#MLearning & Higher-Order Thinking Skills


Higher-order thinking skills
21st-century skills
The 4 C's (Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Critical thinking, and Problem Solving)

No matter the educational buzzword or phrase you choose, we're talking about complex cognitive processes that are rarely outlined in any set of standards or curriculum. Yes, we can hear you gasping from here employers and business owners. Since job-specific content can easily be taught through training sessions, today's employers are looking for critical and creative thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators, and communicators. This is what separates experts from innovators.

5.2 Bloom's Revised TaxonomySo, why aren't more schools focused on higher-order thinking skills? They are difficult to teach and even more difficult to assess. Think about creating a quiz to assess a student's knowledge of the events leading up to the Civil War. A standard multiple-choice test can not only give you a pretty good idea, but it can also be machine graded. Now, think about creating a quiz to assess a student's creativity. Things are a little more complicated, huh?

It should be noted, however, drawing a hard line between higher-order thinking skills and content knowledge is arbitrary as these two go hand-in-hand. A powerful communicator becomes obsolete if she does not have sufficient expertise of the subject matter. A similar story is told for problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking. This is why instruction of such skills is most effective in context. For example, projects and activities that challenge students to apply what they've learned and make connections beyond the material tap into these higher-order skills.

Traditionally, creating such projects and activities required a great deal of planning and moving parts. While this is still somewhat true, we believe mobile devices go a great way in mitigating some of these obstacles and expanding potential. For example, compare the skills and quality of learning present when students passively receive a lecture on butterflies with the mobile-based project in the video below. In the video we see students' creativity thrive. We see students making hypotheses, drawing conclusions, and communicating their findings. We see a lot more than students sitting in rows listening to a lecture or watching a video.

Beyond developing students' higher-order thinking skills, mobile-based activities such as the one portrayed above teach students how to use mobile apps productively. One young boy in the video states he did not know how to make a video on his iPad. Yet, through the project, he learned not only about butterflies, but also how to create videos--a skill that can be transferred to other learning environments.

In our latest book, Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Developers, Educators, and Learners we go into great detail about the science behind higher-order thinking skills and ways in which mobile devices can aid in their development. Here is a brief list of apps and lesson ideas we recommend for engaging students in each skill:

  • 9781118894309_500X500Problem Solving. When solving problems, provide students with adequate resources to create external representations (as opposed to holding information in memory) of the task. This will free up cognitive resources allowing students think deeper about the problem. Using apps like Google Drive to take notes or create spreadsheets or Gloss to draw diagrams or pictures can serve as an "external brain" as students analyze the problem at hand.
  • Creativity. Everyone can be creative--it isn't something reserved for the left-brained, artists of the world. Creativity is not a talent; it is learned and occurs in every domain, especially domains in which we are most well-versed. When sparking students creativity, create lessons that appeal to their personal interests. Moreover, with creativity often comes a great deal of failure. The personal experience provided by mobile devices makes them the perfect companion to creative thought. Students are free to fail without fear of embarrassment or great risk. For example, our virtual lab series allows students to experiment with variables without the risk of chemical combustion or a vacuum space. Similarly, Adobe Voice is a great, easy-to-use video-production app with loads of preloaded content for explaining concepts or creating videos.
  • Critical Thinking. In a society that consumes information for an estimated average of 12 hours/day, critically analyzing information has never been more relevant. Any project that requires students to go out and conduct their own research necessitates critical thinking as "relevant, credible information has to be selected, interpreted, digested, evaluated, learned and applied or it is of no more use on e computer screen than it is on a distant library shelf" says Diane Halpern. Instead of protecting students from the unknown of the Internet, leverage this variance by teaching students how to critically analyze the credibility of sources. For younger students such breadth might be overwhelming, making apps and resources like NewsEla, CNN for students, and YouTube Kids great ways to introduce critical analysis skills.
  • Communication & Collaboration. Using devices for collaboration and communications seems like a no-brainer. After all that is what most of us use our devices for everyday. However, in a recent Gallop Poll, 86% of students surveyed said they often use computers or technology to complete assignments or projects, but only 14% reported using technology for video conferencing or other collaboration tools. Obvious contenders for apps that foster collaboration include Google Drive, Skype, and Dropbox. But, what about collaborating and communicating with individuals outside of your school walls? Research shows performance significantly increases when students work on projects intended for an audience other than their teacher. Networking sites such as Twitter are wonderful resources for connecting with professionals and local businesses to collaborate on projects or receive expert consultation.



About Author

Lucy Kosturko

Lucy Shores Kosturko, PhD manages product development for SAS Institute's K-12 educational initiatives, a suite of cross-platform offerings promoting data literacy, artificial intelligence and computer science. After graduating with a B.A. in psychology and computer science from Rhodes College, she earned a M.S. in computer science and PhD in educational psychology from North Carolina State University. Lucy lives in Raleigh, NC with her husband and two daughters.

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