21C Critical Thinking Lessons: Marshall McLuhan’s Tetrad

Critical Thinking For the Twenty First Century:  Marshall McLuhan

I read  a great journal article recently that discussed the importance of critique in the twenty first century; in a world of ever expanding information, it becomes increasingly  important (and difficult!) to develop a critical stance.  In order to  develop the skill, students  need to be introduced to critical thinking frameworks so that they can first understand them and  equally importantly, apply them to their own experiences.  I like frameworks because they also emphasize an idea that is sometimes lost on students: that ideas come from  a specific time and place, and can be traced historically much like genealogy.    Obviously, frameworks must be scaffolded in digestable forms for different age groups and learners.  A great place to start when looking for Media/Technology critiques  is with Marshall Mcluhan’s thought, who provides us with a tool to begin to think about  the ways our uses of technology are transformative.    Here in the TCDSB where I teach, we have a school named after him- why not  bring  his legacy to life  for our students?  I often use his theory as an entry point for middle and senior level students into a media/technological unit.  The beauty of Mcluhan’s Tetrads are  they can be used

1)   as a historical analysis of technology to give students insight into  imagining how things were in the past

2)   as a critical thinking tool to encourage reflection on current day technologies that student use and the positive/negative affects on their daily lives.

3)    as an imaginative tool to consider how future technological developments might change the world.

What I like best about Mcluhan’s critique is it gives students’ insight into the progressive myth of technology-that the 2.0 is always better than the original.  It acknowledges if something is gained, than something else is often lost,  sometimes simultaneously.    It really brings home the message  that  our uses of technology are transformative and that  humans owe it to our selves to self determine how we use them.

The Mcluhan Tetrad  lesson plan includes learning goals, a minds on activity, a worksheet for Mcluhan’s tetrad and some ideas for assessment and extensions.

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