This paper introduces several Information Technology (IT) tools that
not only assist the teacher to integrate creativity and IT, but also significantly
improve the teaching of critical and creative thinking. IT is inevitably
changing the role of teachers from knowledge dispensers
to knowledge facilitators. As the new millennium approaches,
it is essential that teachers exploit these technologies so that our students
can make full use of a resource that is rich, flexible and infinitely
patient to optimise their creative potential. After defining what we mean
by critical and creative thinking, we shall give examples of various reflective
thinking generic IT tools as they are applied in a postgraduate instructional
technology teacher training programme at NIE.
What is Critical & Creative Thinking?
Creativity is usually defined as the thinking processes involved in
the creation of novel ideas or products. Sternberg and Lubart, for example,
defined creative insight as the ability “to entertain unusual, novel,
or unpopular ideas for solving a problem at hand” (1995, p. 538).
Creative thinking involves critical thinking or reasoning about complex
issues in order to make a decision about an original idea, product or
service. According to Marzano (1992), critical thinking involves the use
of declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge and conditional knowledge
to solve a problem.
Psychologists believe that most people are capable of critical and creative
thinking and that these higher-order processes may be taught to primary
school pupils. IT is a particularly powerful teaching tool: it allows
access to a rich variety of resources, enables flexible thinking to flourish,
and can operate as an inexhaustible learning coach due to its inexhaustible
patience. The goal is to teach pupils useful strategies to locate and
select appropriate information from large databases (e.g. the World Wide
Web) and to avoid becoming overwhelmed by an overload of information.
This can be achieved by providing learners with reflective tools that
stimulate various critical and creative thinking skills.
The Benefits of Teaching Thinking with IT Tools
Encouraging a learner to progress through a defined pattern of thinking
steps represents a reflective process that may also be explained as a
creativity heuristic. The thinking steps underpinning a reflective
tool can be designed as content-free, “empty” templates. The
learner can use these generic reflective tools as a self-coaching device,
developing an ability to focus thoughts and ideas and turn them into useful
concepts and knowledge (Coombs & Smith, 1998).
Representing a user-friendly thinking tool, IT may be employed as a
catalyst to both assist and accelerate this kind of reflecting process
(Coombs, 1998). Generic IT tools such as Word© and Excel©
may be developed to produce content-free, reflective templates that encourage
the user to perform focussed reflections relative to some learning task.
Thus, reflective tools are employed in the context of “task-managing”
a purposeful learning activity that provides the learner with meaningful
feedback of his/her actions. This means that knowledge and understanding
of authentic learning events can only be gained through reflective activities
that encourage the learner to make sense of the experience. Harri-Augstein
and Thomas (1991) believe that reflective tools achieve this learning
process through the recursive and cyclical nature of critical reflection
relative to some active learning task. Many IT instructional systems contain
task-based recursive learning features and, therefore, provide an educational
value-add that aids reflection and improves critical
The use of a word-processing tool encompasses some of the learning attributes
of using a pen and paper, including reflective skills involving text literacy,
user control of the system, specific content knowledge being authored,
and coding knowledge of the English language. The pen-and-paper method
has the additional benefit of touch, as the medium represents a more tactile
interface than that of the word processor’s keyboard. However, using
a computer to write has four additional benefits: i) a recursive reflective
learning feature in using the word processor as both an editor and reviewer
of authored content; ii) a text format and design feature aiding better
quality manipulation and organisation of the material; iii) additional
thinking steps when using language utilities (e.g. thesaurus, grammar,
spell checker); and iv) the ease of an icon-supported graphical user interface.
Compared to the use of paper and pen or other types of instructional media,
these additional features of a word-processing IT medium can significantly
improve the quality of students’ critical and creative thinking.
Figure 1. The Spidergram - a reflective personal
Personal Experiences (PE) referral sheet. Enter the topic, issue, subject
or event you wish to think/explore about into the Focus
balloon. Think deeply and reconstruct all the personal events of your
experiences that relate to this focus and enter them as raw data labels/expressions
into the PE balloons. Add extra balloons as needed. If a PE becomes a
focus for a sub-set of experiences, then put this event as a new focus
into another Spidergram conversational template. Continue as necessary
until you have exhausted your focused brainstorming session!
Open discussion session during the seminar on “The Integration of
Creativity & IT in the Teaching of Thinking”
How IT Reflective Tools Have Been Integrated into a Teacher
Because of these additional reflective learning benefits
that IT tools can offer learners, we decided that the critical and creative
thinking templates discussed earlier would benefit from having an IT interface.
To test the effectiveness of these IT reflective tools by using them meaningfully
in the curriculum to support learners on a teacher training module, the
Spidergram and the Reflective Learning Log (Figures 1 and 2 respectively
on Page 15) were provided as Word file templates that could be downloaded
from the NIE School of Education’s Website. Since July 1998, over
one thousand teacher-trainee students in NIE’s post-graduate diploma
in education (PGDE) programme have used these generic templates to support
the pedagogical thinking components of their IT practical project work.
Besides the Spidergram and Reflective Learning Log, two other new downloadable
templates were also designed: a Reading Table and an IT Pedagogic Table.
More details of the PGDE IT project work supported by the use of these
templates, including working copies of these templates and exemplars,
can be obtained by visiting the PGDE IT Website, which is currently located
(last accessed: 20 December 1998)
The above discussion has outlined how creativity may be
integrated with IT in the teaching of thinking. The use of reflective
scaffolding tools (e.g. the Spidergram and the Reflective Learning Journal)
in their project management of various assessment tasks has benefited
students undertaking the Instructional Technology module at NIE. These
IT tools have provided them with a rich, flexible and untiring resource
that represents a significant advance over previous critical and creative
thinking tools such as brainstorming and concept mapping, because of the
advantages of computer software over pen and paper. The value-added benefits
of teaching thinking with IT tools promise to make student thinking even
more creative in the future.
Coombs, S. (1998). The psychology of user-friendliness —
implications for IT learning systems, Paper presented at the inaugural
Malaysian Educational Research Association conference, Penang.
Coombs, S. & Smith, I. D. (1998). Designing a self-organized
conversational learning environment, Educational Technology,
Harri-Augstein, E. & Thomas, L. (1991). Learning
conversations: The self-organized learning way to personal and organizational
growth. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Marzano, R. (1992). Teaching with Dimensions of Learning.
Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Sternberg, R.J. and Lubart, T.I. (1995). An investment
perspective on creative thought. In R. J. Sternberg, and J. E. Davidson
(Eds.), The nature of insight. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.