Field of Science

A Critical Thinking Question for My Readers

In my quest to become a more effective instructor (among other things), I joined a group of faculty to talk about ways to become more effective instructors. As you might imagine a group of people coming together in this way results in 70-80% of the time being used in a non-productive manner. However, we were discussing what I think is an important, but ultimately difficult topic,  and decided to recruit some outside feedback. Our whole discussion, which were based on some assigned readings, was critical thinking. I will share my thoughts later, but I don't want to bias the feedback with my thoughts. So my questions to you are....

1. What is the your definition of "critical thinking"?
2. Is it important to teach "critical thinking"?
3. Is it possible to teach "critical thinking"?

4. If so, how does one teach "critical thinking"?

You don't have to answer all the questions. Im interested in any and all relevant feedback. Also, this issue extends beyond the sciences. For example, if you are an artist, what does critical thinking mean to you?

BTW. If you used wiki before answering #1, how do you look at yourself in the mirror (assuming you're not a vampire).


EJ Willingham said...

Critical does one define it? An excellent question. It's tough to define and tough to teach. I developed a couple of lessons for my nonmajors science students that were designed to get them more in the habit of critical evaluation. I think it comes down to being skeptical of any unsupported statement and recognizing holes in arguments. The way to teach those key factors is (a) to teach students to find unsupported statements and then evaluate them depending on what sort of support the student can find, and (b) to teach them to locate the holes in an argument or story and see if filling them in changes the outcome. That latter is much more difficult.

I could email you the assignment I had students use in on-their-own exploration of a science story as presented in the news media. I have another assignment in which they explored Mendelian genetics on their own, having eventually to counsel a couple at risk of having a child with Tay-Sachs. It required some critical analysis, also.

Finally, I taught--and would teach again--all of my courses socratically, never telling, always asking leading questions, picking up answers, especially fallacies, and having the students evaluate those for themselves to arrive organically and logically at the target information. That's a natural process for me as a teacher, but I think it's one that other teachers can learn and use. Not only are students applying critical thinking skills (or, one hopes, at least developing them) in this process, but also they are incorporating the information less by rote and more by analysis, and it sticks better.

EJ Willingham said...

And to answer the other questions, yes, I think it's important; yes, I think it's possible.

carmen2u said...

My definition of "critical thinking" involves objectivelt looking for weakenesses in any position taken on a subject to reveal insights and truth.

I believe it is important to teach "critical thinking" so that our society can better judge choices that lead to policies affecting us all. It also helps us avoid unnecessary pitfalls and negative outcomes from poor decision-making based on flawed thinking.

Yes, I think you can teach "critical thinking" and one of the best ways is through the Socratic method. The act of asking questions forces the respondent to analyze his deductive and reasoning powers. It also helps the learner to ask better questions himself, that is, to critically think outloud.

Becca said...

Is it meaningful to define critical thinking broadly, outside of discipline-specific context? Why would my definition be useful, why might someone else's definition be better?

What are the consequences of assimilating all the information someone may offer in the context of e.g. advertisements? What about political messages? What about wikipedia? What about the claims your professor makes?
What are the social consequences of *not* assimilating all the information your professor offers? What about your family? What if this information is clearly in the realm of 'opinion' rather than 'fact' (e.g. 'I feel tired' 'no you don't, you just don't want to talk about this!')? How could the cost-benefit calculation on critical thinking depend on context?

Can I force you to answer my questions? If I tell you that I think you are ahead of 95% of professors just by getting in a group and discussing these things (no matter how roundabout the conversation may seem), would you be more positively disposed to seriously considering my questions? If you knew me previously, would you be more likely to ponder these questions? If you knew I was an awesome professor (based on your personal standards; i.e. you had directly observed me teaching) would you be more likely to answer them?
If you were going to teach critical thinking, how would you go about it? What courses have been most engaging for you? Which have involved the most interaction between students and instructor?


Anonymous said...

Sweet Becca