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Defence from the Dark Arts: Science and other Tools for Critical Thinking

Why should I take this Trinity Elective?

To make good decisions, we first need to assess credible information, and then validate it. We are presented with a flood of information daily, including data — much of it is misleading, misconstrued or manipulated. How do we make sure we pick the best information to make our decisions? Also, we spot misinformation everywhere that serves to reduce trust in science and undermine democratic institutions. Given the short time any of us have to filter and analyse these waves of information to make informed choices, critical thinking has become essential. This module will provide students with a toolbox of critical thinking skills, drawing on everyday examples to support them to use them regularly and efficiently.

What will I learn?

This module is specifically designed to teach critical thinking approaches, methods, and techniques. Students will scrutinise and discuss examples of misinformation, common logical fallacies, and statistical and data visualization trickery. The classes and creative assignments will help foster rational inquiry and clear thinking to help make decisions and solve problems.

What will I do?

Every week, this module will include two online short(less than 15 minutes) video seminars on key concepts which must be watched in advance of the weekly class; one face-to-face lecture/tutorial to foster discussion and student-to-student communication; self-directed reading, and self-driven documentation of case studies. The structure of the module is designed to offer flexibility and predictability of workload. To help students follow their learning and provide feedback, there will be a formative assessment every week (short MCQ) which does not count toward the final grade for the module. In short: Every week, the students should expect:
  • 2 short video seminars on key concepts relevant to the week (asynchronous)
  • 2 pieces of reading of topical relevance
  • 1 face to face lecture/tutorial
  • 1 formative assessment (short MCQ)

How will this be delivered?

The syllabus is organized in two parts, covering one semester either side of reading week. The first part will focus on characteristics of misleading information when it is presented as fact and some common devices employed in targeted messaging, as case studies to be discussed in class. The second will concentrate on exposing common logical fallacies employed in misleading argumentation to defend weak logical positioning. Teaching will be partly hybrid, asynchronous (video lectures in advance of weekly in-person class) and will follow active learning principles with case study discussion as the centrepiece. Continuous observation of daily-life examples of misinformation for discussion in class will link personal experience outside the classroom to module activities. Weekly online formative (not for grading) assessment will help consolidate learnings.

How will this be assessed?

There will be three assessment components: The first assignment is a creative myth debunking brief, due close to reading week. Students will draw from their daily experience to choose one example of poor reasoning, deliberate misinformation, or fake news to deconstruct and explain in the form of an infographic or poster. Work will be assessed with an element of peer review. The second assignment is a short video (max 5 mins, for YouTube/Tik-Tok), due close to the end of the semester. This creative group project will identify and dismantle an example of poor reasoning, drawn from local (public) information streams. The themes for the short video assignment are chosen by class consensus. The third assessment is a Critical Thinking Skills Exam delivered online (40 minutes). This is the main piece of summative assessment for the course and will be marked on a three-point grading scale (A, B, C) roughly corresponding on a mark scale to a 1, a 2.1 and a 2.2.

Who can take this Trinity Elective?

  • Any student eligible to take a Trinity Elective can select this module.

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