critical thinking about digital learning

Critical digital thinking in higher education

Students protesting the use of an algorithm to determine their A level results in August 2020
Picture credit Dominika Zarzycka

About this research

This research project examines how different approaches to learning, teaching and assessment (LTA) develop students as critical subjects. The HE curriculum is increasingly defined by digital methods and platforms. These developments have accelerated during the ‘online pivot’ that is part of the sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the focus on keeping students safe and allowing education to continue, it is a difficult time to be asking critical questions. But it’s also a time when the issue of how students learn in digital environments is pressing for everyone, and how that learning maintains a critical edge is a long-term concern.

What does it mean for students to be ‘critical subjects’ in digital education? Your answer is likely to depend on your own area of specialism. Perhaps they approach digital information with the capacity to make sound judgements about its validity. Perhaps they are aware of how messages in digital media need to be decoded. They might be discriminating about the digital platforms, networks and tools they use – for example about how their personal data is collected, or whether code is open source, or how apps are designed for universal access. They might consider some of the broader impacts of digital technologies including issues of power and (dis)advantage, and changing patterns of work and leisure.

‘Critical thinking’ is highly valued as an outcome of higher education. Digital tools and approaches offer new opportunities for students to develop critical skills and positions, while society’s digital turn makes new forms of critique necessary. At the same time, some kinds of critical stance may become more problematic – perhaps because digital media are particularly hard to resist, or because academic methods and critical tools are still catching up with the rapid changes in how knowledge is produced. Different subject areas provide students with different resources for making sense of this landscape.

Theoretically, this research will build a rich definition of ‘critical digital capability’ that is sensitive to different subject areas and settings. In practical terms, it will collect and share examples of how educators explore critical responses with their students. Could you help by talking about your own experience and approach, and discussing one or more curriculum examples?

If you are interested please:

Some more background

The working title for this research is Resistance and resilience: developing critical digital capability in the HE curriculum

It is funded through a studentship at the University of Wolverhampton Institute of Education.

The aims are:

  1. To produce a rich, context-sensitive definition of ‘critical digital capability’;
  2. To populate this definition with examples existing literature;
  3. To produce a significant number of new examples across different subject areas and institutions;
  4. Through interviews with educators and a review of student digital products, to refine the definition and conceptual framework;
  5. To analyse the relationships among teacher concepts and student activities that could support future research or educational interventions.

The research is being taken forward through a review of relevant literatures, through interviews, and by investigating examples. Participants will be encouraged to describe your own beliefs, intentions and experiences, and to reflect on what ‘critical‘ and ‘digital‘ mean to you. All data and materials will be treated in confidence and with care. Your views, your time and your expertise will always be respected.