Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Digital World
Bloom’s Taxonomy, developed in the 1950’s, expresses thinking and learning through a set of concepts that begin with lower order thinking skills (LOTS) and build to higher order thinking skills (HOTS). The initial phraseology of Bloom’s Taxonomy had six levels, beginning with knowledge at the lowest, then progressing through comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
The basis for the theory is rather straightforward, a person cannot understand something that he does not remember (know) nor can he/she analyze or apply that knowledge if the person does not understand the material. Though an ability to analyze and apply certainly supersedes the basic knowledge category, to synthesize entails divergently applying knowledge and/or skills to produce something new. Lastly, evaluating or judging the value of material is necessary to produce a worthy final end product.
In education, quality teachers seek to bring their students to the HOTS level of the taxonomy whenever possible. Acquiring knowledge and even comprehending information pale in comparison to being able to apply that knowledge. In addition, as additional ideas come forward, the complexities that emerge demand further analysis of the information, etc.
Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy
Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, constructed over the last 15 years, turns these words into different phrases. In the revised taxonomy, verbs are used rather than nouns to express the concept. The revised taxonomy begins with the word remembering before moving to understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. Perhaps most importantly, there has been a general consensus of a change at level five and six, with evaluating being seen as a lower level to that of creating.
But today’s educational landscape is vastly different from that of yesterday rendering a lack of clarity as to where the levels of the taxonomy fit. As education heads into the digital world, many teachers struggle with where to place many of the new technology tasks within this long-standing hierarchal guide to teaching and learning.
Blooms in a Digital World
Thanks to some great work by Andrew Churches, educators have a basis by which to compare digital techniques to the more traditional standard that Bloom created. Mr. Churches is from New Zealand and is a Middle School teacher and Information Communication Technology enthusiast. On his website, Mr. Churches states, “I believe that to prepare our students for the future, we must prepare them for change, teach them to question and think, to adapt and modify, to sift and sort. I am fortunate to teach at a school with a mobile computing program, that sees students with personal mobile devices, laptops.”
Clearly there are fine lines of delineation in many aspects but his work provides a great framework from which educators can approach the topic. What follows is a summary of his Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (PDF).
For the first area in the revised taxonomy, remembering, the focus is on retrieval of information. Under the traditional Bloom theory, we would use phrases like recognizing, listing, describing, naming and locating. Churches indicates that as we head towards the digital world we might more likely use phrases like bulleting to mark key words or phrases for recall. Likewise, students might bookmark or favorite a web page or site for future use. Yet another aspect for this fundamental step in the taxonomy would be the social networking arena where links between people are critical. Social bookmarking, the online version of local bookmarking or favorites, is apropos and likely a tad more advanced because users could draw on others’ bookmarks. Lastly, educators should take note that Churches sees the most popular task, that of searching or “Googling” as another remembering concept provided the search does not move beyond the fundamental key word or term.
Here the traditional taxonomy phrases become interpreting, summarizing, inferring, paraphrasing, comparing, and explaining. In the new digital world, Churches sees the step towards refining basic search techniques as a step along the path of understanding. Blog journaling would be another aspect as long as the focus was on simply “talking,” “writing,” or “typing” a task-specific entry. As but another example would be Twittering and answering the basic question, “what are you doing?” Churches notes that Twittering and journaling can easily move beyond the understanding level to higher levels of the taxonomy if these tools are used to develop greater understanding or if they are used to collaborate with peers. Churches notes two other digital areas fitting the understanding level, that of categorizing and of commenting/annotating files. The digital organizing and classifying of files clearly demonstrates a level of understanding while commenting and annotating web pages is likely analogous to taking notes.
Progressing up the Bloom’s ladder, the next level is referred to as applying. In the traditional Bloom format, we are talking about implementation, using information, and executing tasks. Here Churches offers several examples of students “doing.” For example, here we would find students initiating a program and/or operating and manipulating hardware and applications. Gaming technology would also fit as students would be demonstrating both understanding of the process and the skill set, then be applying them to the game task. Applying would also involve the uploading and appropriate sharing of materials on a site such as Flickr. It is at this point that Churches brings in editing skills and combines them with the understanding of tasks like Twittering and/or journaling. Lastly, the application level is where Churches places simple hacking, defining this term as “applying a simple set of rules to achieve a goal or objective.”
As we move ever further into the Higher Order Thinking Skills we move into analyzing what has been learned. Traditional Bloom’s taxonomy phrases are comparing, organizing, structuring, and integrating. Digital equivalents would involve mash ups where several data sources are melded into a single set of usable information. Churches also places the proper establishment of links within documents and web pages in the analyzing category. At this level, Churches indicates that though a wealth of data is available to students much of it may lack veracity. Therefore it is essential students be able to validate their information. Churches places this aspect in the analyzing category though this appears to involve both analysis and making judgments so we might be more inclined to slide this task to the next level in the taxonomy. Another aspect Churches lists here involves tagging, the “organizing, structuring and attributing online data, meta-tagging web pages, etc.” Certainly students must be able to understand the materials to be able to perform this step though there is some obvious overlap with the prior applying level. It is in this category that Churches places the reverse-engineering (possibly positive) and cracking (not likely positive) behaviors.
Under the traditional Bloom’s format, the fifth level of evaluating refers to hypothesizing, critiquing, experimenting, judging, testing and monitoring. As we noted above, this is where students begin to place informed judgments to start towards new ideas. Churches considers blog commenting and reflecting where students comment and reply to other postings as a simple example of this aspect. Essentially, students examining material in context and then replying must be doing some form of evaluation. For these comments, there is the posting of an appropriate, thoughtful, in depth response by one party and the potential evaluation or moderation of those posts by another party, so there are two very important distinct applications. Under the collaboration and networking aspect, Churches rightfully notes that “effective collaboration involves evaluating the strengths and abilities of the participants and evaluating the contribution they make.” Testing a product or application is also a key component at this level. For anyone to effectively test a process or tool the tester must have the ability to analyze the purpose of the tool or process. That demands both the knowledge of what the correct function should entail versus that which it currently does entail.
As we complete the Taxonomy, at the highest level we see students creating. Here the focus is on designing, inventing, constructing, planning and producing. Given this expectation, it is easy to see why more and more people are placing greater emphasis on creativity within the school setting. It is here we would find technology mixing heavily with the creative process. It could involve audio and video and come in the form of a film, an animation, a videocast, or a podcast. This arena features a heavy dose of mixing and remixing to ultimately produce unique products. Ultimately, there is publishing of some type here, so anything related to a written or video blog, even a Wiki would relate. Churches also offers additional digital equivalents at this level of the Taxonomy as the creation of a program application or the development of a game.
Churches work gives educators an excellent framework from which to begin to assess their digital practices. We recognize that many teachers tend to push the “search” concept, especially search refinements, further up the taxonomy levels. But at the same time Churches digital examples at the evaluation level provide strong reinforcement for the use of blogs and Wikis to greatly enhance learning. Teachers seeking a more in depth look at Churches’ thoughts should turn to “Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy.”