Problem-Based Learning: Myths, Realities, and Critical Thinking Connections.

PUBLISHED: Mar 26, 2018

In This Episode.

Dave and Steve tackle one of the more over- and misused terms in education, Problem-Based Learning (PBL).  Learn the research behind PBL, what it is, for what it works well and for what it doesn’t work well.  In news of the week: How Artificial Intelligence is going to force educational change, and how critical thinking might just offer hope for the world in terms of climate change.  Maybe.  

Note: This episode contains minor technical difficulties that were out of our control.  Apologies in advance.

Episode Archive

Problem-Based Learning: Myths, Realities, and Critical Thinking Connections.

March 26, 2018

Podcast Transcript

Voiceover: Welcome to the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast, we bring you research driven solutions to critical thinking education. Why? Because as Bertrand Russell said, most people would sooner die than think. In fact, they do so. And now your hosts Steve Pearlman and Dave Carillo.

Steve Pearlman: Welcome back to the critical thinking initiative. I am Steve Pearlman.

Dave Carillo: I’m Dave Carillo.

Steve Pearlman: And today we’re going to talk to you about problem based learning. But first, we want to thank all the listeners who wrote us. They noted that we were on a little bit of a hiatus.

Dave Carillo: They did, didn’t they?

Steve Pearlman: And we both got Dave had a bit of an ear infection. I had a little stomach thing. We’ve been dealing with the same kind of wintery nonsense that everybody else has. So we’ve been

Dave Carillo: Away for new semester started and it hasn’t been a while. It seems like forever, actually.

Steve Pearlman: It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve since we’ve reached out to our podcast nation. Exactly critical thinking enthusiasts.

Dave Carillo: Well, it’s good to be back and thanks to everybody who stuck with us and who’s listening to this one today.

Steve Pearlman: Today we’re talking about problem based learning.

Dave Carillo: Yes, is part of our ever growing attempts to kind of conceptualize how we go about teaching, assessing critical thinking across the board. Problem based learning is a big part of that.

Steve Pearlman: It’s one of the key ways to do it. But before we get into that conversation, I want to remember to ask everyone to go on to iTunes and give us a big high five oh, iTunes rating, because that will really help get more people to be aware of the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast or if you’re on another forum, if you’re on iHeart Radio or wherever, you might be listening to us, if you could go on there and give us a great review. We’d really appreciate it.

Dave Carillo: Oh, absolutely. That can’t be said enough.

Steve Pearlman: And for those of you who already have thank you so much, and for those of you who’ve recommended us to some of your friends and colleagues, we’ve gotten a lot of people who said that they’ve been recommended lately. So we like that and please continue to email us with your questions and your comments only. Only one typically makes the question of the week, but we do try to get back to everybody. Yeah.

Dave Carillo: So, hey, so let’s do this.

Steve Pearlman: So problem based learning, I want to can I start with a tirade?

Dave Carillo: Start with a tirade. That’s it. Yeah, let’s get all your venom and vile bile out right now, and then we’ll continue.

Steve Pearlman: Here’s the thing. Non problem based learning or a lot of what we see going on in schools with respect to how things are structured is insane. And here’s why. Because school is the only place in the world or academia or college, the only place in the world where what happens is we get a whole bunch of information thrown at us and then after we quote unquote learn that information because I don’t think we’re really learning it in a deep sense, then we’re told why it was important, and we’re only told why it’s really important. The only real measure of what actually made that information important or what within that larger bulk of information was important was the test. So here’s how it works. I hand you a book and I say, Read this book and you say, Well, OK, why do I need to read this? And what I’m really effectively telling you as an educator is, well, you’re not going to find out until I give you the test on the book, you say, So what should I pay attention to when I read the book? Oh, well, you don’t know.

Steve Pearlman: You’ll find out when you get the test. So then we know sort of ever. All educators roughly know that’s an insane proposition. So then what do they do? They try to tell you what the important things are about the book so that it prepares you for the test. But then this creates this degrading process of learning, because the more I have to tell you what’s important about the book and just to use Ferrari’s term bank that information into you, then the less you are thinking for yourself, or the less that you really are engaging that material authentically instead. Now you’re just memorizing the things that I’m telling you that are important about the text. So you’re prepared for that question that might arise on the test that eventually really shows you what was important in the first place. Nowhere else in our lives do we approach things this way. Instead, in real life, we’re always confronted with the problem first. And from that, we are in some way developing a skill set and a knowledge base with how to do that because it’s intrinsically important to us.

Dave Carillo: Yeah. So for instance, making friends right, there’s no textbook for making friends, although I guess now you might see Barnes and Noble how to make friends easily and those kinds of things. But when we’re kids and we’re just put into the classroom, it becomes something that we have to figure out and it becomes a constant challenge and therefore the ins and outs of making friends and interacting with other kids as we make our way through the school. Those things become important to us, right, and we think about them all the time, and we think about how to become a better friend maker and a better friend, and if there’s a disagreement or you fall out of favor with someone or if you have a fight with a friend, ostensibly both of you have to figure out how to become friends again and you become a better friend and so on and so forth. But you never really just given a bunch of notes or a book and say, Here’s how to make friends and read this and study this and memorize those things, and then then go out and find a friend. It’s an actual, ongoing learning experience. Right? That would be an example of a problem. That means something to us.

Steve Pearlman: And and how everything in life comes as a problem. First, I need to be able to get to a job, which means I need a mode of transportation, which means I need to learn about driving in order if I want to be able to do that other thing, whatever it is, there’s always some kind of problem or situation or need that’s preceding the acquisition of information. And there are exceptions to that. There are things we’re just naturally interested in. Sometimes we might read about or learn about just because we have an interest in them. But often those things that we’re just doing because we have an intrinsic interest aren’t followed by an explicit test. And then if we get through a situation again where that explicit test is coming and it’s governed by an educator, then we’re put back into that same situation of learning about it. And what might be interesting to us about it or valuable to us about it is irrelevant until we go and find out what’s actually on the test.

