Critical thinking projects and applications aim at designing and developing educational products and learning environments to promote higher order thinking skills. A collaborative project between UNT Learning Technologies faculty Dr. Spector and NetDragon, a corporation based in Fuzhou, China, involves critical thinking applications for school children (ages 8 to 13) to help them develop strong habits of mind and reasoning skills relevant to principled and sustained inquiry and critical thinking. Critical thinking skills that range from noticing and explaining unusual things, evaluating alternative explanations, and reflecting on problem solving processes are necessary for learners who will emerge into a 21st century professional world. The collaboration was initially funded by NetDragon through the NetDragon Digital Research Centre at UNT and was later funded through the Texas Center for Educational Technology started in early 2020 with a focus on the development and research of a Critical Thinking Learning Package. There are several innovative aspects with regard to this project, including:
• Embracing a developmental approach that is based on the notion that inquiry and critical thinking skills are complex and are developed through sustained effort over time;
• Initiating a developmental approach with young learners and a game-based context that is intended to be engaging and encourage sustained participation through a series of levels;
• Planning developmental sequences that are consistent with prior research and that proceed from (a) encouraging inquiry so as to develop an inquiring habit of mind; (b) encouraging exploration so as to develop the notion that having a question implies not knowing, involves committing time and effort to reach resolution, requires evidence and evaluation of evidence, and often requires identifying and questioning assumptions;
• Establishing critical thinking as multi-faceted, involving argumentation, creativity, and decision making, often in the context of solving problems and puzzling situations;
• Framing critical thinking skills as socially situated and dialogical, which means that language and others are important in the development of these skills; as a result, a game environment with phases and levels that can serve as a learning companion is proposed.
The following are applications (download links available) that have been developed in this project to cultivate critical thinking skills in school children. The technologies currently adopted include mobile applications and VR games.
1.Game of India (Coin game) Game of India is the title of an article published in 1978 which inspired the creation of this VR game, “Game of India”. The VR game provided a scenario in which a group of people are playing the coin game, learners practice their thinking skills by adopting an observer role during the process of completing their tasks. Demo Download: Game of India (VR game, video demo)
Figure 1. Game of India (VR game)
2. 3D Virtual Learning Space 3D Virtual Learning Space is designed for provide a virtual learning environment in which students explore and be guided by a virtual tutor. The learning space allows learners to learn different topics such as dinosaur and fossil. Demo Download: 3D Virtual Learning Space
Figure 2. 3D Virtual Learning Space
3. Educational Audio e-book on Coronavirus The e-book provides situational conversations in which coronavirus knowledge is supposed to be acquired after students read through the e-book. The e-book provides audio for those who prefer listening or multiple channel learning style rather than reading only. E-book download: Coronavirus: Diseases and Personal Habits
Figure 3. 3D Educational Audio E-Book on Coronavirus Knowledge
Publications related to the critical thinking collaborative project:
• Spector, J. M. (2018, July). Thinking and learning in the Anthropocene: The new three Rs. Presented at the2018 International Big History Conference, Villanova University, Villanova, PA, 26-29 July 2019.
• Ma, S., Bhagat, K., Spector, J., Lin, L., Liu, D., Leng, J., Tiruneh, D., Mancini, J. (2020) Developing Critical Thinking: A Review of Past Efforts as a Framework for a New Approach for Childhood Learning. In: M. Spector, B. Lockee, M. Childress (eds) Learning, Design, and Technology. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-17727-4_161-1.
• Spector, J. M. (2020). Fostering inquiry, critical thinking and reasoning. In J. Visser & M. Visser (Eds.), The lifelong pursuit to build the scientific mind (229-243), Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. • Spector, J. M., Bhagat, K. K., & Ma, S. (2020, July). Defining, developing and measuring critical thinking. Workshop at the 3rd Pan-Pacific Technology-Enhanced Language Learning & Critical Thinking Meeting. Virtual meeting hosted by UNT via Zoom.