Carleton University (CANADA)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN14 Proceedings
Publication year: 2014
Pages: 4166-4173
ISBN: 978-84-617-0557-3
ISSN: 2340-1117
Conference name: 6th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 7-9 July, 2014
Location: Barcelona, Spain
There has always been a bi-directional relationship between how we think and the technology we use. While our technologies are the result of our thought process and mental abilities, they in turn affect how we think (Wegerif, 2002). The rapid advances in the use of digital technologies and the Internet in particular, have initiated significant debate on the way these technologies are changing our mental processes (Carr, 2011). There is an immediate need in educational circles to understand this phenomenon and adjust pedagogical methods accordingly.

Education, in particular higher education at university level, is considered to pursue various objectives but critical thinking and problem solving are among most agreed-upon objectives of general education (Chan et al., 2014). It is expected that graduates, when faced with a problem will be able to “find a solution”. While educators hope to help the student to learn how to “think about a solution”, various technological resources are becoming increasingly available that help students “search for a solution”. In principle, the fact that we are able to search for existing solutions instead of re-inventing them, or to use smart tools that can easily solve a problem (such as create products or perform tasks) are positive outcomes of technology. However, from an educational point of view, the increasing use of such technology-based methods, can result in students’ lack of problem solving and critical thinking abilities. This will show itself in weaker performance when those tools are not available, but more importantly will compromise creativity, adaptability, and originality. Current educational trends that rely on exploration, playful action, and open-ended tasks, may indirectly contribute to this process by encouraging the use of tools and topics of interest, rather than a rigorous structure.

In this paper, we describe the issues arising from an over-reliance on technology in the context of two different university courses in computer programming and cross-cultural management. We discuss how the ubiquity of advanced easy-to-use search and production tools, can result in lower problem solving and critical thinking abilities, while creating an illusion of learning. We found that students repeatedly rely on searching and compiling information from various online resources as opposed to establishing proper understanding of the subject matter. For example, students in the programming course assembled code sample from various sources but were less skilled at producing novel programs themselves. Likewise, in the cross-cultural management course students were able to collect information about several countries and cultures but less able to understand the meaning of these data for management practice. We argue that these findings are part of a larger cultural trend that emphasizes acquisition of large amounts of data as opposed to transformation of information into knowledge.

We suggest that while the use of technology is in general positive and can solve many problems, it is crucial that technology is used properly to facilitate learning and the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills. We propose avenues for mitigating the possible negative impacts that over-reliance on technology can have on critical thinking and problem solving skills, and discuss future research directions.
Problem solving, critical thinking, technology, learning.