Critical Thinking

Summary of reform: Critical thinking is an important college outcome, generally understood to be the ability to properly construct and evaluate an argument. Research indicates that generic classes in critical thinking do not carry over well to disciplines so there is currently an emphasis on integrating this development into content courses. Thinking across the curriculum like writing across the curriculum. Techniques for teaching include: in-class free writing; pre- or -in classroom questions to guide discussion or assignments; small group activities, inter-group debates, solving open-ended problems, pre-writing activities, multiple drafts of papers, peer editing, quizzes. Successful institutional efforts have involved more than one-time seminars on techniques for developing critical thinking. Some ways to supplement individual faculty efforts are working group of faculty across disciplines to read work on critical thinking together, sharing experiments to integrate methods into courses over sustained period of time, round table or luncheons over the semester innovations are introduced, stipend to help faculty transform classes.

Level of institutionalization: Individual classroom change. Efforts can be enhanced by institutional support but few resources are needed.

Outcomes: This reform is an outcome

Process: For the most part, critical thinking is dependent on faculty pedagogical changes, that is, it involves changing assignments, feedback on assignments, standards and class expectations, and way material presented by introduction to methods for developing critical thinking and models of intellectual development

Target of Reform: both students and faculty; but mostly faculty since they are being asked to be more attuned to pedagogy and to assess whether they are teaching this skill

Resistances: Several critiques have been offered since critical thinking arises out of a particular way of viewing and evaluating reality and can make students feel other methods are not worthwhile. Not all statements of knowledge can be or should be made as propositions, so critical thinking is not always applicable, but this is often not emphasized to students. The problem is that it absolutizes the analytical process which can lead to cognitive passivity and lack of creativity among students in choice of learning appproaches.

Evolution/History: During the 1970's there was a major effort to develop experimental courses in critical thinking development, mostly as elective courses which varied from teaching logic, study skills, informal fallacies, and decision making. Following criticism in the mid-1980's that this was not an effective method, critical thinking courses came to be integrated into the formal curriculum of many college and universities. This skill is seen as critical in a democratic society based on an informed and critical citizenry.

Link to suggested readings: Articles on Critical Thinking

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