Category Archives: thoughts

Differences in Thinking

Critical thinkers and problem solvers are two groups of people.  Sadly, these two groups are almost mutually exclusive. However, it is important that thinkers and solvers develop both skillsets to a certain level of competence.

The purpose of this post is to try and explain in detail critical thinking vs problem-solving in term of individual differences.

Thinking is a slow deliberate process that takes to do. In other words, a person must decide to think. Since there is a requirement of active effort, thinking is something that few people value and appreciate as they should.

Thinking involves processing information from the viewpoint of central processing. This means to examine the content of a message for its worth. Furthermore, when a person is developing their own arguments thinking involves developing support for one’s position. Often when people argue or disagree today they tend to get upset. This is an indication that their emotions are determining their position rather than their mind. They might use their mind on occasion to strengthen their argument but the foundation of their position is often emotional rather than based on strong thought.

 

Developing the mind usually involves reading. Reading exposes an individual to good and poor examples of thinking.  From these examples, an individual thinks about the strengths and merits of each. This process of thinking about other people’s thoughts helps a person to develop their own opinion. When an is formed it can be shared with others who are then able to judge for themselves the merit of the person’s opinion.

 

This process of thinking is not often required for academic studies. The focus has moved more towards problem-solving. Problem-solving is In an excellent form of thinking when the end goal is often binary in nature. This means that when a problem solves, either they solve the problem or they do not.

 

Critical thinking involves a certain fuzziness to it that problem-solving lacks  For example, whether a speech or paper is good or bad involves critical thinking because judging quality involves fuzziness to it. This sense of a shade of gray would make solving problems difficult at the least. T

 

However, if you are called to determine why a computer does not connect to the internet this is problem-solving. The goal is to get back on the internet. You have to think but the desired outcome is clear. Once the computer is back on the internet there is nothing to think about. In most cases, particular with non techie people, how you get back on the internet does not even matter. In other words, the “why does this work” is often something that problem solvers do not care about but this is exactly the type of thing critical thinking has to be able to explain when developing an argument.

 

Problem-solving involves action and not as much contemplation. The focus is on experience and not theory. It is not that problem-solvers never read and contemplate, rather, they learn primarily through doing. Examples include trial and error. 

Most companies want problem solvers and not necessarily critical thinkers. In other words, businesses want things done. They do not want people going around and questioning unless this helps to solve a problem.  Companies claim to want thinking but what they really want are people who think how to solve the company’s problems. Questioning the company is not one of the wiser things to do.

The fuzziness of critical thinking frustrates problem-solvers who want to solve problems and not simply talk. This is not a negative thing but rather a difference in personality. The problem is that problem solvers and critical thinkers do not see this as a matter of difference but a matter of ignorance on one hand and irrelevance on the other hand. Thinkers think and problem solvers do is a common description of both sides

 

Conclusion

Critical thinking and problem-solving are two skills that everyone needs. To focus on either to the exclusion of the other is detrimental. A combination of thought and action creates a balanced individual who is able to get things done while still have a depth of thought to support their actions.

 

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Undergrad and Grad Students

In this post,  we will look at a comparison of grad and undergrad students.

Student Quality

Generally, graduate students are of a higher quality academically than undergrad students. Of course, this varies widely from institution to institution. New graduate programs may have a lower quality of student than established undergrad programs. This is because the new program is trying to fill sears initially and quality is often compromised.

Focus

At the graduate level, there is an expectation of a much more focused and rigorous curriculum. This makes sense as the primary purpose of graduate school is usually specialization and not generalization. This requires that the teachers at this level have a deep expert-level mastery of the content.

In comparison to graduate school, undergrad is a generalized experience with some specialization. However, this depends on the country in which the studies take place. Some countries require rather an intense specialization from the beginning with a minimum of general education while others take a more American style approach with a wide exposure to various fields.

