SOCIAL MEDIA, STUDENTS AND THE DANGER OF THE ECHO CHAMBER

The first in a series of five blogs that will discuss issues of education – particularly understanding modern learners and how they learn; technology; meme culture and slang, plus the day-to-day experience of our dedicated teachers.

One of the biggest achievements a student can have is the ability of critical thinking. As teachers, we talk a lot about developing critical thinking or ‘higher-order’ thinking, as described by university textbooks. But actually making it part of lessons and coaxing it out of some students can be a daunting task.

Information Age

The nature of the ‘information age’ means we can access with more ideas than ever before. The nature of social media has allowed us to choose which information we receive and when.

Sometimes this happens consciously – when we choose to follow or unfollow a Twitter personality. Or unconsciously – when our pattern of ‘Likes’ and interactions on Facebook goes through its algorithm. And news content, images and links, which we approve of, become filtered.

This type of information environment is an ‘echo chamber’. Helping students navigate out of it while retaining their ability for ‘higher-order’ thinking is a challenge for every educator.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy has been in use by teachers for over 60 years. It determines what ‘level’ of thinking students are achieving during lessons. It has evolved over the years, by teachers and teacher educators alike to identify what works and when.

A diagram of Bloom's Taxonomy from Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching

Throughout your schooling your teachers would have spent time leading you through the six categories. First, their task would have included teaching you to identify then remember information. Next you would learn to analyse the information and discuss it. This would then be followed by more academic activities wherein you either evaluated the information with a more complex form of analysis, or using your deep understanding of this information created something original. This is generally considered to be the highest form of critical thinking.

As with any hierarchy, the fundamental ‘base’ of this structure cannot be overlooked. This is because students must have the necessary skills to engage in the ‘higher-order thinking’ processes.

With today’s unprecedented technological expansion, teachers and parents now face the challenge of the growth of end-user information devices. The rapid penetration of smartphone and other device ownership is changing schools every single day. Students have been quick to google any of my claims that sound incredible.

So information access, particularly in tech-savvy teens, is not the issue. Students in the generations below mine (read young whippersnappers) are comfortable hunting for information on the internet.

Propaganda

The issue, as any Modern History teacher worth their salt will tell you, is propaganda. The last decade has seen the rise of a level of propaganda that would make Joseph Goebbels giddy.

The packaging of information has made it big business for political power structures. To generate their own narratives, twist information whichever way they want or to lower trust and support in credible information. The political pundits got their predictions wrong on the two most significant votes of the year for the Western world. (Brexit and the U.S. Presidential election). This should be enough to concern any thinking individual who values concrete knowledge. Lacking any political opinion, these were concerning events because they proved that knowledge is becoming far too problematic.

In essence this is the heart of critical thinking – questioning and evaluating the information presented to us. This was much easier when information was delivered at a slower speed, in books, telegrams and via newspapers – now, it is just too much.

We can become jaded and our poor brains too tired – unable to apply a level of critical scrutiny to EVERY piece of information we receive. So this overload goes straight into the ‘too-hard’ basket and we move DOWN Bloom’s Taxonomy.

We begin approaching each piece of information from a lower-order – ‘identify’ being the only style perspective. This is where the danger emerges. Unfortunately, life and reality are far too complex to break down into digestible information. But the repetition of lower-order tasks is creating a generation of lower-order thinkers. They become satisfied that they can solve the answer to any puzzle with a quick Google search.

We as educators have a duty to move on from the lower-order tasks as quickly as possible. We need to open up our students to the opportunities that can emerge when we teach them to apply their minds to critical thinking. We must teach them to smash their ‘echo chambers’, which are far too restrictive.

About Will Skis

By Will Skis. Will is a casual teacher and former journalist. He received a Masters in Teaching with Distinction in 2014, majoring in English and Drama education.

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