Q&A with Quinn Sutton, Senior Vice President, Certiport
January 11, 2010
Quinn Sutton says critical thinking is the topic of raging debate in the U.S. Is it a talent or a skill? Who needs it? How is it taught? How is it measured? What are ETS and Certiport doing about it?
Differentiate between a talent and a skill.
Let's use the dictionary for starters. A skill is an ability based on some knowledge or experience. A talent is based on a natural or innate ability or quality. That differentiation almost seems like 'nature versus nurture.' However, there's obviously some overlap.
Is digital literacy a talent or a skill?
I think it involves both. Certain levels of proficiency require skills to accomplish tasks. However, at a higher level, where newly encountered problems must be solved, talent will be involved.
How is digital literacy best taught?
First, the talents, skills and experience of the learner must be known. Second, the instructor should be able to choose from among a variety of learning modalities, and that choice will likely also depend on the learner. Third, the learning objective is important. Is the student looking for entry level skills? Or is there a higher-level literacy factor desired? Once these essential factors are known, a variety of teaching methods are available--classroom lectures, online sessions, case studies, workgroups, and more.
Once taught, can digital literacy be measured and certified?
Absolutely. That's what we're in the business of doing. We issue a credential called Internet & Computing Core Certification (IC³) endorsed by the Global Skills Literacy Council. We author three specific exams that are administered by U.S. schools from grade nine through college senior. Since 2002, IC³ certificates have been issued to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
Is critical thinking a talent or a skill?
Interesting question. Critical thinking is the topic of raging debate in the U.S. I don't think it's a talent, because I don't believe anyone is born with critical thinking ability. In fact, I think it's built on top of other skills that are already mastered. For example, I have to know how to perform a Google search and filter the resulting data, before I can apply critical thinking skills to solving a problem or making a decision.
How is critical thinking best taught?
Ahh … I'm not an instructional designer. I know that certain prerequisites are involved. I know that some educators use cases and simulations. I know that some educators take advantage of the life and work experiences of students in the classroom. Along with our partner Educational Testing Service (ETS), I'm involved in the testing and certification end of critical thinking.
How might critical thinking be measured and certified?
ETS developed the iCritical Thinking certification exam, and they've partnered with Certiport as the test delivery provider. We have 12,000 test sites throughout the world. The exam takes about an hour. It's hands-on. It's performance-based. It's timed. And the test-taker is seated at a computer. A successful test-taker receives a certificate that we expect to become an industry standard for academic preparedness and job readiness.
What applications can you envision for critical thinking certification?
In my mind, there are abundant applications surrounding college entrance. For example, a progressive educational institution might want to assess the critical thinking skills of each applicant to a graduate engineering curriculum--or even law school. As another example, a CPA may soon need to prove his or her familiarity and competence with critical thinking.