Commitment

Graduate students are usually older. This means that they require less institution sponsored social activities and may not socialize at all. In addition, some graduate students are married which adds a whole other level of complexity to their studies. Although they are probably less inclined to be “wild” due to their family they are also going to struggle due to the time commitment of their loved ones.

Assuming that an undergraduate student is a traditional one they will tend to be straight from high school, require some social support, but will also have the free time needed to study. The challenge with these students is the maturity level and self-regulation skills that are often missing for academic success.

For the teacher, graduate students offer higher motivation and commitment generally when compared to undergrads. This is reasonable as people often feel compelled to complete a bachelors but normally do not face the same level of pressure to go to graduate school. This means that undergrad is often compulsory due to external circumstances while grad school is by choice.

Conclusion

Despite the differences but types of students hold in common an experience that is filled with exposure to various ideas and content for several years. Grad students and undergrad students are individuals who are developing skills for the goal of eventually finding a purpose in the world.

Artificial Intelligence in the Classroom

In 1990, a little known film called “Class of 1999” came out. In this movie, three military grade robots are placed in an inner-city war zone school to with the job of teaching.

As with any movie, things quickly get out of hand and the robot teachers begin killing the naughty students and eventually manipulating the local gangs into fighting and killing each other. Eventually, in something that can only happen in a movie, three military grade AI robots similar to the terminator are destroyed by a delinquent teenager

There has been a lot of hype and excitement over the growth of data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. With this growth, these ideas have begun to expend into supporting education. This has even led to speculation among some that algorithms and artificial intelligence could replace teachers in the classroom.

There are several reasons why this is. My reasons are listed as follows

  • People Need People
  • Computers need people
  • Computers assist people

People Need People

When it comes to education, people need people. Originally, education was often passed through apprenticeship for trades and one-on-one tutoring for elites. There has allows been some form of mass education but it has always involved people helping each other.

There are certain social-emotional needs that people have that cannot be satisfied by even the most life-like machine. When humans communicate they always convey some form of emotion even in the most harden computer like individual. Although AI is making strides in attempting to read, emotions they are far from convincingly portraying emotions. Besides, students want someone who can laugh, joke, smile, and do all those little things that involve being human. Even such mundane things as tripping over one’s shoes, or forgetting someone’s name add a human element to the learning experience.

Furthermore, even if a computer is able to share emotions in a human-like manner what child would really feel satisfaction from pleasing an Amazon Alexa? People need people and AI teachers cannot provide this even if they can provide top-level content.

Another concern is that people are highly unpredictable. Again, this relates to the emotional aspects of human nature. Even humans who have the same emotional characteristics are surprised by the behavior of fellow humans. When an algorithm is coldly calculating what is an appropriate action this inability to deal with unpredictable actions can be a problem.

A classic example of this is classroom management. If a student is not paying attention, or not doing their work, or showing defiance in one way or the other how would a computer handle this. In the movie “Class of 1999” the answer for disruptive behavior was to kill. Few parents and administrators would approve of such an action coming from an artificial neural network.

People need people in the context of education for the socio-emotional aspect of education as well as for the tribulation of classroom management. Computers are not humans and therefore they cannot provide the motivation or inspiration that so many students need to be successful in school.

Computers Need People

A second reason AI teachers are unlikely is because computers need people. Computers breakdown,  there are bugs in code, updates have to be made etc. All this precludes a machine going completely independent. With everything that can go wrong there has to be people there to monitor the use and interaction of machines with people.

Even in the movie “Class of 1999” there was a research professor and administrator monitoring the school. This continued until they were killed by the AI teachers.

With all the amazing advances in AI and machine learning it is still people who tweak the algorithms and provide the data for the machine to learn. After this is done, the algorithm is still monitored to see how it performs. Computers cannot escape their reliance on humans to maintain their functionality which implies that they cannot be turned loss in a classroom alone.

