, e.g., through a cooperative problem solving effort among students.

?? Reflection: providing opportunities for students to compare their own problem solving processes with an expert or with other students.
 2b. Collaborative strategies

 Goodson (1998) argues that a major part of classroom learning must rely on
 those aspects that the student learns in interaction with peers and the
 teacher. Tutorial classes are designed that give students the opportunity
 to engage in thinking strategies in the context of a collaborative
 community of inquiry. Small groups are established for both tutorial
 sessions and assignment tasks. Students are encouraged to understand that
 learning is expedited by personal awareness of how we are learning
 (metacognition) and by the social and cultural conditions and contexts in
 which the learning occurs. One of the major outcomes that occur as a result
 of the use of small groups is that student-student interaction patterns
 developed rather than student-teacher patterns. Students began to question
 and challenge their own thinking, that of the group members, and,
 eventually, the lecturers'. In this supportive environment, alternative and
 creative approaches to problems and tasks became accepted and valued.
 Students felt safe to take risks and to voice divergent points of view.

 2b.1. Brainstorming and Creative Thinking

 The strategy of brainstorming is used throughout the subjects to generate
 "free-wheeling" ideas. Brainstorming opens students' minds to sharing ideas
 without criticism and provides a means for members of the group to build on
 each other's ideas in a collaborative way (piggybacking). Creative thinking
 activities encourage students to "break set," to think divergently in order
 to approach problems from a range of perspectives. A range of activities is
 used to liberate the minds of students before they engage with specific
 content. For example, students may be challenged to represent the problem
 in a variety of ways before devising, executing, and evaluating a plan to
 address the problem. The aim is to model the process and skills of
 thinking, as well as infusing it in content. This requires that lecturers
 accept, and indeed encourage, creative responses to workshop activities and
 assignments, leading to a variety of products for assessment rather than
 the more familiar essay-based works.

 2b.2. Think-Aloud Technique

 Students are encouraged to utilize the think-aloud technique, to speak
 about and demonstrate the strategies that they were using to think and
 engage in specific tasks. This proves to be a useful technique on several
 counts. First, it makes both the speaker and other students aware of
 effective thinking strategies and facilitates the characteristics of better
 thinking. Secondly, by talking about their thinking, students develop the
 ability to use and control their thinking strategies. Thirdly, students
 became cognizant of the processes and outcomes of their thinking. They hear
 what they are saying and recognize any inconsistencies in their argument or
 process. This technique encourages them to think about their thinking (be
 metacognitive) and to exercise some of the executive processes of control
 and regulation.

 2b.3. Metacognitive reflection

 Metacognitive "debriefing" is a strategy employed within the semester.
 Debriefing is used at the end of an activity or discussion to enable
 students to reflect, monitor, regulate, and evaluate their own and their
 peers' thinking in relation to the topic (Hine, and Ismail, 1997; Fogarty,
 1994). This fosters critical reflection about the development of thinking
 skills and strategies.

 2b.4. Motivation and Learning Strategies Expo

 At UWS Nepean, groups of students are encouraged to develop their critical
 and creative thinking skills through exploration, research, and
 presentation of their work. Students are asked to talk to four learners of
 different ages to ascertain the preferred ways of learning, motivation and
 learning styles of these four learners. Techniques of dialogue, observation
 and reflection are used. The results of the interviews are linked to
 theories of motivation and learning. Based on the investigations, dialogue,
 observations, and reflections, students plan, develop, and showcase an
 effective learning center and strategies. Learning centers are then
 presented to the larger group in the form of a Motivation and Learning
 Strategies Expo. Peers experience the learning provided by the center prior
 to assessing the effectiveness of the strategies. The Expo enables all
 class members to experience a variety of techniques for motivating
 learners, developing thoughtful classrooms, and enhancing the learning
 environment, while, at the same time, partaking in the peer assessment
 process. Whilst peer assessment is often seen as a difficult process to use
 successfully, one group of students reported in their reflection:

 We were very pleased and impressed that not only did our peers involve
 themselves in all learning centres, but they all genuinely participated
 in the reflection at the end. They were eager to explain what they had
 learnt, and what they had found interesting

 In terms of this strategy, one group of students commented, "We learned a
 lot by applying research to theory and putting ideas into practice, as well
 as allowing our peers to experience a broad range of motivational and
 thinking strategies."


The authors of this paper support the need for teacher educators to accept responsibility for enhancing the information literacy of their graduates. To this end, the infusion of thinking skills and collaborative techniques into a range of undergraduate subjects provides one means of developing information competence in an already overcrowded curriculum. By teaching pre-service educators to analyze, think rationally and creatively, problem-solve, reason, and develop their metacognitive skills, our aim is to develop beginning teachers whose own thinking skills are more effective and who can pass on those thinking skills in their future educational environments.


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MacKinnon, A.M. & Grunau, H. (1994). Teacher development through reflection, community and discourse. In Grimmett, P.P. & Neufeld, J. (eds.). Teacher development and the struggle for authenticity: Professional growth and restructuring in the context of change (pp. 165-192). New York: Teachers College Press.

McNamara, D. (1990). Research on teachers' thinking: Its contribution to educating student teachers to think critically. Journal of Education for Teaching, 16(2), 147-159.

Novak, J.D. (1991). Clarify with concept maps: a tool for students and teachers alike. The Science Teacher, 58(7), 45-49.

Pankratius, W.J. (1991). Organising content holistically: Meta-learning through concept mapping. Workshop presented at the Eleventh Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Educational Reform, Sonoma State University, California.

Paul, R.W. (1998). Critical thinking: what every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world. (3rd ed.). Santa Rosa. CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.

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Alison Hine lectures in the areas of Developmental and Educational Psychology and Philosophy and has worked with leading international researchers to investigate the study of intelligence, critical thinking skills, problem solving and reasoned inquiry. <>.

Lyn Peacock is coordinator of primary and secondary teacher education, and lectures in teaching and learning, and in sociology of education. <>.
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Author:Peacock, Lyn
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Sep 22, 2000
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