Dave Carillo: I mean, is the reason for we don’t have to get all philosophical with like friends and things like that. But it’s the reason why that the question can you tell us what’s going to be on the test is such an unpopular question, because that’s all they’re interested in, right? That’s a fair. Students know that this is coming, but I will add that, you know, as a sad byproduct to or maybe it’s totally interrelated element. That kind of learning kind of kills curiosity and engagement right off the bat because there’s no reason to engage or be curious or to learn anymore other than to learn what’s going to be on the test. And then if you recall any of our past podcasts where we talk about how the brain deals with information that’s been crammed in there specifically for its past and so on and so forth. You’ll know that not only is the student not engaged other than to find out what’s on the test, the student will only learn as far as what’s on the test. And then afterward, you know, the brain dumps that information and then they don’t really have a chance to recall it or use it in any other way, shape or form.

Steve Pearlman: And beyond that, to the message to students, is what you find interesting or what you might find valuable about this is not it’s irrelevant. Don’t try to get interested in it because what interests you, really? We don’t care. We’re going to tell you what’s important. You’re going to tell me what’s important now. Know we can tell you what’s important after you’ve gone through the process of learning it, then we’re going to give you the test and see if you figured out what was important about it. Well, why don’t you just tell me what’s on the test? And that’s where that question comes from, right? Just tell me what’s going to be on the test? Because if you’re the one who’s going to determine what’s important and you’re going to want, it’s going to make the test. Could you just let me know so I can find that out, rather than wasting my time reading some of these other pages or acquiring some of this other information or thinking about it in a way that I might like, because clearly you don’t care about any of that.

Dave Carillo: I mean, and this goes on, you know, our listeners know this anyhow. It goes on from the time a student enters any sort of like rigid school or school setting up until the time that they basically get out of school. And it sets up all sorts of of of negative situations up to and including students relationship to knowledge and learning their their relationship to the world, their ability to be curious, their ability to learn about their own learning, you name it. I mean, it’s just it’s just bad news across the board,

Steve Pearlman: Their desire to come to

Dave Carillo: School, their desire to come to school in the first place. Right, right, right. Exactly. So it sounds like you’re setting up the primary distinction between all conventional schooling and what we talk about in terms of problem based learning.

Steve Pearlman: Well, it’s like we and we understand as we always make this disclaimer, we understand that

Dave Carillo: In, but we never make it until after we ran. Then we’re like,

Steve Pearlman: Oh, wait, oh, wait. By way, those people we’ve just fairly

Dave Carillo: Offended in our, yeah, you realize, did not mean to do that, but nevertheless go, yeah, there are disclaimer.

Steve Pearlman: The lots of people are under a lot of constraints.

Dave Carillo: Huge concern.

Steve Pearlman: You know, in higher education and otherwise even just the nature of how courses are scheduled gives constraints to how we can set up problem based learning, which isn’t necessarily always ideally suited to one or two classes or three classes a week. Because if? Forces students out, you know, as they go into other subject matters and so on. And there are a lot of other constraints and so we know that there are issues here and we are going to talk today about really what the research shows with respect to where problem based learning can be more effective than some of the traditional learning structures that go on and also where it isn’t and there are limitations to it. Yeah, and we want to be fair about that as well, but we do hope that educators listening will will consider trying problem based learning a little bit more as we go out of this and we’ll do a later podcast that will talk in much more detail about some of the nitty gritty ins and outs. But we have to circle around through a couple of other topics.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, we are conceptualizing this as prom based learning number one, and we’ll get back to problem based learning number two at some other point. But let’s let’s get started. We’re going to use an article by Strobel and Barneveld called Wendy’s PBA more effective, a meta synthesis of meta analyses comparing PBL to conventional classrooms. They use a definition from Barrow who puts this forth in 2002. Problem based learning is identified through the following key components one Ill structured problems are presented as unresolved so that students will generate not only multiple thoughts about the cause of the problem, but multiple thoughts about how to solve it to a student centered approach in which students determine what they need to learn. Three. Teachers Act as facilitators and tutors, asking students the kinds of metacognitive questions they want students to ask themselves in subsequent sessions. Guidance is faded and for authenticity, forms the basis of problem selection embodied by alignment to professional or real world practice. Those are the four key components, and I think they set up a fairly solid framework for thinking about this problem based learning idea.

Steve Pearlman: So to review quickly, a problem based learning is centered on ill structured problems.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, a student centered

Steve Pearlman: Approach, student centered approach teacher as the guide and the problem has to have some kind of authenticity.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, authenticity. And it is. In this case, our defining authenticity is as in aligning to professional or real world practice. And we can we’ll talk a little bit about that, but that would be authentic in terms of any outcomes, right? You don’t want to present a problem to students and then assess them on some multiple choice thing. So authenticity is important

Steve Pearlman: And this is critical because initially there are a lot of people and faculty members with whom we work, who have some misconceptions about problem based learning that if I turn around in my class and I say, take a few minutes to answer this question that I’ve done some kind of problem based learning with the students. But question and response, even if there’s not a definitive answer, is not problem based learning. In fact, I would add one more bullet to that, which is that for problem based learning, there cannot be an objectively accessible answer. There’s not a right answer that we’re moving to for problem based learning. One right answer, so not problem based learning is not usually textbook to figure out who was the fourth president of the United States. That’s not a problem

Dave Carillo: Based theory, and maybe I think that’s one of the things we do want to get to in part two of this is is what is how do we define a structured? Is there a way to do that? Because I think you make a good point. And again, the idea of the Socratic method being somehow like, Well, I’m presenting them a problem and I’m just going to keep asking questions until they get the right answer. That’s not in any way what problem based learning is centered around. And in fact, the idea that guidance fades over time is is a very important part of this whole process and one of the toughest ones to do.

