HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
critical thinking skills
Information cannot always be trusted. Despite popular opinion regarding the devastating impact of the Internet on the modern age, the inherent untrustworthiness of information is not new. Satire, misinformation, and disinformation have been circulating for centuries, even long before the printed word. However, thanks to the relative ease of creating and sharing content online, our students are confronted with publications created solely to entertain, persuade, and incite via incorrect or incomplete statistics.
Could your students identify the most important concepts in your discipline? Do they leave your class understanding these most fundamental concepts, including the ability to reason using these concepts to answer essential questions? Do your students become critical thinkers who connect concepts and practices in your course with other courses? With their future professional lives?
Critical thinking. We all endorse it. We all want our students to do it. And we claim to teach it. But do we? Do we even understand and agree what it means to think critically?
According to Paul and Elder’s (2013a) survey findings, most faculty don’t know what critical thinking is or how to teach it. Unless faculty explicitly and intentionally design their courses to build their students’ critical thinking skills and receive training in how to teach them, their students do not improve their skills (Abrami et al., 2008).
How do we make learning messy and unpredictable for our students—and why? I posed this question to the members of the Teaching Professor group on LinkedIn in July, and a lively and insightful discussion immediately began. This article is based upon the insights shared in the discussion.
Critical thinking is defined as a reflective and reasonable thought process embodying depth, accuracy, and astute judgment to determine the merit of a decision, an object, or a theory (Alwehaibi, 2012). Creative thinking involves analysis, evaluation, and a synthesizing of facts, ideas, opinions, and theories. Possessing the capacity to logically and creatively exercise in-depth judgment and reflection to work effectively in the realm of complex ideas exemplifies a critical thinker (Carmichael & Farrell, 2012).
I have taught the senior-level marketing capstone course for more than 15 years. That translates to something like 28 semesters of graduates about to embark on life in “the real world.” We joke in academia about calling it that, but in fact when one considers the sheltered life of a college undergrad of traditional age, the world outside is more real than what they have experienced in our classrooms. I do not profess to be an expert at getting them prepared to face that scary world, but I do have an assignment that I think helps them at least think about who they will be in that new place. It involves blue slips. What’s a blue slip? Pink slips you know, but not blue ones.
The guidelines suggested below propose how critical thinking skills can be assessed “scientifically” in psychology courses and programs. The authors begin by noting something about psychology faculty that is true of faculty in many other disciplines, which makes this article relevant to a much larger audience. “The reluctance of psychologists to assess the critical thinking (CT) of their students seems particularly ironic given that so many endorse CT as an outcome…” (p. 5) Their goal then is to offer “practical guidelines for collecting high-quality LOA (learning outcome assessment) data that can provide a scientific basis for improving CT instruction.” (p. 5) The guidelines are relevant to individual courses as well as collections of courses that comprise degree programs. Most are relevant to courses or programs in many disciplines; others are easily made so.
The liberal arts college where I teach recently underwent review for accreditation. Like many other colleges and universities, we were criticized for our lack of assessment. Faculty resistance, it seems, may be the biggest barrier to implementing institutional assessment measures (Katz, 2010; Weimer, 2013). Both Weimer and Katz accredited faculty resistance to fears that assessment data could be used for “comparison shopping” and “educational consumerism.” While these fears are justified, at my college another fear prevails; the fear that assessment will lead to hand-holding strategies that will discourage independent thought in our students and result in failure to adequately prepare them for professional life.