How to Watch and Listen Critically

For students 
Technology has not only changed what we can see but how we see it and this applies to education and learning as well. It is hard to imagine any student walking into a college classroom who expects to learn just by reading, listening to lectures, and discussing.  Odd, because that used to be the system and it worked pretty well for hundreds of years! Today students and faculty alike use muliti-media and there are excellent videos, podcasts, and interactive websites available, but to make the best use of them means that students need to look and listen critically.
This is a concise list of do's and don'ts to help you become a critical user of multi-media.
1. Pay attention; this is not a commercial:  Just because it is a video/podcast is not a guarantee that the material is going to be general, simplistic or easy to understand...the first time around.  There are some great lectures on YouTube but the speakers use the same language and vocabulary they would in a classroom. Think of that old cliche that it is harder to write a good short paper than a long one.  Videos/podcasts may be short (some of them less than 5 minutes) but if they are assigned, you can count on them being packed with information so you need to listen closely, and maybe more than once.

2. Engage the media: It's fine to watch films or TV with popcorn and soda lying down on the sofa because it's entertainment.  Who cares if you doze off? Take a more pro-active approach to a video/podcast where the content really matters.  Write down any terms, phrases, names or references that you don't understand, have never heard, or sound strange to you and...yes...look them up. (Remarkably, it will make a difference if you understand what they mean.) Don't expect to remember everything just because it was a video.  Take the time to make notes that help put the content into context: Was there a main idea?  What made the most impact on you?  What did you disagree with and why?  What questions do you have?  What else do you need to know? A great plus about this kind of technology is that you can pause, take notes, and then keep going.

3. Make comments and look at other comments: Often websites have comment boxes where you can submit suggestions for improvement. This is expecially true for Smarthistory  because the authors/owners of the sites are art historians and they are interested in making the material more accessible. What else would you want to know or see to make the video more helpful?  More background?  A different approach?  Links to other information?  One advantage of making comments like this:  you had to think about what other information you needed to understand, to learn and that is a huge step in being critical. Another plus:  the website managers pay attention and often make changes based on your suggestions for better learning. It's a two way street with instructional technology.

4. Listen to disagreement: Smarthistory uses "the pedagogy of conversation" to teach through casual discussion rather than a lecture or textbook approach that focuses on "this is what you need to know." Because there are always two, and sometimes three experts talking, expect different perspectives, different priorities, and often real differences of opinion. This is important to forming your own position and honing your critical thinking abilities so you need to pay attention when they disagree to their reasons and their arguments.

5. Follow up research: Videos and podcasts that are assigned as part of your classwork fit into a bigger picture of knowledge.  Don't expect them to answer all your questions; your instructors certainly don't. Library resources (books, databases) as well as other .org or .edu sites  can supply important material. Learning to navigate through both text and electronic sites for the best information is an important skill.

6. Archive: Get into the habit of keeping a file with links to useful information/sources or use a social bookmarking tool. It only takes a few seconds to cut and paste a URL address into a file and perhaps only a minute more to type in a short sentence that will remind you about the content.  Six weeks down the road when you are studying for an exam or working on a paper it will be helpful and save a lot of time when you need specific information.

By Dr. Parme Giuntini 

This work is an open educational resource and This work is licensed under a Creative Common Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license.