Digital Society
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Digital Society

Critical Analysis

Why is critical analysis important in the digital society and how can you develop your critical voice?

Photo of lightbulbs hanging in a warehouse — by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Reading Critically
  3. Using Sources Critically
  4. Summary
  5. List of Sources for Activities

1. Introduction

Kit introduces this topic on Critical Analysis (transcript). MP3 version.

In the digital society we can be flooded with information, advertisements and data, as well as requests to share our own information and data, from a huge variety of sources, people and organisations. Misinformation and algorithms can effect the type, reliability and credibility of information we encounter on a daily basis and can include serious things such as fake news and propaganda, to the annoying, such as spam email and bots on social media.

A relatively benign, example of misinformation can be seen below. This picture is an example of so-called ‘troll quote’, an online trend that purposefully conflates a famous quote, character and image from three different films from popular culture together. Although humorous (for fans of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, at least!), this underlines how easy it is for information to be altered, changed and adapted for different purposes in the digital society.

Image of a troll quote that depicts a famous film quote, but attributed to the wrong character from a different film.
Image source. Reproduced for teaching purposes, to illustrate a point about memes.

Therefore, as citizens in the digital society, we must be able to critically analyse the information (and requests for our own information) we encounter on a daily basis to help us come to informed decisions about who and what to believe.

Read the following prompt then add your contribution in the box below. All comments are anonymous.

Give an example of when you have had to think critically about information you have encountered digitally in the past

If you can’t access the comment box, please write a response to this post instead.

Critical analysis is also an important part of the assessments for Digital Society (and most other university-level assessments!):

  • DigiSoc1: You are asked to ‘critically analyse’ a person or organisation’s online communication, and your work will be marked against your ability to produce ‘an excellent analysis’.
  • DigiSoc2: You are asked to ‘address the challenges and opportunities facing an organisation or sector’, and your work will be marked on your ability to show ‘clear insight and awareness of the issues and a balanced, critical account’.
  • DigiSoc3: You are asked to ‘critically examine the implications of living in a digital world’, and your work will be marked on your ability to provide a ‘clear insight and awareness of the issues and a balanced, critical account’.

Therefore, as well as helping you to become more confident citizens of the Digital Society, developing your critical analysis will help you gain better marks

Across this topic we’ll look at a range of articles dealing with themes of AI-generated content, machine and human collaborative creation, and the ownership of (and responsibility for) content created in this way. We’ll use these themes to think about online criticality, critical analysis, and how to develop your own critical voice in your work.

In this topic you will:

  • Look at online criticality, critical analysis, and developing your own critical voice,
  • Practice using a strategy for approach a source critically,
  • Articulate and share your own analysis of information.
  • In this topic we’ll be using a tool called Hypothesis to leave comments on websites (articles, news stories and online PDFs, etc.) that other people will be able to see and respond to.
  • To use Hypothesis, you’ll need to create a free account using an email address and password.
  • Click here to find out how it works and how to set it up

2. Reading Critically

Read the following prompt then add your contribution in the box below. All comments are anonymous.

What does it mean to be critical?

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Being critical can mean lots of different things in different contexts, but at its core it’s about actively engaging with ideas, rather than passively accepting the information you encounter as true. Being critical doesn’t mean being negative, it means being impartial so that you can judge whether you agree or disagree with the source you’re considering. In your university work you’ll be asked to read critically, show evidence of critical thinking, and critically analyse texts and theories, so how can you get started?

Critical reading is a skill just like any other, so the more you practice, the better you’ll get. You’ve been reading for years, so share the tricks you’ve picked up on the way. Read through the hits and tips others have shared and add your own in the 💬 Contribute section below.

Read the following prompt then add your contribution in the box below. All comments are anonymous.

What are your top tips for reading critically

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Activity 1 — Critically analyse a source

The key to being critical is being able to approach information neutrally, so you can evaluate what your see…and what you don’t… and compare it to what you already know to help you form an opinion.

