Teaching Students to Watch Critically

Learning how to read and think critically is an essential element of education at all levels, particularly in higher education. But with the rise of visual media, it may be time to consider teaching students how to watch critically as well. Schools offering Teaching & Learning degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

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Being Critical (In a Good Way)

As a student, you're probably expected to read a lot, and to write and talk a lot about what you read. Sometimes you might hear a classmate say something that you disagree with. When this happens, chances are that you can point to a specific part of the material in question that supports your point of view. Or maybe you've read some literary criticism or social theory that you disagree with because you have some data or other evidence that you find contradictory. If this sounds like something you've done before, congratulations! You're a critical thinker.

Critical thinking isn't just for the classroom. That politician citing facts and figures that seem impossible, that commercial that claims that eating a bowl of sugary cereal is somehow good for your health - these are things we need to be careful about accepting at face value. But for most of us, the experience of watching a video is a relaxing one. We watch TV and movies as entertainment and recreation, and we don't always question what we watch.

Yet as the above-cited examples indicate, messages are transmitted through video media, and we should probably try to apply the same discernment to what we watch as we do to what we read and hear. Video is becoming more pervasive with time, and whether you're watching it on TV, in a movie theater or online through YouTube and other video sites, chances are that you will absorb new information through video at some point throughout the course of your day. Just as educators are concerned with teaching students how to question and think about reading material, some are starting to apply this same consideration to video as well.

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Teaching Students How To Watch Critically

At one Texas university, a librarian is spearheading a campaign to use videos as a springboard for a lesson in critical thinking. According to a report from Inside Higher Ed, this librarian, Frances May, is using East Texas University's library orientation for a lesson that goes beyond the traditional. Instead of focusing just on written material, May decided to include videos in her lesson, including one of a graduate student making a visit to Bangladesh.

The video, set to an emotionally stirring soundtrack, featured images of Bangladeshi children and women receiving water and mosquito netting. Most viewers would feel strongly at the end of the video, but perhaps would not think about specific details that had been glossed over. May encouraged students to think again about the video, and to ask and research questions about the details that were missing form this video. Instead of just taking the video at face value, students were taught to ask questions about what they see.

Inspired by May, another librarian, Julie Tharp of Arizona State University, used a video clip as part of a lesson for students in a remedial critical thinking and reading class. Though the students performed well at recognizing keywords in the video while in class, Tharp was less enthusiastic about the results of her experiment as time went on. The students didn't really exhibit evidence of having learned to come up with original lines of questioning.

But even if these librarians' specific goals aren't bearing out immediately, that doesn't mean that incorporating video into lessons is a bad idea. Both librarians reported that students responded well to the video activities, and engaging students in class is an important part of creating a desire for more knowledge. As video becomes an increasingly common part of our lives, educators should not shy away from using it as a teaching tool. Getting in the habit of questioning and thinking about visual media will serve students well beyond their college years.

The use of video in academia doesn't have to be serious. Grad students seem to be getting in the habit of using video site Xtranormal to make funny videos about education.

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