Computers Help People

The way going forward is that perhaps AI and other aspects of machine learning and data science can support teachers to be better teachers. For example, in some versions of Moodle there is an algorithm that will monitor students participation and will predict if students are at risk of failing. There is also an algorithm that predicts if a teacher is teaching. This is an excellent use of machine learning in that it deals with a routine task and simple flags a problem rather than trying to intervene it’s self.

Another useful application more in line with AI is through tutoring. Providing feedback on progress and adjusting what the student does based on their performance. Again, in a supporting role, AI can be excellent. The problem is when AI becomes the leader.

Conclusion

The advances in technology are going to continue. However, with the amazing breakthroughs in this field people still need interaction with other people and the example of others in a social context. Computers will never be able to provide this. Computers also need the constant support of humans in order to function. The proper role for AI and data science in education may be as a supporter to a teacher rather than the one leading and making criticaltaff decisions about other people.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

There have been concerns for years that critical thinking and problem-solving skills are in decline not only among students but also the general public. On the surface, this appears to be true. However, throughout human history, the average person was not much of a deep thinker but rather a doer. How much time can you spend on thinking for the sake of thinking when you are dealing with famine, war, and disease? This internal focus vs external focus is one of the differences between critical thinking and problem-solving.

Critical Thinking

There is no agreed-upon definition of critical thinking. This makes sense as any agreement would indicate a lack of critical thinking. In general, critical thinking is about questioning and testing the claims and statements made through external evidence as well as internal thought. Critical thinking is the ability to know what you don’t know and seek answers through finding information. To test and assert claims means taking time to develop them which is a lonely process many times

Thinking for the sake of thinking is a somewhat introverted process. There are few people who want to sit and ponder in the fast-paced 21st century.  This is one reason why it appears that critical thinking is in decline. It’s not that people are incapable of thinking critical they would just rather not do it and seek a quick answer and or entertainment. Critical thinking is just too slow for many people.

Whenever I give my students any form of opened assignment that requires them to develop an argument I am usually shocked by the superficial nature of the work. Having thought about this I have come to the conclusion that the students lacked the mental energy to demonstrate the critical thought needed to write a paper or even to share their opinion about something a little deeper then facebook videos.

Problem Solving

Problem-solving is about getting stuff done. When an obstacle is in the way a problem solver finds a way around. Problem-solving is focused often on tangible things and objects in a practical way. Therefore, problem-solving is more of an extroverted experience. It is common and easy to solve problems with friends gregariously. However, thinking critically is somewhat more difficult to do in groups and cannot move as fast as we want we discussing.

Due to the potential of working in groups and the fast pace that it can take, problem-solving skills are in better shape than critical thinking skills. This is because when people work in groups several superficial ideas can be combined to overcome a problem. This groupthink if you will allow for success even though the individual members are probably not the brightest.

Problem-solving has been the focus of mankind for most of their existence. Please keep in mind that for most of human history people could not even read and write. Instead, they were farmers and soldiers concern with food and protecting their civilization from invasion. These problems led to amazing discoveries for the sake of providing life and not for the sake of thinking for the sake of thinking or questioning for the sake of objection.

Overlap

There is some overlap in critical thinking and problem-solving. Solutions to problems have to be critically evaluated. However, often a potential solution is voted good or bad by whether it works or not which requires observation and not in-depth thinking. The goal for problem-solving is always “does this solve the problem” or “does this solve the problem better”. These are important criteria but critical thinking involves much broader and deeper issues than just “does this work.” Critical thinking is on a quest for truth and satisfying curiosity. These are ideas that problem-solvers struggle to appreciate

The world is mostly focused on people who can solve problems and not necessarily on deep thinkers who can ponder complex ideas alone. As such, perhaps critical thinking was a fad that has ceased to be relevant as problem solvers do not see how critical thinking solves problems. Both forms of thought are needed and they do overlap yet most of the world simply wants to know what the answer is to their problem rather than to think deeply about why they have a problem in the first place.