Embedding critical thinking skills in our graduates is one of the University’s core objectives. But, as time-pressed academics, it is not easy to find the space to include critical thinking in our topics or to know if we are teaching it effectively. There are strategies and resources available that can help with both these issues but applying them may well require a change in our pedagogy. However, this may be worth the effort, given the advent of the ‘post truth’ era.
In 2016, the Oxford Dictionary chose ‘post-truth’ as its word of the year, to denote ‘circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’ In a similar vein, the Cambridge Learners’ Dictionary defined it as the tendency to ‘accept an argument based on emotions and beliefs rather than one based on facts.’ The weighting of personal belief above fact-based argument is a worrying trend which directly contradicts what we try to teach our students at University. Our graduates are the future professionals, the teachers, the policy makers, the voters, the decision-makers. As contributors in a participatory democracy, we want them to make objective, informed decisions that go beyond their personal concerns. We want them to think critically so they can, at a minimum, evaluate information (and its source) for reliability and relevance.
There is an abundance of literature on the importance of teaching critical thinking but less on how to do it effectively. Research also indicates we can do it better which is why we may need to change how we currently teach it. Luckily, there are some good resources and strategies available that have been proven to be effective. Abrami et al (2015) argue that the most effective way to improve a student’s critical thinking skills is by teaching critical thinking explicitly (rather than implicitly) within the topic. The Foundation for Critical Thinking (http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/index-of-articles/1021/) provides a teaching model or framework that illustrates how this can be done, applicable across disciplinary domains. John Bean’s 2011 book ‘Engaging Ideas’ contains a variety of assessment and assignment tasks designed to develop critical thinking that can also be adapted and implemented in any topic. And a recent paper presented at STARS outlined some effective generic techniques that are adaptable for teaching critical thinking across the disciplines (https://unistars.org/papers/STARS2019/10D.pdf).
If you would like more ideas on how to include critical thinking instruction in your teaching, additional critical thinking resources, or if you are interested in being part of the Embedding Critical Thinking discussion forum, please contact Sandra.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Sandra Egege
Lecturer/Mentoring program coordinator, CILT