This can be difficult to do at first, but there we have a useful strategy that can help. Although this is a strategy developed for reading, you can apply it to a source in any medium, including video and audio materials. When you read, watch, or engage with your source, use this strategy by asking yourself these four questions as you go.

This strategy (below), using is a great way to start critically analysing sources by taking you through the necessary steps to help form your own critical opinion. So let’s try it out!

  • Pick one of the sources in the list of sources (add link) at the bottom of this page or choose an online source of your own.
  • Apply the strategy to your chosen source by working through the four questions below. Use Hypothesis to highlight the main ideas, the evidence supporting them and the author/s’ own analysis of the evidence as you go. (See our Note on Hypothesis in the Introduction if you need it.)
  • Check the example here to see what this might look like.

❓ Question 1: What is the author’s main idea?

Image showing the three building blocks of reading critically. The author’s main idea will be an opinion, supported by evidence, which you can agree of disagree with.
Image: The author’s main idea will be an opinion, supported by evidence, with which you can argue or agree.

Read through your chosen source and identify the main idea (of a paragraph, chapter, or entire piece of work). This will be the author’s opinion.

YOUR TURN: Use Hypothesis to highlight the main idea/s and paraphrase them into your own words (this helps to cement your own understanding of the idea!).

Identifying the main idea/s is an important first step . Since it’s an opinion, you can decide whether you agree or disagree with it, and crucially, you can get critical about it!

❓ Question 2: What evidence is used to support it?

The evidence supporting the author’s main ideas / opinions will include facts and this is often easy to spot! Wherever you see references, citations, footnotes, web links, statistics or quotations, you know that the author is attempting to back up their opinion with some evidence.

YOUR TURN: Read through your chosen source and use Hypothesis to:

  • Highlight evidence that you feel is particularly strong, reliable or convincing. Add a comment explaining why you think these pieces of evidence are particularly strong, reliable or convincing.
  • Highlight evidence that you feel is untrustworthy, out-of-date or not convincing. Add a comment explaining why you these pieces of evidence are untrustworthy, out-of-date or unconvincing.

❓ Question 3: Where is the analysis?

After identifying and analysing the evidence you can begin to critique the authors’ ideas and opinions on what that evidence means and why they think it is important.

YOUR TURN: Use the notes you have made to Hypothesis to think about the following:

  • Having identified the author’s main idea, and the evidence they’re using to support it, how do you feel about their argument?
  • As a critical reader you’ll want to investigate that evidence further, where has it come from, and is that a trustworthy source? If it is, is it making the same point as the author, or have they tried to re-purpose it?
  • Do you think the evidence convincingly supports the authors ideas, or are you left with more questions?

If the author has a main idea that seems to match up well with some good-quality evidence, it’s likely that you’ll agree with the point that they’re making, and you might even want to reference them in your own work. If, on the other hand, you think their evidence doesn’t really support their points very well, what will you do next?

❓ Question 4. What’s your critical opinion?

After you have identified and started to analyse the author’s ideas and the evidence they use to support these ideas, the next step is to develop your own opinion or response to what you have read.

YOUR TURN: Using the notes you have made in Hypothesis to help, think about the source as a whole. Two important questions to answer now are:

  • Do you agree with the author, or would you argue with them?
  • If you choose to argue, where are the weaknesses or limitations in their argument?

It’s really important to make sure that your notes include your own critical opinion of the source, not just a summary, you can use this later to help you build an argument of your own, or decide how you might use that source in an assessment. Once you’ve done this a few times it’ll become second nature to you, and you’ll approach every new source with a critical eye!

When you’re completed Activity 1 above, read the following prompt then add your contribution in the box below. All comments are anonymous.

Post your Hypothesis link and a one-sentence summary of your critical opinion of the article. What’s the author arguing, do you agree or disagree, and why?

💡 When you get the chance, why not check back to see what other people have shared? Reflecting on the comments generated by other people’s critical analysis will help you to improve your own practice.