Steve Pearlman: So we know when we talk to faculty members, they’re concerned about problem based learning because there are a couple of issues here. So basically, the way learning works is like this. You might structure the course or a unit of the course around a large, loosely conceived what we call ill structured problem. Then you are to a certain extent providing resources to the students or allowing students to acquire resources that would enable them to somehow address that problem. You function as a guide within the discipline as to what someone in your discipline does when approaching problems and using resources to come to solutions for those problems or answers or moving in the right direction. And you’re eventually letting students develop their own ways to participate in clarifying the nature of the problem. This is really a problem that comes down to, or we have to look at this problem through this lens and you’re letting them ultimately arrive at their own solutions for lack of a better word to this, which doesn’t mean all solutions are equal, which is why shameless plug time it’s so critical to have a strong critical thinking outcome assessment for what? The students do so there’s some way for them to determine the thinking process that they used and to value the thinking process that arrives at the solution. So you’re not just judging randomly on which solution you think is better as an educator or why you think this might work, but rather looking at how effectively they’re able to reason and demonstrate the reasoning that they use to work through resource material and evidence and problem and so forth in order to come to a solution.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, and it is a shameless plug, but that is a really good point and something that we don’t necessarily see in a lot of the research that we look at in terms of problem based learning is anything on how outcomes are assessed, and there are one or two that I can think of, but not too many. And that’s that’s huge. And actually, I’ll just add that a strong, authentic assessment can actually make problem based learning a lot easier to do in the class, a

Steve Pearlman: Lot easier on the students, if they do on the students, what the assessment is

Dave Carillo: Going to be a lot easier to set up to, you know, a lot of a lot easier to run across the board. So there are some are some advantages for that kind of assessment to exist. And as you’ll see, if you can make problem based learning work, there are some pretty good payoffs.

Steve Pearlman: But the concerns that faculty have as they step into it are also real. You’re letting go a lot of the control of flow of information, emphasis on what’s important, and there are concerns that students will not cover the same breadth of material or find some of the same points of importance that you might emphasize as an educator. What we find, though, is that and we’ll get now into where problem based learning is shown to be more effective and where it’s shown to be less effective. But on the whole figure, it like this. What we typically see is that when faculty members engage problem based learning, if it’s something authentic and students become invested in it, the amount of material that’s covered, the depth of the material that’s covered, the amount of intellectual engagement of the material that’s covered all elevates and not just by a little bit. So faculty members that are concerned who are listening, you’re saying, Well, I’ve got to make sure I hit these points. Typically, students will do far more through problem based learning than not. And another way to think about it is that if we look at persistence of learning through most traditional means, what we see is that students retain very little of what they learn in traditional manner as they move from course to course in year to year semester semester. So this great concern that we have well, that we have to cover all this information and students have to get all this information. It’s so important that they learn all the material is a fallacy because they’re learning it. But we know from so much outcome research and persistence research that it only lasts a short period of time. For the most part, then most of it what they learn, they forget there are some exceptional students, not the case. The vast majority of students, that is the case. And it’s much better in a problem based learning sense because persistence of that learning, even if it’s not covering all the particular things that you thought were important as the educator sticks with them much more as they move from course to course and throughout their educational career.

Dave Carillo: And then you’re also doing double time in terms of allowing students to start to develop the kind of metacognitive framework that allows them to succeed as humans, as they move forward through their schooling and then to their career, which is the ability to understand that there’s a problem. Figure out how to solve it to some extent. Look at things from different perspectives. And so it’s not just about engaging content. Although, Steve, you make great points because when we work with faculty, the fear that content suffers, that the content in their discipline, the discipline that they’ve you know, that they faculty have chosen to be their lifelong field of study suffers in some way. Shape or form is a huge fear. And folks who embrace sort of the overarching moves we make find that students are engaging content not much deeper, more meaningful way and much more complex way. That said, students who are engaged in a problem based learning structure are also developing these overarching abilities to solve problems, to look at things from different perspectives. Like I said earlier, and that’s that’s actually essential as well.

Steve Pearlman: So I mean, is that isn’t that what we want? We want education to prepare our students to solve problems in the world as they go out. It problems in their own lives and problems for the rest of us as they go out into the world and not be intellectually dependent on us to tell them what’s important seriously, but rather to engage, know how to engage and be interested in engaging the

Dave Carillo: World, you know? And it sounds really trite to some extent, but you know, we keep making that distinction. You hear it a lot between school and the real. The world in school, in the real world, and while we would like to say that yes, school is part of the real world and that it’s actually a thing that students are trying to make their way through, it’s it is the case that once they leave, no one’s really going to tell them what’s on a test. Everybody’s going to rely on them to solve some sort of quandary and do it on their own. And as such, you know, we we we should be looking at that kind of framework for school as much as possible.

Steve Pearlman: One of the things that supports that, there’s some interesting research. I think I’m referencing Schwartz and Sadler around 2000, a study that they did. So here’s the scenario I think they gave them. I think this was the one around an electromagnet, and they give them a bunch of bunch of materials and said here, make a better electromagnet or that was for one group. In three groups, they either gave the groups the goals and the methods they grew the group, no goals and no methods, or they gave the group goals, but no methods. And the group that did the best was the group that got a goal make the electromagnet better, but no methods. In other words, here’s your problem you did better electromagnet. Here are some resources. Good luck with that. The group that had goals and methods actually didn’t do the best. The other group exceeded the group that had goals and methods set for them, and the group that had no goals and no methods just kind of went floundered around, I guess rolled around in the yeah, in the electromagnetic material had no idea what to do with it. They were just sticking paper clips to their faces. I don’t know what happened in that group, exactly. In other words, the evidence here is really pretty simple, right? You don’t have to teach the students the goals and the methods and walk them through the process of how to do it. If you want to turn on their thinkers, you want them to go on and say, Here are the goals. Now go take a look at the materials and figure out what it is you think the solution needs to be.

