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Reach digital nirvana


Wayne Trotman reads a book that blends critical thinking with online nous

Thinking Critically Through Digital Media
Nik Peachey. Edited By Maria Fuller

This book describes itself as ‘a manual for teachers wanting to build their students’ digital literacy skills and critical thinking in an interactive, student-centred manner’. This sounds like just the thing for language learners and teachers hoping to negotiate our current century.

The author’s preface says the book ‘goes beyond treating students as the passive recipients of content information’ and helps to develop the skills they need to become ‘productive researchers and creators of digital content’.

It also enables them to become ‘full, active and responsible members of the global digital information and learning community’, it says.

That’s a heck of a claim, I think you’ll agree. Some people, myself included, might at this point ask how many of their students may already have achieved this state of nirvana.

This volume is structured in four main chapters. Chapter Two deals with ‘infographics’, a means of presenting dense statistical evidence, and how these may be exploited for class discussion.

It examines their usefulness and the kinds of skills that teachers can help students develop in this area. These include enabling them to create visualisations of information that may be clearly understood by those viewing it. A typical task asks learners to create an infographic of a timeline of their life, charting the most significant events.

Chapter Three deals with research and how students can create their own surveys in order to carry out small-scale qualitative and quantitative research projects. These include, for example, asking their classmates to respond to controversial statements. Links to various free tools for survey design are provided, such as SurveyMonkey and Google Forms.

Chapter Four deals with delivering presentations and how students can take the information they have found and present it clearly to their peers. To do this, a collection of small-scale presentation tasks to help students build their skills is provided. Suggested topics include students’ favourite films, books and poems.

Chapter Five illustrates several really useful lesson plans that demonstrate the use of digital skills and techniques. Each appears as a range of tasks that are, according to the author’s notes, ‘aimed at promoting the development of digital literacies and critical thinking skills’.

And therein lies my main query concerning this book and others claiming to develop what are widely regarded as ‘critical skills’. I got the impression that a lot of the content simply covered familiar topics in a different manner, and was predominantly aimed at teaching English through digital media. In the right teacher’s hands (or should that be ‘on the right teacher’s tablet’?) I’m sure it will do so very well.

As I was working from a (legally accessed) online copy, I’m not sure if this work is actually available in paper format. But for those who still like that kind of tactile feature, I suppose printing all 166 pages wouldn’t be such a bad idea for annotating tasks and activities.

Or am I once again hinting at how I, personally, may well possess sufficient critical skills but have yet to move into the digital age?

Wayne Trotman is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, Izmir, Turkey.