Media Critical Thinking

If there’s a competence and attitude anyone should develop because it has become critical to survive in the era of the web and social media, it’s critical thinking. How many Hoax do circulate, even sincerely, on Twitter, Facebook or elsewhere ? One can argue it was already the case with email and that’s true. What changes is the virality and power of the message.

Wrong information is not always disinformation

The ability anyone has to publish information and the speed at which it spreads worries people. It worries those who have grown up in a top-down system and whose mind can’t accept that one can’t say or publish something without the approval of a legitimate authority. It worries those who get this new paradigm but are aware of the dangers that comes with and moan about the incapability of crowds to manage this new situation. That’s a concern for both businesses with the proliferation of collaboration spaces, social networks and internal communication tools and the society that recently assessed the impact of a malicious tweet that was close to trigger a stock market crash.

Before going further we need to make something clear. A wrong information is not always shared with malicious intentions. Sometimes that’s the result of a bad understanding, sometimes it’s humor (even if the consequences can be dramatic) and sometimes there’s a real will to harm. Then there are, of courses, fields where the freedom of speech can be regulated and some level of validation needed. That’s obvious in the enterprise and may also be, in some cases, outside.

Don’t control information publishing but increase reader’s maturity

So, acknowledging the possibly dramatic consequences of the phenomenon, some suggest -even reluctantly – that publishing information should be regulated. Of course some things should be forbidden and punished but controlling publishing is not the right solution. First because it’s technically impossible. Then because, from a moral standpoint, we all know where societies that begin to decide what is true or not and who decides what’s true often take a dangerous path.


So the solution is not to be found at the publisher’s level but at the reader’s. Considering the increasing mass of information being published and to which anyone is exposed, what matters is to learn to to separate the wheat from the chaff . Check the sources, question the credibility of the information, compare with other sources. In short showing critical thinking. Obvious ? In theory yes, but in fact the maturity of the large maturity is quite worrying.

Critical thinking is a critical competence in the information society

For some it’s a natural attitude. But for most people that’s a new reflex, behavior and attitude to adopt. But where and when ? As is many other fields like collaboration, good practices are learned at school. But, according to my own experience, the system is designed to deliver an unquestionable true. I even remind of teachers who considered any question as being questioned themselves. And the more we wait the more bad habits take root. Recently a french teacher set a trap for his students. He built false sites and wikipedia pages about an author that never existed. Nearly none of of them cross-checked, questioned the information and they all fell in the trap. Don’t expert this competence to be taught at work either. Enterprises are not the kind of place where people who question things, doubt, double-check information are appreciated.

Those who own the knowledge should teach others to question it

Questioning information is too often mistaken with questioning the one who delivers it. In hierarchical systems like enterprises or school, the one who should teach critical thinking is also the one who delivers information and they may think that if others question information they’ll question their own relevance. A matter of ego, a misunderstanding but that’s a big issue.

Anyway, critical thinking becomes essential to the good functioning of our society and enterprises and that’s a major competence in the information era. If we want to trust people, our children, employees, staff and their ability to make the right decisions in this context we should first teach them to question anything they’re told, anything they read. Even if it comes from us. Paradoxical but vital.




As technology has played a bigger role in our lives, our skills in critical thinking and analysis have declined, while our visual skills have improved, according to research by Patricia Greenfield, UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Children's Digital Media Center, Los Angeles.


Learners have changed as a result of their exposure to technology, says Greenfield, who analyzed more than 50 studies on learning and technology, including research on multi-tasking and the use of computers, the Internet and video games. Her research was published this month in the journal Science.


Reading for pleasure, which has declined among young people in recent decades, enhances thinking and engages the imagination in a way that visual media such as video games and television do not, Greenfield said.


How much should schools use new media, versus older techniques such as reading and classroom discussion?


"No one medium is good for everything," Greenfield said. "If we want to develop a variety of skills, we need a balanced media diet. Each medium has costs and benefits in terms of what skills each develops."


Schools should make more effort to test students using visual media, she said, by asking them to prepare PowerPoint presentations, for example.


"As students spend more time with visual media and less time with print, evaluation methods that include visual media will give a better picture of what they actually know," said Greenfield, who has been using films in her classes since the 1970s.


"By using more visual media, students will process information better," she said. "However, most visual media are real-time media that do not allow time for reflection, analysis or imagination — those do not get developed by real-time media such as television or video games. Technology is not a panacea in education, because of the skills that are being lost.


"Studies show that reading develops imagination, induction, reflection and critical thinking, as well as vocabulary," Greenfield said. "Reading for pleasure is the key to developing these skills. Students today have more visual literacy and less print literacy. Many students do not read for pleasure and have not for decades."


Parents should encourage their children to read and should read to their young children, she said.


Among the studies Greenfield analyzed was a classroom study showing that students who were given access to the Internet during class and were encouraged to use it during lectures did not process what the speaker said as well as students who did not have Internet access. When students were tested after class lectures, those who did not have Internet access performed better than those who did.


"Wiring classrooms for Internet access does not enhance learning," Greenfield said.


Another study Greenfield analyzed found that college students who watched "CNN Headline News" with just the news anchor on screen and without the "news crawl" across the bottom of the screen remembered significantly more facts from the televised broadcast than those who watched it with the distraction of the crawling text and with additional stock market and weather information on the screen.


These and other studies show that multi-tasking "prevents people from getting a deeper understanding of information," Greenfield said.


Yet, for certain tasks, divided attention is important, she added.


"If you're a pilot, you need to be able to monitor multiple instruments at the same time. If you're a cab driver, you need to pay attention to multiple events at the same time. If you're in the military, you need to multi-task too," she said. "On the other hand, if you're trying to solve a complex problem, you need sustained concentration. If you are doing a task that requires deep and sustained thought, multi-tasking is detrimental."


Do video games strengthen skill in multi-tasking?


New Zealand researcher Paul Kearney measured multi-tasking and found that people who played a realistic video game before engaging in a military computer simulation showed a significant improvement in their ability to multi-task, compared with people in a control group who did not play the video game. In the simulation, the player operates a weapons console, locates targets and reacts quickly to events.


Greenfield wonders, however, whether the tasks in the simulation could have been performed better if done alone.


More than 85 percent of video games contain violence, one study found, and multiple studies of violent media games have shown that they can produce many negative effects, including aggressive behavior and desensitization to real-life violence, Greenfield said in summarizing the findings.


In another study, video game skills were a better predictor of surgeons' success in performing laparoscopic surgery than actual laparoscopic surgery experience. In laparoscopic surgery, a surgeon makes a small incision in a patient and inserts a viewing tube with a small camera. The surgeon examines internal organs on a video monitor connected to the tube and can use the viewing tube to guide the surgery.


"Video game skill predicted laparoscopic surgery skills," Greenfield said. "The best video game players made 47 percent fewer errors and performed 39 percent faster in laparoscopic tasks than the worst video game players."


Visual intelligence has been rising globally for 50 years, Greenfield said. In 1942, people's visual performance, as measured by a visual intelligence test known as Raven's Progressive Matrices, went steadily down with age and declined substantially from age 25 to 65. By 1992, there was a much less significant age-related disparity in visual intelligence, Greenfield said.


"In a 1992 study, visual IQ stayed almost flat from age 25 to 65," she said.


Greenfield believes much of this change is related to our increased use of technology, as well as other factors, including increased levels of formal education, improved nutrition, smaller families and increased societal complexity.


The Children's Digital Media Center, Los Angeles, has received federal funding from the National Science Foundation.


UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of nearly 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer more than 323 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Four alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.


For more news, visit the UCLA Newsroom.

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