Steve Pearlman: And again, a worthwhile assessment based on critical thinking plug for our books could help with that. Significantly, as we said that we do want to talk about where problem based learning is found to be more effective and where it’s found to be less effective. And I’ll start with one of the less effective. And I’ll turn it over to you for some of the more. Yeah, sure. But basically, it’s like this look, if students are going to be taking a standardized test and that’s all they’re doing. There is no question that direct instruction over a short period of time with letting them cram for that test is going to be more effective than problem based learning. Here’s a rigid set of things that we absolutely want them to know. We’re going to test it through a standardized means where there’s no intellectual engagement of that material. It’s basically a fact based test typically. Yeah, then direct instruction is better. It’s better in the sense that they’ll do better on the test. It’s not better in the sense that in any other way that things will last with them. They’ll forget everything on the test. It all goes into short term memory. They dump it out when they had to study for the next standardized test. But nevertheless, we do know that that’s where problem based learning falls short of other teaching methods. If that’s all that you want students to be able to do.

Dave Carillo: So here are the places where problem based learning has been shown to be much more effective than a traditional classroom framework. And again, this is coming from Strobel and Barneveld. But like Steve said, if it’s just short term recalled, probably based learning is not for you, but in terms of faculty and student satisfaction, in terms of in terms of student engagement, PBL far exceeded effectiveness than in terms of a traditional classroom structure in terms of knowledge assessment knowledge measures that focused more on recall over recognition, such as free recall, where students were asked to write down everything they remembered on a topic and short answer, which allowed for elaboration of answers that favored PBL knowledge assessment that focused on long term knowledge retention. Pbl was much more effective in terms of long term knowledge retention, retention, any kind of other assessment along the lines of essay questions. Working with case studies, oral presentations, billions of things, PBL was favored much more than the traditional classroom structure, and mixed knowledge and skill was another thing they looked at in which results that required both knowledge and skill for performance or examinations. Those kinds of things. Application of knowledge. Understanding of knowledge, transfer of knowledge. All those kinds of things.

Steve Pearlman: Problem based learning. Let me actually go back to the first one of the first ones you touched on, because I think it’s compelling. Reports show that faculty satisfaction, student satisfaction with learning goes up with problem based learning. Everyone ultimately likes it better. Yeah, and the students like it better. So again, for educators who are listening to this and are concerned that the shift to a problem based model could cause real problems with respect to the students. We want to allay some of those concerns. Yeah, there’s there can be an adjustment period, certainly if students aren’t used to it, but ultimately when students really get invested in that problem based learning, they like it more. Why? Because their brains get turned on and they get to engage problems and what they have to say about a problem becomes valuable. Now, when we say you have to have students invested in the problem, this means that they should have some, some say, in helping to determine what the problem is. That doesn’t mean that if you’re teaching a course on nursing that you can’t use a nursing topic, but it should be a question or a problem that’s vague and ill formed, and that gives students the room to be able to go into that topic and find ways to further define that problem more. Further examine what’s particularly important in addressing that problem in some ways, so that they also can take on some ownership over what the problem really is and how to go about addressing it.

Dave Carillo: And this is something that I think we do want to address in the second PBL podcast, or maybe even a third. A lot of the legwork comes before the PBL unit or the class it’s going to be, you know, centered around an ill structured problem as long as those things are in place. I mean, this is not something that you can just sort of throw into the mix because to be honest, students are very adept at sensing authenticity, of learning, of learning versus

Steve Pearlman: Other or setting up another game.

Dave Carillo: That, yeah, exactly. They’re playing the educational game. And if they understand and you know, you communicate that this this is not another hoop and you know, there may be tests somewhere down the line or there may be there may have to be a test in the class, but that you know the way to it, they are being assessed on this problem is spelled out. It’s it’s clear it’s authentic. If their participation, their ability to look at different perspectives and so on is is valued as part of those outcomes. They’re going to get that and that’s where the payoff comes. We find that faculty are often not able to conceive of a student engaging any further than what’s on the test. When this kind of framework is put in place, it’s often surprising to the faculty members that we work with, that the students are able to go over and above right. And in fact, I remember one of the I think it was an individual we worked with here, walked into the room early and overheard her students sort of working through how they would figure out the problem for that day. I mean, they were like their engagement was actually spilling over into the time before the class and the time after the class. And that’s always been a surprising thing when we were with faculty.

Steve Pearlman: And what faculty will see is that once it gets rolling in a good problem based learning class, I’ll walk into my class sometimes a little late or what have you, the students or barely acknowledge that I’ve entered the room. Yeah, they’re busy working. I’m there when they need me. If they have a question or if there’s they’re hitting an obstacle or if they have an idea, they want to bounce off me. And often they’re there when the class is over and we’re getting kicked out by the next faculty member entering the room because they’re still engaged in contending with the problem and engrossed in their work. It’s it’s a tremendous shift as you’re talking about. Yeah. And when first we get faculty members who are saying to us, I can barely get the students to read a chapter. How do you expect me to get going? Now you’re saying I should give them more books and more resources? And how are they going to engage any of that? And problem based learning scenario actually flips the onus of workload onto the students, and they take it on and they get engaged in it, and they’ll they’ll read far more than they had before. We don’t want to make it sound too simplistic or idyllic, and there are other aspects to this, as we said, that we have to throw into it. The importance of a good assessment and touch points along the way is critical. We’ll talk about other things about mastery models that move away from perfunctory learning and so on as well. But it’s certainly possible to get students invested in this kind of learning and get a lot more

Dave Carillo: Out of it. We pulled two articles from twenty seventeen. We looked for the most, some really recent examples. And so this first one is Kumar and Rafi, both at a University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College. This article is called Problem Based Learning Pedagogy fosters students critical thinking about writing they find favorable outcomes. This one found that students ability to think critically about what they were writing was raised. This article draws a distinction between traditional teaching styles and this problem based framework. So in this one, the traditional teaching style is a rhetorical analysis of an article. What that essentially is is asking students to fill in a blank right or a set of blanks. When you do a rhetorical analysis, there are about five or six points that you have to hit. And as long as you’re more or less describing those things, then you’re OK. So in this study, they used as a pre-test this rhetorical analysis and the post test was the accomplice, the problem based framework. So the rhetorical analysis asked them to fill in the blanks about an article that talks about human rights one way or another. The problem based learning framework asks them to take on three problems that were more and more challenging. So the first problem was to examine an issue of human rights and identify human rights that students thought were important.

