Technology, Management, Creative and Critical Thinking

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    Sabarna Roy is a much awarded, critically acclaimed bestselling author of 6 literary books: Pentacles; Frosted Glass; Abyss; Winter Poems; Random Subterranean Mosaic: 2012 – 2018, and Etchings of the First Quarter of 2020. He is the lead author of a technical book, which has been published from the European Union and has been translated into 8 major European languages.

    He has been awarded the Literoma Laureate Award in 2019, Literoma Star Achiever Award 2020, Random Subterranean Mosaic: 2012 – 2018 won the best book of the year 2019, the A List Award for excellence in fiction by the NewsX Media House, Certificate for The Real Super Heroes for spreading a spirit of positivity and hope during the COVID-19 Pandemic from Forever Star India Award 2020, the Certificate for Participation in the Indo Russian Friendship Celebration 2020, and the Literoma Golden Star Award 2020: Lifetime Achievement.

    The following is the transcript of the speech given by Mr Sabarna Roy at Calcutta Business School and before, at the JIS Group of Institutions in association with Techno India Limited.

    OVERVIEW:

    In a recent report on skills of the American workforce, the National Center on Education and the Economy stressed the importance of students gaining skills beyond mere content knowledge. They state:

    …strong skills in English, mathematics, technology, and science, as well as literature, history, and the arts will be essential for many; beyond this, candidates will have to be comfortable with ideas and abstractions, good at both analysis and synthesis, creative and innovative, self-disciplined and well organized, able to learn very quickly and work well as a member of a team and have the flexibility to adapt quickly to frequent changes in the labor markets as the shifts in the economy become ever faster and more dramatic.

    As such, the National Educational Technology Standards for Students emphasize –

    • Creativity and innovation;
    • Communication and collaboration;
    • Research and information fluency;
    • Critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making;
    • Digital citizenship; and
    • Technology operations and concepts.

    These standards are quite different than those established in 1998, which had an emphasis on –

    • Basic operations and concepts;
    • Social, ethical, and human issues;
    • Technology productivity tools;
    • Technology communication tools;
    • Technology research tools; and
    • Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools.

    In comparing the two versions of the technology standards, it is clear that the shift has been made from simply teaching students how to operate technology to using technology to encourage problem-solving, innovation, and collaboration. But how do we develop students who are critical and creative thinkers, able to meet the challenges of 21st century thinking, learning, and doing?

    For example, it was understood that to be creative, one must be clever; but what does it mean to be clever, and how can you teach someone to be clever? If we simply listed clever as a characteristic of a critical and creative thinker, what could an educator do with that information? Recognizing this issue, the goal of any relevant research is to practically define critical and creative thinking by identifying a set of specific skills that contribute to such thinking and are teachable within any classroom.

    A MODEL OF CRITICAL AND CREATIVE THINKING:

    We have come to recognize that critical and creative thinking is an integrated process that involves the generation and refinement of ideas around a core of knowledge. The idea generation and refinement processes are monitored and controlled by self-regulatory behaviors that involve goal-setting as well as monitoring the obtainment of those goals, all while maintaining the necessary attitudes and dispositions. The relationship between these processes is in no way linear. The continuous, reciprocal relationship between Idea Generation and Reflective Judgment shows that there is no specific beginning or end to the thinking process. As ideas are generated, thinkers work with what they know and/or want to know to refine their ideas until they have something of value and worth. The movement between generating and refining ideas involves thinkers using analytical and evaluative measures to focus their understanding of the content and developing an outcome that most clearly and comprehensively addresses the identified problem or need.

    As the thinker works to generate and refine knowledge, it is vital that he or she remains in control of both behavior and commitment to a task. The Self-Regulation component of the critical and creative thinking process ensures that the thinker remains active in the thinking and learning process, while monitoring progress toward identified goals. A critical component that encompasses all other processes is the exhibition of appropriate Attitudes and Dispositions. Sometimes referred to as learner characteristics, the essential attitudes and dispositions of motivation, flexibility, and confidence have been shown to be necessary for the development of and continuous involvement in critical and creative thinking.

    IDEA GENERATION:

    A key process of critical and creative thinking, is that of idea generation. This is referred to as productive thinking, where the thinker engages in activities encouraging the divergent process of taking previously acquired knowledge, simple ideas, and new information, and transforming those ideas into something that can be applied to a new situation or problem. The process of idea generation is supported by thinkers exhibiting skills such as fluency of ideas, originality of thought, and flexibility in thinking.

