Monday, March 21, 2011

Technology and Higher Level Thinking

I was recently asked by an older retired high school and college professor, Dr. Jean McGrew, what my opinion was on the impact of technology on student learning. It was an honest question from a man who was wrestling over the value of technology in the classroom. After some thought, I responded that like anything, I believe technology can be both used and abused when it comes to student learning. If my analysis is indeed accurate, the logical next question is in what ways can technology be used to enhance learning without being abused?
               Almost 50 years ago Benjamin Bloom came up with six levels of cognitive learning: knowledge, comprehension, application, synthesis, analysis, and evaluation. The first three levels are the basic levels of learning and are followed by what Bloom and other experts consider to be “higher order thinking.”               Knowledge is what one knows (i.e. facts), comprehension is one’s understanding of those facts, and application is the use of knowledge learned. On a more complex level, analysis is the ability of students to breakdown knowledge into different similar parts, synthesis is the ability to organize and bring together different pieces of information to form a new idea or conclusion, and evaluation is the ability to evaluate or examine effectively the knowledge one has in front of them.
               While there is clearly some overlap between the different levels of leaning, there is evidence that technology can have a specific and recognizable impact on each of the individual levels.  An article at helps readers to understand specific ways that technology can be used to enhance learning at all levels. Knowledge can be enhanced through specific educational websites or as students are required to re-write what they are reading in their own words. Comprehension can be measured as students play online games or take book quizzes. Application can become easier has teachers can require students to chart data or choose a side in a debatable issue they are researching. As for the higher orders of thinking, there are different online tools (sich as ThinkTank) that allow students to break material down into themes, topics, and subtopics. On the other hand, students can use online tools to lean to synthesize or bring together pieces of information or to compare information side-by –side in order to formulate new ideas or materials. Finally, and similar to the application level above, students can use technology to learn to evaluate information, such as writing online book reviews (i.e. for or contributing to online debates or blogs.
               In other words, there are a number of specific ways to use technology to help develop both basic and higher order thinking. Looking more broadly, statistics indicate that the use of technology in classrooms has resulted in significant increases in national test scores in reading, math, science, history, etc. Experts argue that using technology for group and individual projects has helped develop student motivation to learn as they take greater ownership of their work. Moreover, in group setting, students can be challenged by technology to think critically in order to reach and present conclusions about what they are learning. Technology provides opportunities to make lessons more immediately relevant to students who are often motivated by things they find to be intellectually and socially meaningful.
               As stated above, I agree with many experts that the use of technology in the classroom has its advantages. I have experienced firsthand the benefit of technology in the classroom as my teachers have used online resources, interactive maps, concise power points, and other helpful materials. As teachers have challenged me to use technology to present research or a group project, I have advanced in my ability to break down (analyze) materials, compile and combine information (synthesize), and evaluate or defend my position in an orderly fashion. Technology has made research, comparison, integration, and presentation so much easier for me in my former classes.
               At the same time, I caution that while technology is great for learning, it can also be a detriment. The use and ease of technology can create a dependence upon it. Like a car, I tend to view my computer as a necessary evil. It is something one can hardly get by without today, but when it breaks down, life can suddenly become complicated and often frustrating as people often don’t have the resources or knowledge available to get by without their “technology.”
               In conclusion, I believe that technology can be used to enhance learning in all six of Bloom’s areas of cognitive thinking. In order for this to happen, however, it needs to be available to all students in all walks of life… easier said than done, I know. For technology to be affective, it must be available, and students must be taught and guided in their use of technology. Otherwise, some students will fall behind, some students will allow technology to distract them from their lessons, and others will be downright lazy with their work, allowing technology to do their thinking for them. Thus, the role of the teacher and the responsibility of the student are critical to the successful use of technology to enhance learning at any level, much less higher order thinking.


  1. To whom it may concern, much of the information I discussed above is based on information from articles at the following web addresses:

  2. Ben,
    I like your point about technology needing to be available to all students in all walks of life. I teach in a school where the latest and greatest technological tools are not available. I think its important here, and I sensed this idea in your essay, to understand that technology is a tool that can be used to promote higher level thinking, but it does not necessarily guarantee it. Technology definitely makes it easier to access a wide variety of information and gives us great tools to organize and interact with this information, but, as you emphasized, the role of the teacher and responsibility of the student is key. Using technology to help promote higher level thinking is wonderful, but we should also encourage our students to develop those skills even without technological tools.