Dave Carillo: So right off the bat, like the first problem is now you have to identify the ones that you think are important and explain why they are important. That second problem was to choose an individual right to defend using sources. And so it got a little bit harder, because now you couldn’t simply just list a bunch, but now you have to defend a certain one and then the third problem. The students were put in a group to present a to write out a white paper on human rights. And what they found was that the critical thing outcomes that they were measuring went up. And this is a good example of the way that you can use problem based learning in a writing class, right? And we often think about writing in terms. If you remember back to our tirade on the five paragraph essay, which is often fill in the blank in certain ways. This allows students to start to engage in a more and more challenging writing task. But again, very simple here. One was a sort of more traditional fill in the blank. Here’s a traditional, like, you know, analysis of something. And then these next these next problems were a lot more structured. There were no answers at that point. Students really had to engage on this and engage the subject in a much deeper level.

Steve Pearlman: And I think for our purposes, this is maybe even just an example of quasi problem based learning because really, as we would as we ultimately conceive of it, we’re looking at we look at try to look at much bigger, deeper problems and give students more room to find space within that rather than the problems that were here. But it’s it’s certainly a steps into the concept of problem based learning more than the do do the rhetorical analysis or write the five paragraph essay assignment. It is,

Dave Carillo: And again, like I just did a really quick and I’ll say sloppy sort of overview. But again, the distinction is there like there are there are writing assignments that are fill in the blanks. Yes. And then there are these others.

Steve Pearlman: And in fact, so many faculty come to us. And when they’re trying to improve their writing assignments, their instinct is to make them increasingly more specific, to lay out in much more detail all of the parts that that piece of writing should have. It becomes increasingly a fill in the blank kind of enterprise rather than doing the opposite, which is more of what we covered, which is opening it up to the student and then letting them have an authentic assessment at the end of that.

Dave Carillo: Ok, so this this second one went on in environmental engineering, laboratory class lab class. And again, the big thing to take away here is that they’re drawing a very stark distinction between what what’s been passed and what’s clearly not working. In this case, they talk about the traditional like STEM lab, as you know, following cookbook steps quote. This usually means students are given a set of procedures, which perhaps a few free lab questions, and then they complete the steps during the laboratory exercise, record the data and fill in the answers on the laboratory worksheet. To conclude, the laboratory students may be asked to analyze the data collected and summarized findings in a report or presentation. So everything sort of given to them and they just follow the steps.

Steve Pearlman: And by the way, that’s so that what Dave described, right, that’s not problem based learning. It might be project based learning. And that’s why there’s a distinction between project based learning and

Dave Carillo: And no, and I’ll be honest, like they get into this and we want to we’ll probably want to get back to this. But they say educators has this traditional laboratory formats hand provides hands on experience. But what this article cite this article cite studies that the traditional lab experience really only touches on lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. The higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, analysis, synthesis and evaluation are hardly ever engaged in this kind of traditional laboratory setting, right? Right. So they’re arguing for this problem. Based learning and the way they set it up was by using case studies, which reflected authentic, real world environmental engineering problems, essentially. So, for instance, students are given a water sample and then they’re asked to design and test a water filtration system using that sample. And then this particular case study also then asks them to scale that up. Whatever scale up, they’re designed to 10000 gallons of water instead of testing a drop of water. Again, the learning outcomes student engagement were all raised in this particular study. And again, this is and this is important to take a look at, and hopefully we’ll take a closer look at it later on because this is everybody has to take a lab in college. Everybody has to take a lab in in high school and even in seventh and eighth grade. But the way labs are traditionally run, according to this study and the research, they say those labs don’t allow for any good critical thinking. So these are two examples.

Steve Pearlman: And what I love about them is they’re both, I think, accessible concepts for how to start integrating problem based exactly into a classroom without it becoming too much of an upheaval. And I think in our next one, we’ll talk about large scale overhauls of. Pedagogy around it more, but I love that these offer some ways to just start entering into this problem based structure without having to change everything we’re doing as education.

Dave Carillo: Totally agreed. But I do think that like one or the other, valuable elements of both of these is that they’re taking a good hard look at what’s come before and the distinction that they’re drawing is that what we’ve been doing, what’s traditionally valued just doesn’t work.

Steve Pearlman: Not if we want

Dave Carillo: To, not if we want stronger

Steve Pearlman: Intellectual engagement and critical thinking. Yeah, there you go. So that’s going to wrap up our discussion of

Dave Carillo: The quick and dirty overview of probably makes learning

Steve Pearlman: Part one and the circle back to it sometime in the future. Hopefully not too far out. And we will get back with news of the weekend, our question of the week right after the shameless plug for our texts.

Voiceover: The critical thinking initiatives handbooks are on sale at the Critical Thinking Initiative dot org. The teachers version of the handbook not only walks you through everything in the student handbook, it also provides you with research synopsis for the Critical Thinking Initiative’s framework and the turnkey exercises. You need to bring critical thinking into any class and any discipline. High school through graduate school for wholesale orders for your students, just contact us at the Critical Thinking Initiative Dawg Free downloads of the Critical Thinking Initiatives Infographic are also available on our site, where you can also contact us with questions or comments for Steve and Dave. Elementary and junior high versions are coming soon, so check back to our site for updates.