    REFLECTIVE JUDGMENT:

    In the reflective judgment component of critical and creative thinking, thinkers move through a convergent process of evaluating ideas and selecting a structured plan or solution based on the multitude of previously generated ideas. As they engage in reflective judgment, thinkers not only evaluate and select ideas from those generated through personal knowledge and experience, but also in the consideration of ideas gained through analysis and evaluation of other thinkers’ ideas and resources. By combining such ideas, thinkers will determine the best and most feasible plan to pursue.

    SELF REGULATION:

    Throughout the processes of generating and refining ideas, thinkers must monitor and maintain control of their thoughts, behaviors, and involvement. The skills within this self-regulative process are organized by how the learners set personal goals and plan how they will accomplish their goals; monitor attention, focus, and progress; and evaluate the process and results of their activities.

    Critical and creative thinkers engage in active planning and forethought to set goals, outline strategies, and determine the best methods through which they can achieve their goals. Activities that support this planning include recognizing the existence of a challenge, assessing personal knowledge, understanding one’s own abilities, and allocating resources.

    Thinkers also must be skillful in monitoring the attention and focus they devote to a task as well as the results of their decisions. This occurs through actively focusing on the level and type of attention required to accomplish the task. In addition, they need to be aware of how they are performing and progressing toward meeting their goals. Monitoring also involves identifying consequences of possible actions in relation to the desired goals. Revising is a critical component of self-regulation; if through monitoring focus, performance, progress, and possible consequences, thinkers find that they are not making adequate progress toward achieving their goals, they must be willing to reconsider their course of action.

    As thinkers continually monitor their attention, focus, and results, it may become necessary for them to make changes in beliefs about their level of attention, abilities, and the value of contributions being made. This process of cognitive restructuring occurs as thinkers make affirmative changes in their overall attitudes and seek to make alterations in personal beliefs and perceptions of the beliefs of others. Thinkers can accomplish this restructuring by making positive self-statements to help maintain awareness of such beliefs and make necessary changes.

    The third and final skill of self-regulation is the need for thinkers to evaluate the results of their efforts. This occurs as the thinkers review the initial challenge, their goals, and the resulting products. By evaluating results, thinkers can ensure appropriate outcomes as well as value and worth of ideas as they relate to the problem or context. Through evaluating the process in which they engaged, critical and creative thinkers ensure that appropriate thinking processes were used to generate results. Through evaluating the product, they ensure that those final results are in line with the initial goal.

    ATTITUDES AND DISPOSITIONS:

    In addition to engaging in idea generation, reflective judgment, and self-regulation, critical and creative thinkers must exhibit certain attitudes and dispositions; specifically, this means they must be perceptive and flexible, motivated, and confident.

    Thinkers maintain a perceptive and flexible attitude through avoiding impulsivity, rejecting stereotypes and prejudices, embracing multiple points-of-view, judging their assumptions, and remaining sensitive to the thoughts and actions of others. In addition, it is vital that thinkers allow many aspects of experiences to penetrate and influence their thinking by remaining open-minded to seeking alternative influences. Tolerating ambiguity is also essential, as, with any thinking process, vaguely established ideas will often penetrate their thinking.

    Critical and creative thinkers must be motivated to solve the problem at hand. They must exhibit a general interest in their learning, recognize the value of their participation, and see the applicability of the task to their personal interests. This motivation is exhibited through demonstrating autonomy, persisting at the task, maintaining intrinsic motivation, and recognizing the relevance of their work to their personal interests.

    Successful critical and creative thinkers are also confident in their involvement and position within the problem or context.

    In this context, confidence involves maintaining a positive perception of self-efficacy, exhibiting a high level of comfort in interacting with the thinking process, and exhibiting a general feeling of self-worth and certainty. Thinkers who do not fear being different and do not seek conformity are able to maintain high levels of confidence and become active participants in the critical and creative thinking process.

    Throughout, successful critical and creative thinkers demonstrate confidence by actively identifying the worth or applicability of their ideas, exhibiting courage of convictions that allows them to publicize their thoughts without fear of rejection, and the willingness to engage in risk-taking that allows them to work outside their comfort zone and engage in tasks in which success is not certain.

    A CASE STUDY ‘IT INDUSTRY’: 

    A criticism often levelled at IT education is that by the time you come to apply the skills, they might be out of date. Why learn technology skills when that technology might not be in use in a couple of years?

    IT does change fast, but the fundamentals of how we design and build systems change at a slower pace. As long as we learn about today’s technology in the context of how it relates to the business world and how it is likely to evolve, then we will be in a much better position to respond intelligently to the changing world.

