How do we teach “critical thinking”?

Lots of higher education teachers talk about teaching or developing critical thinking skills in students but I’m never sure if (a) we’re all on the same page and (b) if we actually know what we’re doing.  This summary of a great article suggests that some teachers have some good data to make some decisions about how to teach critical thinking.

The original article is Carrithers, D., Ling, T., and Bean, J. C. (2008). Messy problems and lay audiences: Teaching critical thinking within the finance curriculum. Business Communication Quarterly, 71 (2), 152-170.  Available here if you’re a UBC faculty/staff/student. There are five major findings that can help us develop critical thinking in students:

1) Students don’t like “messy”.  They don’t like uncertainty or estimation and try to make the problem as simple as possible.  We need to help students get familiar and comfortable with making decisions with unknowns.

2) Students respond as if the professor is the key stakeholder even when the problem is introduced from a client’s perspective.  We must have them focus on the people involved and make the client central to the process.

3) Strong students write a textbook as their responses.  Students are so keen to show us that they “know it all”, they tell us everything.  Even when such information would not be appropriate for the client.  This relates to #2 above.  We need to get the focus off the professor and the grade and onto the process and the client.

4) Students write textbooks rather than “advice-memos”.  This relates to #2 and #3 – if students write to the professor they want to demonstrate their entire process rather than just give great advice.  Personally I encourage students to show me their thinking process, even if that wouldn’t be appropriate for the client.  Maybe I’m perpetuating #2 and #3 without knowing it?  I suppose I can ask for the process (i.e. how did you come to that conclusion) and the product (written for the client) as two distinct items?

5) Students like words not pictures.  Students do not use graphics effectively, they would prefer to write an entire page when one clear bar graph, pie chart, or table would sum it all up.  Are students unfamiliar with software to produce those graphics or have we focussed on page-length or word-count far too much?

A few thoughts to ponder …




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