Dave Carillo: So let’s go to news of the week now and before we even start that, I just want to reiterate how much we value your questions and especially when we take on such a huge subject like this. We understand that we’re not touching on anything in the depth that we really want. So ask the questions or point out the gaps and we’ll we’ll get back to you as best we can. So, Steve, start the news of the week

Steve Pearlman: News of the week. I am actually citing, I guess it’s news, but it’s the IU’s and that’s the Economist’s intelligence unit. They have a report out risks and rewards scenarios around the economic impact of machine learning and by machine learning. We don’t mean learning on a tablet, we mean actual machines that are learning

Dave Carillo: Algorithms and

Steve Pearlman: Kind of artificial intelligence. So what they did was they looked at a number of different scenarios where machines are effectively starting to learn and play greater roles in our economy and what that’s going to look like. So for example, what’s going to happen when all of the truck drivers are replaced by self-driving trucks? And what are the economic impacts of that’s going to be they looked at a number of these different kinds of scenarios around the world to try to determine what are the impacts of all this machine learning going to be on us? And what kind of things are we needing as human beings, as we move from human based economy into what will be increasingly a machine based economy? And what are you saying, machine based economy? Let me give you an example from this. That, to me, is it’s intriguing and yet also remarkably disturbing at the same time, and I’m quoting from the article here. Current processes are not only being improved, though, they are being reinvented to cite just a couple of examples. Not co a Chilean company uses A.I. software for product development. It breaks down foods into their basic molecules and then uses machine learning algorithms to create vegan alternatives, which in turn are taste tested by people. It is already marketing a mayonnaise. Meanwhile, AI and robotics can allow increasingly personalized merchandise. Adidas is building a new speed factory, which will perform batch sizes of one as robots manufacture shoes for specific needs and wants of a given customer. The high level of production automation is not a complete job destroyer because they go on to say that they’re still going to need humans to do the shoe designing, at least for now.

Dave Carillo: Right, exactly.

Steve Pearlman: But nevertheless, so we have we have machines who are designing our food based on molecular algorithms, and that’s amazing. And that’s kind of horrifying, right? At the same time. But anyway, they’re going to be a lot of food design people who are going to be out of work right out of this when they’re trying to figure out how to make a good vegan alternative to a cheeseburger that’s going to happen by machines they’re going to. Machines are going to figure out that out on a molecular algorithmic basis. So where does all this go? Well, they come to a number of different conclusions in the study, and obviously I’m not going to go through all of them. They talk about what some of the needs are with respect to how we’re going to develop machines, how they’re going to become integrated. How do we do this? So it doesn’t have as much negative impact immediately on society as it might and so on. But it might shock you, David, to learn that at some point. This goes back to they’re discussing the need for education to be different and for students to develop other skills because the same

Dave Carillo: Skills shocked, right? I am shocked. I know you mean the same things that we’ve been doing over and over and over again for the last 50 years haven’t been working in some ways.

Steve Pearlman: They not only haven’t been, but they’re not. They’re going to be working less and less than than.

Dave Carillo: I can’t imagine how they could be working any less.

Steve Pearlman: And what they write is that quote, it is important for policymakers not to over adjust towards vocational and stem education at the expense of liberal arts, as highlighted in the report. Observers expect demand for soft skills, such as team building cooperation and critical thinking to increase as AI and machine learning evolve. These skills, as well as the broader concept of good judgment, are not wholly dependent on a liberal arts education, but a basic grounding in history, philosophy and literature will be increasingly important. In other words, they need people not only who are able to design these machines, but we need people who can solve problems who can work together in teams and these soft skills, the critical thinking skills again are not only being seen as important, which we can always have made a case for, but based on the new economy that’s emerging, they’re going to be seen as needing to be even more important than they were before because there’s going to be no room for for jobs where that’s not involved. Basically, the machines are going to take over all the other jobs and then they’re going to eventually take over the world and hunt down Sarah Connor and then right again into an inexplicable

Dave Carillo: Time loop critical thinking skills so that we can just organize really good resist tunes and a good strong resistance to machine Skynet. Exactly right, which is I’m assuming where where

Steve Pearlman: This is headed, we need more. Imagine if we were all John Connors who could resist, learn to rise up and resist the machines.

Dave Carillo: That would be great, right?

Steve Pearlman: Do we think Sarah Connor just did rote learning with John Connor or was it problem solving? It had to be problem solving?

Dave Carillo: I wonder if those scenes were the I wonder if they were on the left on the cutting room floor, like all the scenes where Sarah Connor is teaching them how to identify claims,

Steve Pearlman: And I saw the original

Dave Carillo: Script that was in there. The original script is the original script. The years is like strong. Like, yeah, critical thinking training. Exactly, yeah.

Steve Pearlman: But it didn’t make for

Dave Carillo: Good revising papers. And yeah, exactly. It didn’t make for. It wasn’t nearly as exciting,

Steve Pearlman: They conclude with. Finally, because the combination of skills and demand will constantly be evolving, policymakers, industry executives and educators need to be in frequent communication unless the infrastructure for skills and training become outdated and the need for for thinking is never going to become outdated. But we need people who are going to be able to be flexible, right and adaptive to what the new needs are or where the new jobs are with the new teaching methods are going to be and so on, rather than sticking to the old hat memorization and regurgitate kinds of methodologies. So here’s something that’s future looking. And it’s not just looking at the current state of affairs today, it’s looking forward. And its conclusion is once again coming back to what we harp on constantly, which is this need to create learners and thinkers and people who are intellectually adept and agile as they move into the new world. Which is, I mean, you know, as you and I are getting a little older, even less of a concern for us and more of a concern for the next generations coming out of college now and going into college and so on and so forth.