    But this is often overlooked by both formal and in-house training programmers’, which have favored skills which address very specific challenges. In order to be adequately prepared to tackle tomorrow’s technology challenges, we need to move from a mindset of knowing how to apply technology to well understood situations, to one of being able to think critically about problems, and identify solutions to unknown as well as familiar technology issues.

    THINK DIFFERENTLY:

    To prepare IT professionals for the rapidly changing world of technology, we need to install an approach based on critical thinking. I’ll look at how we might do this, before putting this approach in context.

    The organization you work in is complex. It is shaped by the nature of individual thinking processes as well as existing technology and business pressures. Any changes will have causes and consequences that may have a much wider impact. Solving a problem will change things, which could lead to other problems.

    Different people see different priorities. There is sometimes no obvious answer, or many different reasonable answers.  But there are also wrong answers, which can be pursued, sometimes at great cost. These often result from a very narrow focus on the problem out of context.

    Interconnections are too often ignored, a single cause may be presumed, or an individual quickly blamed. This is not exclusive to IT; we see this in wider society all the time – it’s easier to blame crime on individual criminals than deal with the many complex societal factors that led some to criminality. The other mistake is a focus on outcomes – ie how many criminals can we arrest rather than how many crimes can we prevent.

    To avoid these mistakes, problems should be approached by thinking about the systems that affect the challenge or opportunity. This is more difficult than isolating and addressing a problem, but ultimately more likely to produce a better solution.

    THINK ABOUT SYSTEMS:

    As well as looking at how technology works, it is necessary to think about how people will react to it. Is a great new technology too hard to learn? Will tough new security procedures incentivize people to circumvent them? We need to understand the systems in which new technology operates.

    Cognitive mapping is a technique for understanding and shaping the mental models your stakeholders use to perceive, contextualize, simplify, and make sense of otherwise complex problems. Thinking through these will help ensure new technologies and programs have the results they are supposed to.

    However good your plan is, you won’t foresee everything, so it is also critical to continuously test and review, and feed that learning into your ever-evolving plans. Throughout the life cycle of any project, topics such as stakeholders, finance, risk, people, project administration and quality must be constantly reviewed in the context of the project.

    The world of the future will require more understanding of flexible management. We will have to place more emphasis on learning as we go and making sure that learning changes our practice and organizations. We need to get used to this.

    CRITICAL THINKING IN CONTEXT:

    Two core skills of any modern IT professional are cyber security and software engineering. Both relate to complex real-world challenges and can only be dealt with effectively if they think critically.

    Firstly, cyber security. Any IT professional needs to fully explore the available security technologies and stay up to date with them. But they also need to think through the risks that may arise in all relevant aspects of an organization’s operations which may impact security, including human factors, web services and system upgrades.

    You also need to be able to plan for when things do go wrong. Again, this needs an understanding of attackers’ motivations and employee weaknesses, as well as of the technologies available to circumvent your defenses, and a sense of how these could evolve. It also requires an understanding of the legal frameworks and technologies relevant to digital forensics, which are essential when responding to cyber security incidents. Only then can effective plans be made.

    Teaching all this must be put in a real-world context. Most students learn these techniques by crafting a fit-for-purpose Information Security Management System for the organization where they work.

    Secondly, software engineering. Contact between the business and the external world is often mediated by software, and the business has a responsibility to its wider community that may be served, or jeopardized, by this software.

    Skilled software engineers can add a lot of value by creating or adapting software, from managing projects and sales, analyzing performance and customer data, and automating tasks. All of these exist in a complex real world, where humans react to change in different ways. Any new system must understand how users or customers will respond to it.

    The skill is not one of knowing how to do this, it is one of knowing how to model the relationships between the software, the organization it serves, and its wider environment. This approach must be used in development, roll out, updates and maintenance – it is an evolving process.

    Critical thinking doesn’t mean ignoring technology, of course. The process can be evolved further by an understanding of different software engineering tools that can help them simulate, manage and monitor. Using these effectively is part of the skill of good IT planning.

    A CRITICAL APPROACH ALLOWS YOU TO PLAN EFFECTIVELY:

    IT is critical to business and will become ever more so. It exists in an increasingly networked and interconnected world, where groups, teams, organizations and even nations will have to be smarter in their ways of working together.

    IT professionals therefore need to be able to think in ways that reflect these challenges. IT education at all levels must teach how to take a critical approach which relates technical competencies to complex technological, human and business issues.