If you can’t access the comment box, please write a response to this post instead.

3. Using sources critically

Building on the previous section on critical reading this next session looks at how to combine sources to support your opinion and pose new questions.

In this section you will:

  • Generate new questions to move forward in your own critical analysis.
  • Develop strategies to contextualise new information with the knowledge you already have.

In the previous section you practised a critical reading strategy to help you identify the author’s main idea, find the evidence they use to support it, analyse the links between the two, and then form your own opinion about their argument. This time you’ll build on this basic strategy to develop your skills of critical analysis and generate questions of your own. These questions might be used to steer the direction of your research, or create a title for an essay or piece of reflective writing.

Using the critical reading strategy developed in the previous section, choose a related source to read. This might be another one of the sources below or another of your own. As we practised in Activity 1, find the main ideas, identify the evidence used to back them up, spot the links between the two, and form a critical opinion. You can record your thoughts on your chosen source using Hypothesis, just as we did with the first!

Think about the topic and what you already know about it from the first source you read, and record your prior and contextual knowledge in your notes all around the source.

Now that you’ve read more than one source on this topic you’re in a better position to judge whether or not you agree with the author’s opinions, or would argue with it. Having read more than one source you may find that your opinion has changed.

Take a few minutes to look back at your two sources and the notes you’ve made around it and think about:

  • Which parts of the arguments and the evidence most engaged you?
  • Where did you focus your attention?
  • Where are most of your extra contextual notes concentrated, and why?
  • Of the parts that you didn’t understand, which bits do you want to find out more about?

Now, come up with a question you’d like to investigate further. This is the part you’re interested in finding out more about. It could be the hypothetical title of an article you could write in response to what you’ve just read.

Share the title of the articles you read, and how you got to your new hypothetical research question, in the comments below. Check back later to see who read the same article as you. What are their questions, and how are they similar and different to yours?

Read the following prompt then add your contribution to the box below. All comments are anonymous.

What’s your new hypothetical research question? And what are the thought processes that led you to it?

Examples:

  • ‘ I read [name of article], which made me wonder about ~~~, so I could write something on ‘Why ~~~~?’
  • ‘My original article was [name of article], which made me think about ~~~, so I’d ask this question: ‘Is ~~~?’
If you can’t access the comment box, please write a response to this post instead.

Recap

This strategy helps you build on your critical thinking process to identify how new information fits in with what you already know, and helps you integrate those things to move forward and choose a new research direction. The really interesting thing about this stage of the process is that your contextual knowledge might be completely different to someone else’s, so even if you read the same article, you might do something very different afterwards, or use it in a completely different way. This process might help you generate ideas for a new video or blog post… or, in academia, help you to trace the method of choosing a research direction for a dissertation or thesis! You’ll use it later on for your reflective writing task, and knowing the critical process behind your title will help you write a well-thought-out and engaging piece.

4. Summary

Like many words in the English language the word ‘critical’ has more than one meaning. In every day conversation it’s generally used as an adjective to describe the expression of adverse, negative or disapproving comments. “The losing manager was highly critical of the way his team played.”

In this topic, however, we use the word ‘critical’ to describe the expression of an analysis showing both the faults and merits of a piece of work , literature, music, art, or academic writing.

To do this we looked at what it means to be critical, how we can read sources critically, and how to analyse the content, points and themes in our sources. We considered one model for critical thinking, bearing in mind many other models are available to use.

We then thought about how we can contextualise new information , either a new source or someone else’s analysis of the source, using our existing knowledge.

We finished by looking at how our analysis of a source, taken alongside others’ analyses and our existing knowledge, can lead us to develop our own questions and ideas.

5. List of sources

Below is a list of sources we’ve made available for you to use in this topic’s activities. You are free to use any of your own sources if you prefer just ensure the source you choose for Activity 2 has a connection with the source from Activity 1 so you can compare them later.

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