Dave Carillo: You know, it’s interesting, too. I mean, the challenge really is to make sure that you can maintain both perspectives because, yeah, this is a far reaching type of discussion. But the moves we need to make happen to happen now, right? We can’t wait any longer or can’t wait for, you know, that first machine to truly take over a whole sort of production line or eliminate an entire type of job before we start to.

Steve Pearlman: Well, if anything, if we look at the critical thinking outcomes, we’re it’s not that I have to start now, it’s that they had to start 20 years ago. They did right. We were behind the curve.

Dave Carillo: Do you know what needed to start 20 years ago to what’s that effective, effective action on climate change?

Steve Pearlman: That would have been nice or, yeah, 40

Dave Carillo: Years ago, 40 years ago when Carter

Steve Pearlman: Was talking

Dave Carillo: About probably, right? Yeah. Which leads into which is what my article is about. And I find it interesting that you know yours is talking about the future, but we need to act now. And this one is also about the future, but about how a few people are taking some action now. So this one’s called humans need to become smarter thinkers to beat climate denial. Oh all right. So this is this is an article. This is out of the Guardian. Right?

Steve Pearlman: Climate denial is still a thing.

Dave Carillo: It is. I knew that it may well. I was trying to come up with like a sort of flip sardonic kind of jokey response. But to be honest, it’s just really sad these days. And there’s a we’re out of whatever, politicize anything. But I think that the picture on this article. All this that’s Trump looking right at the eclipse, the eclipse, even though science told him not to. But at any rate, this is this article is about the work of three individuals John Cooke, Peter Ellington and David Kinkade. They’ve just published a paper. This happened maybe a couple of months ago in Environmental Research Letters, in which they examined 42 common climate myths and found that every single one demonstrates fallacious reasoning. That’s sort of the crux of this article here. These three individuals are looking at climate change denial, and they’re finding that each one of these arguments is in some way shape or form, logically flawed. But the issue is, is that cook specifically, although I think they’re all co-authors here, has published research on using misconception based learning to dislodge climate myths from people’s brains and replace them with facts. And their point is is that there are a few easy steps. If we can just get sort of wrap our heads around these types of steps, we can start to change the way people think about climate change. So essentially, this article says is quote the idea is that faced with a myth and a competing fact, the fact will more easily win out if the fallacy underpinning the myth is revealed.

Dave Carillo: In fact, quote these concepts of misconception based learning and inoculation against myths are the basis for a free online denial 101 course developed by Cooke and his colleagues. So they’re trying to do something about this now and then. The article goes on to talk about like the six steps that allow you to figure out whether a climate change myth or where the fallacy lies in the climate change myth. So in any way, there are six steps that they talk about in this article that allows you to uncover the critical logical flaw in an argument. What I find interesting is that they’re working to get this out to as many people as possible, and it’s a challenge, right? You know, and we’ve discussed this in other scenarios as to how the human brain will sometimes like double down on something that it feels like it absolutely believes, or that there’s this runaway belief, persistence or this sort of the amygdala takes this fight or flight type of thing and just engages in a fight. What’s heartening is that is that they’re working to deploy this in as in as many sort of scenarios as possible. You know, the authors suggest that their six step critical thinking process can be deployed via social media through tech cognition and in the classroom.

Dave Carillo: And they’re hoping that if they can get to as many people as possible, then then maybe they can start to change the way people think about this. And the article ends with this quote. Our critical thinking process is a tool that scientists, educators and communicators can employ to identify fallacies in misinformation, which they can use to create inoculating messages that neutralize the myths. This approach? Right. This approach is practical, achievable and potentially impactful in both the short term in social media applications and the long term incorporating this kind of content into the curriculum. Which is why, you know, I think this article kind of goes well with you, right? We’re thinking long term, we’re thinking short term misinformation needs short, sharp, immediate inoculation is what they say. And so these six steps provide a blueprint. And I find this is interesting because I don’t want to over generalize, but in the past covered some articles where people start to uncover this kind of issue in various places and they talk about the need to do things. But this this one sort of speaks to, you know, the next step they’ve they’ve come up with this sort of six step process. They’re trying to envision ways to get this out. And there you have it. They have this problem. They’re looking at the solution and they’re trying to look at it from both the short term and the long term.

Steve Pearlman: Well, more power to him. Yeah. But here’s what’s sad about this for me is that for educated people, this is still needed because something in our educational system, despite what might have been some some work by some excellent educators along the way who who did address this and there are those out there. But collectively, as a populace, what we’re seeing is that this already wasn’t covered in school. And isn’t this sort of the main thing that schools should be doing is teaching us to be able to be logical and our thinking to be able to find fallacious premises to find flaws and logic. And we go beyond that into creating solutions. But at the minimum, shouldn’t this be happening in elementary school? Shouldn’t we be so adept at this by the time we are high school graduates that nothing like climate change could emerge as something that is debatable once becomes more palpable?

Dave Carillo: No, I know, and I totally agree with you. And that’s and that is something that, you know, operates as a kind of depressing subtext. Here is that. It’s great, you know, it’s great that they’re they’ve got this process, they’re working on making it available to as many people as possible. They’re looking at the long term in the short short term. But there’s no reason at this point why climate change should be up for debate. And it still is. And what

Steve Pearlman: More in America, more in the United States, in the

Dave Carillo: United, most of the more the United States and most

Steve Pearlman: Of the world where most, many other countries, it’s right. There’s not this debate going on over climate change. Certainly not to this extent.

Dave Carillo: No, no, not at all.

Steve Pearlman: And it’s just widely accepted as a real problem. And it’s and it’s here where we also have such challenges to our educational system and we’re behind some of the rest of the world and what we’re doing overall that we also have this problem. And I wonder if that’s not just by accident.

