Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘thinking

Video source

I love the comedic stylings of Joe Lycett and Lucy Beaumont. So if I was a classroom teacher, I might use this video as a hook for teaching and modelling critical thinking.

The video was about how Beaumont tried to offset her carbon expenditure (travel overseas) with credits (local actions). She wanted to be carbon neutral so that she could enjoy a guilt-free hen-do (a bachelorette party) for a friend.

The video was an opportunity to not just entertain, but to also inform its audiences on being responsible with our shared and natural resources. That said, edutainment errs on the side of a good laugh and low-hanging fruit. It is up to an educator to help learners dig deeper.

I might start by asking my learners to find out how ineffective tree-planting is, much less the six plants that Beaumont bought. We might factor in the unseen vehicle she had to arrange to transport everything she bought.

Beaumont brought in a consultant who told her that the asparagus she had in her fridge was flown in at great environmental cost from Peru. My learners and I would analyse this issue by identifying and calculating the costs in detail.

We might ponder on statements I would make, like: 

  • One person’s effort to stop buying Peruvian asparagus does not count for much.
  • Beaumont’s overall strategy of consumerism was counterproductive.
  • If you are going to change behaviours, do not rely on half measures.

In the process of uncovering answers, we would deconstruct thought processes and reconstruct principles of critical thinking.

If I had any agenda, it would be to end the lesson on the fact that “carbon neutrality” is often an excuse to keep practicing bad behaviours and “balancing” them with good ones. 

We are not the fictional character, Dexter, who kills people by night and solves crimes by day. That TV show was entertaining to watch, but no one in their right minds would condone such behaviour. And yet so many see nothing wrong with carbon neutrality.

The image in the tweet above is amusing, but that is all it is. It reminds me of online quizzes that claim they can tell you your personality type or which Hogwarts house you belong to.

I am none of the options in the image. Someone might think of categories to lump people into, but they cannot be exhaustive.

You might be in more than one or you might jump from one category to another depending on the circumstances. We are fickle and complex that way. 

You might also argue that such quizzes or questions that categorise you are harmless fun. They might be if you are a critical thinker. The problem is that such “fun” is more popular than the work of actually thinking for yourself. You become lazy if you cannot critique something that relies on lazy thinking to propagate itself.

Tags: ,

No, I am not treading on the toes of those who promote visual thinking or visual learning. I am referring to this representation:

The worst kind of thinking can create conspiracy theories. These start a predefined idea (the unicorn) instead of doing the hard work of the scientific method. Such theories connecting the dots around the stencil so that the idea materialises.

If there is a bigger problem than this sort of thinking, it might be that some people do not realise that they are thinking this way. They fall prey to pseudoscientists and charlatans who take advantage of lazy or convenient thinking.

We have a preventative antidote to this sort of poisonous thought. It is called metacognition — thinking about thinking — and knowing when and how to switch strategies.

Recently, five Singapore doctors cautioned against inoculating younger males with mRNA-based vaccines because of a small chance of myocarditis, i.e., heart inflammation [source].

Their view was informed more by “heart inflammation” than by “small chance”. How small? According to this CNA article, there were 1,226 cases of myocarditis out of almost 400 million vaccine doses in the USA. This works out to a 0.0003% chance of getting myocarditis.

The same article reported that Singapore reported 6 cases out of about 5 million doses. This is an almost one in a million chance. You might be more likely to win a lottery than to get myocarditis.

The doctors also cited a USA report of the “death of a 13-year-old boy after being vaccinated with the second dose of an mRNA vaccine”. However, an expert committee here countered that by stating that “the news report cited by the doctors did not state death from heart failure as alleged”.

The small group of doctors might be well-meaning, but they have chosen to write a fear-based headline, speculated a causal link between vaccine and death, and ignored the statistical part of the narrative.

The group of five doctors overlaps with the 12 doctors who wrote an earlier letter, which like the latest one, was roundly debunked by the expert committee. Eleven of the 12 doctors who wrote that letter retracted what they said [CNA] [Today].

What damage both letters caused is difficult to determine. We might get some inference by measuring vaccine hesitancy and queues outside private clinics that offer non-mRNA-based vaccines, i.e., Sinovac in our case [source].

We have vaccines as a class of weapons against the current pandemic. We are less well-equipped with the infodemic. We need to learn to read, think, and act beyond a headline. If we do not, infected minds will lead to infected bodies.

Today I build on my reflection yesterday on how to encourage systemic thinking by teaching learners to ask “What else?“.

I listened to a podcast interview by Conan O’Brien of former US President Barack Obama. Towards the end of the interview, both explored a theme that started with this quote (54min mark):

…if we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I predict that the dividing line will… be between patriotism and intelligence on one side, and superstition, ignorance, and ambition on the other.

In the context of the US political system, the quote could have been from a pundit or scholar on a news talk show yesterday. But it was by Ulysses S Grant in 1875.

Obama then described we how tend to pay attention only to what is immediately in front of us. If you asked me, I would say that we deal with the urgent and forget what is important.

Both men were trying to say how important it is to study and learn from history. The problems we face now are not new; they are just different.

So if we are to nurture critical thinkers who think systemically, another powerful question they might ask is: When else?

After a rigorous walk yesterday, my mind connected some dots and arrived at this point: Students need to learn how to think more systemically.

Sytemically, not just systematically. The latter is about logic and sequence. The former is a combination of divergent and convergent thinking. It is about critical questioning and appreciating nuance. 