Dave Carillo: Ok, so our question of the week comes from Ken from California. Thanks, Ken, for writing us. Hi, Ken. Hi, Stephen. Dave, I’m writing you with a question about your last podcast on the five paragraph essay Alternatives. I found your discussion thought provoking, especially the connection between the five paragraph essay and the broader mindset that it can reflect and sometimes work to entrench in students. I teach roughly 80 students a semester, and though most of the students have been writing in the five paragraph style for some time, by the time I get them in my class, I’m willing to try anything to see whether we can produce some different writing and thinking in class. My question, though, is that since my students are already pretty well used to the five paragraph essay. Are there any first moves or slight changes I can make to the form so as to avoid the shock I suspect they’d feel if I asked for something entirely different than what they’ve been doing for the last 10 years or so? That’s a great question. That is a great question and

Steve Pearlman: A very fair question because we understand the challenges of working with students as we do who have been steeped in this form. Yes, and sometimes just throwing them into the deep end of the pool can be a little disconcerting to them.

Dave Carillo: Absolutely. And if you’ve got so many students, like 80 students, is a lot of students. You can’t necessarily just up and assign an entirely different essay or a longer essay just like that.

Steve Pearlman: So but we’d like to reinforce the point, maybe for listeners across the board that we do offer forms in the book, and we went through one in the alternatives that aren’t necessarily longer than the five paragraph style. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that students will take to it immediately. And so that’s where Ken’s question comes in. And it’s and it’s a valuable question. One of the things that we can do to start helping students transition out of the form. I’ll give two ideas and I’ll turn it over to you. One is, instead of having them stay to thesis at the end of the first paragraph, have them stayed a question at the end of the first paragraph idea. And that way, although they’re still going to write those paragraphs, they can start to show how they’re working through an answer to a question that eventually comes to a conclusion, which would be a quote unquote thesis eventually. But there’s not an intellectual imperative for them to try to make some decision about a topic, then find things to support it. We can allow them to phrase a question that allows us to see their thinking process at work as it starts to engage that question.

Dave Carillo: Go ahead. Oh no, I just wanted to jump in in a minute or up, but I wanted to jump in, and I think that last point, it’s really important. And one of the ways you can actually make that happen is either have students find their sources first and bring them in. And you could work on the question as a class or provide three sources and then have students ask a question from those three sources and get them used to drawing a question or concern out of the research. Rather than looking for research to support whatever it is, they think ahead of time.

Steve Pearlman: Exactly right. The second suggestion I would make is that as they go through their five paragraphs and they are playing that game where they are finding a source that says something that kind of supports their thesis or addresses their question, saying, therefore, see, I’m right again in this paragraph, at least ask them to offer some explanation as to what the source is. Reasoning is not just what the source concludes. Not just a point that the source makes, but the reasoning behind that point or the evidence behind that point and then ask them to in some way show some limitation to that source. So author makes a claim. This is the evidence the author uses for a claim. I have one concern about that piece of evidence, but nevertheless, I think it nevertheless helps me answer the question as follows. So at least now they’re starting to engage those source elements a little bit more deeply than before. It’s not as much as we’d like, but we’re starting to make deeper and deeper intellectual inroads into the sources that they’re using for. There five paragraph essay,

Dave Carillo: Great idea is here’s another idea generally, and this is not always the case, but generally the five paragraph essay functions around the assumption that there’s a thesis and that thesis will be argued for throughout the rest of those paragraphs. The four paragraphs that precede the the introduction working under that assumption. When you assign a five paragraph essay or any essay, make it clear that one of the prerequisites is that students either engage in a very clear either or discussion where they’re not able to just consider one side and argue for a single side or even more. So have students understand that in order to write this, they need to break out of the either or that binary thinking kind of framework and have them develop discussion around the complexity of their sources and, in other words, don’t have them write a conclusion that simply summarizes what they’ve been saying. Have them write a conclusion that aims to weigh out the different kinds of perspectives toward some sort of conclusion. So that’s one way to do it is to tell students you can’t argue just one side in this. Take each paragraph and look at a different perspective in each paragraph, such that the students have to engage more than two sides.

Steve Pearlman: And then the conclusion can be trying to synthesize all of those different perspectives exactly some kind of coherent conclusion that does not have to perfectly answer or address or resolve the issue at hand that instead they can say, well, it’s unclear for the following reason and allow them that flexibility to simply be intellectually honest about what they really see as being supported and based on evidence and and reason and where they might find as though there are some challenges to that.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, that’s a good follow up. And then another idea that just comes to me now is is take a little time and have a question or thesis or conflict workshop where you work with the class to come up with a question, concern or conflict that ensures that they have that flexibility and are able to do that. Intellectual honesty and one of the sort of phrases that we work with our students a lot when we talk about asking questions is the phrase to what extent? To what extent is this a possibility within this framework? Or to what extent can we? Can we talk about how much better red sneakers are than blue sneakers? Because if you work with students to give them language to start to express nuance, especially in that sort of thesis or question mode where they’re so used to choosing a one sided type of statement and then going with that, then you’re opening up the rest of the essay, at least to further opportunities for students to start to look at further perspective. So a slight tweak might just be taking 15 minutes and ensuring that everybody’s first intellectual move. That thesis, that question that concern or that conflict is open ended enough to let them then explore that throughout the rest of the piece.

Steve Pearlman: Well, can we hope that to help

Dave Carillo: And we hope you try at least one grain of what we said. We hope you get good, some good responses from your

Steve Pearlman: Kids and let us know how it goes. And for anyone out there who also is trying to implement a few of these things, we’d love your feedback on to what extent is helpful or your questions about what else we can do to assist you in bringing more critical thinking into the classroom. And that wraps up our initiative for this week. We’ll talk to you again soon. Thanks so much.

Voiceover: Thank you for listening to the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast. Got questions for Steve and Dave? Just send them to info at the Critical Thinking Initiative dot org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and find us at WW W Dot The Critical Thinking Initiative.


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