Why is systemic thinking important?

Consider the disconnect between what happens in policymaking circles (e.g., the recent updates on Singapore’s ramping up of contact tracing, testing, and vaccination), and social media and kopitiam/cabbie chatter.

Video source

The thinking that happens in the first group is mycelial or rhizomal — it is complex, interconnected, and messy. It is necessarily divergent to find solutions to a complex problem. But such thinking then needs to be conceptualised and simplified, i.e., it needs to converge to communication points and concrete action.

The thinking and discourse in the second group tends to be superficial. I choose not to embed examples here because they are harmful. You need only take a cursory glance of your Facebook timelines or WhatsApp conversations for examples.

The second group depends on personal experiences, does not counter bias, and eschews data or facts. It is convergent from the start and does not diverge because its communication circles are tight or even closed.

I reflect on this 15 years after being conferred a Ph.D. that is based on systemic thinking and design. I majored in Instructional Systems Technology and minored in Information Science. That investment reshaped my life and work.

So during my walk, I wondered why I was not taught to think this way earlier. I compared my schooling to what my son and his generation experience now. They are more aware of the importance of asking critical questions, embracing uncertainty, and non-routine work.

But they are still subject to teachers, tests, and timetables that do not (cannot?) accommodate systemic thinking. So how might they be taught and nurtured to operate more broadly?

At the risk of oversimplification, they need to ask beyond the core set of powerful questions. They need to learn how to ask and answer “What else?” questions. 

If they are solving authentic problems, they need to iteratively ask what else might contribute to those problems and what else might solve them. If they are involved in meaningful projects, they need to ask themselves what else they need to do.

Asking “What else?” is not the only way to develop systemic thinking, but it a useful start. What else do we need to do to enable systemic thinking?

I love how Dr Inna Kanevsky does not hold back when responding to trolls and crackpots on TikTok.

In this latest salvo, she shot down the perception of one such troll on the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) and the MBTI in general. 

A critic might ask what the harm is in taking the test. My response: It is all fun and games until it is not. If companies still use it to hire, advance, or even fire, its use has serious consequences.

The creators of the MBTI were charlatans. The agencies that flog it are multi-million dollar business based on pseudoscience. To paraphrase a comment to Dr K’s tweet: You might as well rely on astrology to sort students and workers.

So what is the harm on using tools like MBTI? You sort people with a tool that is neither valid nor reliable. Its continued use also breeds uncritical and lazy thinking.


Video source

I enjoy these comedic videos on two levels. The first is as a person who enjoys smart comedy. The second is as an educator with a background in science.

The purpose of comedy is to make people laugh. If comedians fail to do this consistently, they are just commentators or pundits. The problem with some of these comedic comments is that they are based on ignorance and the perpetuating of such ignorance.

For example, take the comparison of the 95% likelihood that humans are responsible for climate change to the 99% effectiveness of a condom. A comedian remarked that he should be wary about having protected sex 100 times. His implication and intended comedic comment was that there was an assured one time that the condom would fail. This is not what 99% effectiveness means. It means that a condom is effective 99% each time it used.

There are other remarks about rising sea levels and mirrors in space that could be deconstructed and reconstructed with a scientific eye while still appreciating the humour of the exchanges.

My worry is that the audiences have not heard the scientific information previously and the comedy is their source of news. This is not the fault of the show because it is not their role — it is for entertainment, not education.

Ideally educators might use such videos as a relatable way to start lessons about scientific misconceptions. These are invaluable lessons to nurture critical and curious thinkers. Part of such thinking is investigating. When I watched this video yesterday, I looked for the source of the 95% statistic. It was from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its reports are available online.

The next investigative issue was when this video was first aired. A commenter indicated that it was from Season 12 and episode 11 of Mock the Week and first aired on 3 October 2013. One other person’s reply to that comment: “I wish they would post this themselves so I don’t have to look up the episode list”. This information makes it easier to find the actual report.

YouTube comments about the show's episode date.

The show’s YouTube channel does not operate like SciShow, so it does not list its resources to back up what it says. Its audiences then take what panellists say at face value, and if such a practice happens often enough, the information becomes fact and the practice becomes acceptable.

If we are to raise the baseline of scientifically literate people, educators need to realise that this is no laughing matter. They could take the laughing matter (funny videos) to turn ignorance into information into knowledge into mindsets.

I do not see the point of saying one form of thinking is better than another. Nor do I see the point of comparing the types of thinking with different lenses.

I do see the point of using different tools and strategies for different purposes or of combining what you have to get a better picture. This is like how we need both creative and critical thinking together instead of just one or the other apart.


Video source

If I was still a biology teacher, I would use this video to teach content and nuanced thinking.

The content is plain: Even though yeast consumes nectar, it does not deprive bees of nutrients. The nuanced thinking is going beyond the idea that yeast is a competitor to bees.

According to the science, the yeast is consumed by the bees. Yeast also warms flowers up so that nectar flows more easily and this makes the nectar easier for bees to consume.

This is why I like SciShow videos. They not only present investing factoids, they also provide seeds for nuanced thinking. That is the sort of thinking students of science need to learn. It is not good enough to learn about science, it is more important to learn to be a scientist.


http://edublogawards.com/files/2012/11/finalistlifetime-1lds82x.png
http://edublogawards.com/2010awards/best-elearning-corporate-education-edublog-2010/

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code


Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

Archives

Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: