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In Search of Critical Thinking in Psychology: An Exploration of Student and Lecturer Understandings in Higher Education



This qualitative study of understandings of critical thinking in higher education aimed to identify themes that could help to demystify critical thinking and inform its more explicit incorporation in the psychology curriculum. Data collected from focus groups with 26 undergraduate psychology students and individual semi-structured interviews with four psychology lecturers were examined using thematic analysis. The same key themes were identified from both student and lecturer data: ‘vague beginnings’, ‘conceptualizations’, ‘development and transitions’, and ‘learning strategies’. Both students and lecturers described critical thinking as implicit knowledge that develops through social interactions. The findings indicate the importance of explicit discussion about critical thinking, and could be used to inform the design and delivery of instructional methods to promote critical thinking.
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This is a pre-publication draft of
In Search of Critical Thinking in Psychology: An Exploration of Student and
Lecturer Understandings in Higher Education
Elaine Duro
, James Elander
, Frances A. Maratos
, Edward J.N. Stupple
* and Aimee
Centre for Psychological Research, University of Derby, Derby, Derbyshire, UK
School of Nursing Midwifery and Physiotherapy, University of Nottingham, Derby,
Derbyshire, UK
*Corresponding author:
Centre for Psychological Research
University of Derby
Kedleston Road
Derby, DE22 1GB, UK
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Elaine Duro is a Counsellor/Psychotherapist and qualitative researcher. Her research
interests include the long-term impact of traumatic bereavement.
Prof. James Elander is head of the University of Derby’s Centre for Psychological
Research. His research interests include the application of psychology to higher
education, especially student writing.
Dr Frances Maratos is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Derby. Her research interests
include critical thinking and the cognitive and neural mechanisms of emotion processing.
Dr Edward Stupple is a Lecturer at the University of Derby. His research interests include
critical thinking and the cognitive psychology of reasoning and bias.
Dr Aimee Aubeeluck is an Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham. Her
research interests include quality of life for patients and their caregivers,
and communication and global learning initiatives in higher education.
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Acknowledgements: Many thanks to all the participants. The study was funded by small
grants from the Higher Education Academy Psychology Network Mini-Project Scheme,
and the University of Derby’s Teaching Informed by Research Scheme.
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In Search of Critical Thinking in Psychology: Exploring Student and Lecturer
Understandings in Higher Education
This qualitative study of understandings of critical thinking in higher education
aimed to identify themes that could help to demystify critical thinking and
inform its more explicit incorporation in the psychology curriculum. Data
collected from focus groups with 26 undergraduate psychology students and
individual semi-structured interviews with four psychology lecturers were
examined using thematic analysis. The same key themes were identified from
both student and lecturer data: ‘vague beginnings’, ‘conceptualizations’,
‘development and transitions’, and ‘learning strategies’. Both students and
lecturers described critical thinking as implicit knowledge that develops
through social interactions. The findings indicate the importance of explicit
discussion about critical thinking, and could be used to inform the design and
delivery of instructional methods to promote critical thinking.
Words: 119
Keywords: Critical Thinking, Assessment, Teaching Psychology, Learning, Academic
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Critical thinking is central to learning in higher education; it should be
demonstrated to meet core assessment criteria for written assignments (e.g., Elander,
Harrington, Norton,
Robinson, & Reddy, 2006), and it is associated with academic
achievement and employability (Halx & Reybold, 2005). However, many students
struggle to understand critical thinking and demonstrate it in their assignments (e.g.,
Kreth, Crawford, Taylor & Brockman, 2010), and Halonen (1995) argued that critical
thinking is a mystified process that requires greater examination and questioning.
Standard definitions often do not make its meaning very clear or explicit, for example
one cross-disciplinary expert consensus defined critical thinking as purposeful, self-
regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference,
as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or
contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based” (Facione, 1990, p. 2).
There is also no clear consensus on whether critical thinking involves generic
skills that can be applied across disciplines (Sa, West, & Stanovich , 1999) or whether it
is more closely related to specific subject knowledge (Garside, 1996). Partly for that
reason, instructional interventions to improve critical thinking have sometimes been
delivered in specialized courses and sometimes embedded in the disciplinary curriculum
(Abrami, Bernard, Borokhovski, Wade, Surkes, Tamim, et al., 2008).
In the discipline of psychology, there is a rather similar debate about whether
critical thinking instruction should focus on generic skills related to reasoning and
research (Bensley, 1997; Meltzoff, 1998), or whether it can only be understood in the
context of psychological theory and practice (Yanchar, Slife, & Warne (2008). The
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present study aimed to inform strategies to improve shared understandings of critical
thinking in psychology and incorporate critical thinking in a more explicit way in the
Psychology curriculum. We used qualitative methods to explore and describe students
and lecturers’ beliefs and understandings about critical thinking in depth and in their own
The participants were 26 undergraduate students and four lecturers in the
psychology department at the University of Derby, UK. The student sample comprised 12
first-year, seven second-year and seven third-year psychology students, ranging in age
from 18 to 45 years. There were five males and 21 females, which is representative of
UK Psychology students generally.
The lecturer
sample comprised four males and one female, who taught on the
same psychology courses taken by the student participants and had between five and 30
years teaching experience in higher education.
Data collection
Students were interviewed in focus groups, (six student focus groups, with two in
each year group), and lecturers were interviewed individually. Each session lasted
approximately 45 minutes, and were all conducted by the lead author. A semi-structured
interview schedule was used (see Tables 1 and 2), this was supplemented with a small
In the UK, a ‘lecturer’ is a qualified, member of the academic staff of a department, for whom teaching is
a significant part of their working role.
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number of standard probe questions in conjunction with the funnelling technique
. The
interviews and focus groups were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim.
Data analysis
We wished to identify students’ and lecturers’ understandings and beliefs about
critical thinking, so the research was conducted from a critical realist perspective, which
acknowledges the constructed nature of knowledge about the world (Archer, Bhaskar,
Collier, Lawson, & Norrie, 1998) and is characterized as a process of discovery (Willig,
2008). The transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis, a qualitative method used
to identify patterns of meaning in textual data (Boyatzis, 1998). We employed Braun and
Clarke’s six-step thematic analytic method, which involves 1) reading and re-reading
transcripts to familiarise with the data, 2) generating initial codes, 3) identifying potential
themes, 4) reviewing themes, 5) defining, specifying and naming the themes, and 6)
writing the report (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Reliability of the analysis of the data was
achieved with ‘investigator triangulation’; to allow cross validation & transparency to
occur during the data interpretation process (e.g., Janesick, 2000).
Insert tables 1 and 2 about here
Four main themes emerged from the data analysis. These were labeled ‘vague
beginnings’, ‘conceptualizations’, ‘development and transitions’, and ‘learning
The funnelling technique is the process of starting with a broad question and then focusing on an element
of the answer to request further detail (Smith & Osborn 2003).
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strategies’. Each theme represented the understandings and beliefs of both students and
lecturers, with differences between student and lecturers incorporated within rather than
between themes. In this section, we present a narrative analysis of the major themes that
emerged from the analysis, together with brief extracts from the transcripts to illustrate
each theme.
Vague beginnings
This theme dealt with students’ first experiences with the concept of critical
thinking, and lecturers and students’ expectations of it. Students’ initial understandings
and expectations were very vague, with many expressions of failing to understand both
what critical thinking is, and how to do it:
To be honest, with not understanding it, I wouldn’t have taken it in as anything
important, [...] it didn’t have a meaning (Third year student)
Everybody says to do it, but nobody actually says how to do it (Second year
One issue for lecturers was uncertainty about how much critical thinking needed
to be explained and the extent to which it could be made explicit:
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It’s a term which is banded around quite a lot, and I have used it a lot without
much thought. It’s one of those things everyone understands don’t they, it’s
obvious isn’t it? (Lecturer 3)
This theme suggests that students need clearer, more explicit guidance about what
critical thinking is and how to do it, but also includes lecturer understandings that
challenged the need to make the meaning of critical thinking more explicit.
This theme dealt with understandings of the meaning of critical thinking. A
dominant view expressed by both students and lecturers was that critical thinking was an
intuitive ability that could not be explicitly taught:
I don’t think it is something that you can necessarily teach, you have either got it
or you haven’t (Second year student)
I have always been taught to, like, step back, look at the big picture, and analyse
things properly, when I’m doing anything. (First year student)
A lot of good students will grasp as to what is necessary, but I think they have to
do it almost intuitively (Lecturer 2)
Lecturers saw critical thinking in terms of reasoning skills, or identifying relations
between ideas and concepts:
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It’s being less passive with respect to the information, actively relating pieces of
information to one another, and explore those relationships and follow on with
the consequences of those (Lecturer 3)
Both students and lecturers gave explanations that emphasised the relationship
between critical thinking and subject knowledge:
I don’t think you can properly critically evaluate [...]something that you don’t
understand very well [...] Knowing generally how to do critical thinking better
[...] would probably help, but without knowing much about that topic, I don’t
think you can do that well in it! (Third year student)
I think a strong component of it [...] is scientific literacy. It’s the ability to
understand and evaluate information, and to then re-interpret that information as
necessary. So at a very basic level, understand complex information, okay,
evaluate that information, that’s where the critical thinking comes in (Lecturer 3)
Both students and lecturers also gave descriptions of critical thinking that
emphasised its transferable nature and relevance outside academic life:
Once you have left university, if you have got critical thinking nothing should stay
the same, everything should be continually improving (Second year student)
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You can examine a design of a study, uncover methodological flaws […] Those
are the sort of transferable skills, which aren’t just about Psychology
experiments, but are important for daily life (Lecturer 3)
Both students and lecturers described critical thinking in terms of intuitive or
implicit skills that were both generic and related to subject knowledge. The
understandings expressed in this theme explain to some extent, the lack of understanding
described in the previous theme.
Development and transitions
This theme dealt with the ways in which critical thinking developed over time and
with educational experience. Students described how their understanding of critical
thinking developed slowly, over time, often in quite informal ways:
You know it doesn’t come easily, it takes time to learn (Third year student)
I think it was quite difficult at first, but I think it does get easier the more you get
used to thinking in that way yeah [...] You start evaluating everything, criticizing
everything, and things (First year student)
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Students also described how their understanding of how to demonstrate critical
thinking in written assignments developed fully only towards the end of their degree
When I got feedback, I thought, how do you critically analyze then? Because I
thought that I had (Second year student)
When you come to that final stage in your writing [...] all of the little examples,
the essays all the way up, they have prepared you all the way, to write in different
little ways (Third year student)
This theme demonstrates that understanding and acquiring critical thinking skills
is part of an evolving learning process, with the ability to demonstrate critical thinking in
assessed assignments taking place towards the end of that process.
Learning strategies
This theme focused on students’ and lecturers’ beliefs and experiences about how
critical thinking could be developed or promoted. One element of this was about the
value of explicit demonstration and explanation:
It needs to be […] a focus for a lecture and workshop […]. So that you actually
get some feedback on ‘this is what you did right, this is what you did wrong, and
this is where you need to take it next.’ (Second year student)
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I generally work best if I have got an example, this is Critical Thinking, then I
can just see what it is and apply it myself. (First year student)
Maybe just literally to demonstrate or show them or by role play an activity or
whatever, to show them what is a good example of critical debate or critical
argument (Lecturer 4)
Lecturers and students agreed about the way critical thinking develops from social
interactions rather than solitary cognitive activity:
First of all the students need to engage, to be willing to talk and be argumentative
with each other [...] there has to be some critical thinking there, in order for
someone to venture forward an argument ... (Lecturer 3)
I think talking to people has helped me an awful lot, just getting together in
groups and talking about things (First year student)
Importantly this theme identified active learning strategies to increase critical
thinking, with lecturers and students both advocating the value of structured group
exercises as a useful learning tool.
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To sum, both students and lecturers regarded critical thinking as a complex
activity that is linked to subject-specific knowledge and generic thinking skills. They
described critical thinking as an intuitive skill that was difficult to explain explicitly, and
emphasised the importance of examples, structured activities and social interaction in its
development. Students found demonstrating critical thinking in their written assignments
especially challenging, and described how their understanding and ability developed
slowly in the absence of formal instruction. The findings help to understand why and how
critical thinking often remains a mystified concept (Halonen, 1995), and suggest that it
continues to be an under-analyzed area of education. The respondents also suggested
potential approaches for efforts to demystify and promote critical thinking.
The primary need identified was for more explicit explanation and instruction
about critical thinking. This is consistent with evidence that critical thinking can be
enhanced through instructional interventions (Abrami et al., 2008), and evidence that
explicit teaching of critical thinking is more effective than implicitly embedding critical
thinking skills within other tasks (e.g., Halpern, 2003). A number of taxonomies and step-
by-step guides to critical thinking in psychology exist already (e.g., Halpern, 2007), but
our findings indicate that the value of such material could be enhanced by more active
interaction, modelling and informal discussion about critical thinking, consistent with
other evidence about the value of social interaction for learning (Tinto, 1997). We
therefore argue for existing taxonomies of critical thinking (e.g., Halpern, 2007) to be
introduced to students at points when there are opportunities for discussion and for
considering critical thinking alongside the disciplinary learning outcomes and
assignments for assessment.
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A key target for instructional exercises on critical thinking might be to challenge
the attitude of ‘you have either got it or you haven’t’ and promote the view of critical
thinking as a complex skill that can be developed through practice, so that students are
encouraged to value critical thinking and to become more active, analytic thinkers.
Critical thinking is related to core assessment criteria for written assignments
(Elander et al., 2006), so it is possible that structured interactive exercises developed to
improve student understanding and ability in relation to core assessment criteria such as
critical evaluation and development of argument (Harrington et al., 2006) could be
adapted to focus on critical thinking. This approach would involve small group work and
discussion of examples, and would focus on the way that critical thinking is evidenced
for student assessment. It would therefore address the issues raised by students in the
present study about demonstrating critical thinking in written assignments.
In conclusion, the findings help to understand how and why critical thinking has
often continued to puzzle students and lecturers in psychology. These insights can inform
structured efforts to promote critical thinking that combine explicit explanations and
definitions with interactive exercises.
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Table 1. Focus Group Questions for Students
What does the phrase “critical thinking mean to you?
‘How do you think critical thinking”’ is applicable to students who are entering Higher
‘Can you recall when you first heard the term “critical thinking being used?’
‘When the term critically discuss appears in an assignment title what do you think you
are being asked to do?’
‘What do you think the term “critical thinking” means to your lecturers here at the
‘How do you think students demonstrate “critical thinking” in their written work and
‘When you are faced with the task of demonstrating “critical thinking” within your work
and assignments, how complex do you find this task to achieve?’
‘How do you think students could improve their “critical thinking” skills?’
‘What type of resources do you think would be especially useful in helping to improve
your “critical thinking” skills?’
‘How applicable do you think “critical thinking is to the area of psychology?’
‘Do you think the application of critical thinking may differ between different areas of
study, say for example between psychology and civil engineering students?’
‘How has your understanding of “critical thinking changed since you have been at
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Table 2 Interview Questions for Staff
‘What does the phrase “critical thinking mean to you?
‘How do you think critical thinking is applicable to students who are entering Higher
‘How applicable do you think “critical thinking is to psychology?’
‘Do you think the application of critical thinking may differ between different areas of
study, say for example between psychology and civil engineering students?
‘How do you think students can demonstrate critical thinking in their written work and
‘How do you think students could improve their “critical thinking” skills?’
‘When you ask students to use critical discussion within their assignments, what are
you requesting them to do?
‘What do you think the term “critical thinking means to your students here at the
‘When faced with the task of demonstrating critical thinking skills within their work,
how difficult is it for your students to achieve that?’
‘What type of resources do you think would be especially useful in helping to improve
your students critical thinking skills?’
‘How does “critical thinking affect the way you teach here at the university?’
‘What kinds of teaching do you do with “critical thinking specifically in mind?’
How has your understanding of critical thinking changed over the course of your
academic career?
Word count: 2206 (excluding abstract, title, tables and references).
... As such, it has become a central tenet of tertiary level education and often forms an explicit part of courses and assessment criteria across a wide range of disciplines. Yet, in spite of the emphasis placed on the importance of developing critical thinking skills both within and beyond the university system, students often struggle to understand what it is and to demonstrate it in their work (Duro, Elander, Maratos, Stupple, & Aubeeluck, 2013). The aim of this paper, therefore, is to explore how students conceptualize critical thinking with a view to developing pedagogical strategies to better support them. ...
... However, if critical thinking can be considered as a skill or set of skills, there is still no clear consensus as to whether such skills are generic and can be applied across disciplines or whether they are more closely related to specific subject knowledge (Duro et al., 2013). Both Ennis (1996) and Paul (1982) argue that critical thinking can be learned independently of specific disciplines and transferred between contexts, however with the caveat that the learner must have at least a threshold level of competence in a particular discipline for this to hold true. ...
... One exception to this which is highly relevant to the current research, is a study conducted by Duro et al. (2013) into the understandings of critical thinking among 26 undergraduate students of psychology at a university in England. Data were collected through focus groups, and the questions asked participants to define critical thinking and to discuss the extent to which they felt they could demonstrate it in their work. ...
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The development of critical thinking skills forms an important part of many higher education courses and has become increasingly visible in syllabi and assessment criteria. Yet, in spite of this, students often struggle to understand what it is and to demonstrate it in their work. This paper aims to explore how students understand the term critical thinking and to identify some of the key factors which influence this. An in-depth case study was conducted with four first year undergraduate students in the Education faculty of a university in England. Data were collected through thematic interviews and stimulated recall interviews. Key findings highlight that students believe strongly in the importance of developing critical thinking skills, yet while they can speak relatively easily about more abstract definitions of the term, they often find it difficult to do and to identify in their own work. Findings suggest that their conceptualisations are influenced by their prior educational experiences and vary according to discipline. Implications for pedagogy include the need for explicit guidance on critical thinking, the provision of substantial opportunities for practice and the need to engage in dialogue across disciplines to highlight opportunities for promoting connection-making and transfer between different contexts.
... Similarly, it is a needed skill for students as it can assist them to be in contact with their cognitive abilities and spiritual questions, and it can be used to evaluate people, policies, and institutions, thereby avoiding social problems (Hatcher & Spencer as cited in Duron, Limbach, & Waugh, 2006). As it is the case, a great deal of research related to critical thinking has been conducted in different countries (Duro, Elander, Maratos, Stupple, & Aubeeluck, 2013;Ennis, 1991;Facione & Facione, 1992;Mkandawire & Walubita, 2015;Rodzalan & Saat, 2015;Zhang & Sternberg, 2001). These studies noted that a critical thinking skill is inadequate among students. ...
... They cited that critical thinking required assessing/evaluating/analysing information before accepting as fact. These descriptions are supported by findings from a studies and literature (Bagheri & Nowrozi, 2015;Duro, Elander, Maratos, Stupple, & Aubeeluck, 2013;Lai, 2011). In their study, they found the students had vague understanding of the concept. ...
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p>Critical thinking is recognised as an influential attribute to achieve quality learning and teaching in higher education institutions world over. This interpretive research study explored the critical thinking among PGDE students at the University of Botswana. The aim of the study was to identify factors contributing to the application of critical thinking among teacher trainees. Data was collected from Cohort 2015/16 PGDE students, through one on one interview with 59 students and 2 focus group discussions comprising five students in each focus group between April to June 2016. The findings revealed that the teacher trainees had a lower description of critical thinking during interviews, but refined during focus group discussions; however, the students were wide aware of factors influencing their inabilities to think critically during their training. These finding clearly indicated that most students were not applying critical thinking during their training. Through the interviews and focus group discussion, the study also identified strategies to promote the application of critical thinking in areas of programme content, teaching and assessment methods and techniques, programme logistics and personal attributes. The findings are instrumental to various key stakeholders. Specifically, the findings inform education institutions, teacher educators and students on how to promote critical thinking during teacher training. The study was qualitative, as such the findings will not be generalised. As such a similar study is recommended among the PGDE and other students but using quantitative and or mixed methods to allow inferences and generalisations.</p
... This is particularly important because the teaching of CT skills in higher education has been identified-globally-as an area requiring improvement with students reporting difficulty in understanding and demonstrating CT in their assessments and many teachers often lack understanding of what CT encompasses and how to teach it (Janssen et al., 2019). For example, Duro et al., (2013) explored students' and lecturers' understanding of critical thinking and found a mismatch between students' understanding of CT and lecturers' expectations. They recommended structured interactive CT exercises to enhance students' critical metacognitive processes for the development of strong arguments. ...
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... This is particularly important because the teaching of CT skills in higher education has been identified-globally-as an area requiring improvement with students reporting difficulty in understanding and demonstrating CT in their assessments and many teachers often lack understanding of what CT encompasses and how to teach it (Janssen et al., 2019). For example, Duro et al., (2013) explored students' and lecturers' understanding of critical thinking and found a mismatch between students' understanding of CT and lecturers' expectations. They recommended structured interactive CT exercises to enhance students' critical metacognitive processes for the development of strong arguments. ...
Learning and development of critical thinking (CT) skills in higher education is essential for academic achievement. The following experiment is the first to examine the effect of online student’s perceptions and attitudes towards CT across dimensions of confidence, valuing, misconceptions, cognitive reflection, and authors writing. Furthermore, a CT intervention was developed, and the effects of the intervention examined with an aim to help students improve their grade point average. The analyses demonstrated that student’s confidence and cognitive reflection predict academic achievement. Moreover, the online CT intervention was associated with improved students’ CT attitudes, skills, and academic performance. Significant interactions were observed between time (pre- and post-intervention) and intervention in cognitive reflection, confidence, beliefs, and attitudes related to CT, and student grade point average (GPA, as a measure of student’s performance on online modules). It was concluded that the CT can be taught and that an intervention based on “how to think” rather than a “what to think” mixed approach can help online students develop CT, strengthen their confidence in CT and help students improve their academic performance in an online setting.
... What we perceive and fail to perceive, and what we think and fail to think are powerfully influenced by habits of expectation that constitute our frame of reference, that is, a set of assumptions that structure the way we interpret our experiences. (Mezirow, 1990, p. 1) Critical thinking is a key feature in learning in higher education (Duro et al., 2013), and constitutes an important skill which is central for a sound application of psychology knowledge in professional life (Campbell & Oswald, 2018). Its importance and central role in psychology education have been addressed in numerous papers. ...
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This qualitative study introduces a pedagogic design which addresses the challenging task of teaching and learning self-awareness and critical reflection in the teaching of psychology. The context of the study was a course in personality psychology for first year students, and the topic of interest was how the perception of personality is affected by gender stereotypes. The pedagogic design included the recording of a mixed-sex dialogue, which was then digitally altered for pitch and timbre producing two gender-switched versions of one single recording. Students were divided into two groups who listened to one of the two different voice alterations, and were given the task to rate the personality traits of male or female sounding versions of the same character. In the subsequent debriefing seminar, students were presented with the data from their ratings. These results were then used as a reference point for inter-group discussion, and later students were also asked to reflect over the activity individually in writing. A thematic analysis of their written answers indicates that this pedagogic setup, in combination with guided reflection, can be helpful to challenge students’ own assumptions, aiding self-awareness and critical reflection related to stereotyping.
... Subsequent work in this area has indicated that learning is dependent on what students intend to gain from the learning process (Entwistle, 1997), and, crucially, that approaches to learning are influenced -both positively and negatively -by pedagogical factors (Biggs, 2001;Entwistle, 1997). Furthermore, the extent to which students believe critical thinking is something innate as opposed to something that can be developed may also influence their attitude towards thinking critically (Duro et al., 2013). ...
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This review examines recent literature about processes of teaching and learning in African higher education, focusing specifically on studies of teaching ‘for critical thinking’ in Kenya, Ghana, and Botswana. The review findings suggest that practices supporting critical thinking in African universities share a number of similarities to those highlighted in the literature published elsewhere in the world. For example, reviewed studies highlight the importance of curricular alignment, academic development, and varied assessment formats, while also acknowledging important limitations related to infrastructure, workload, and faculty and student attitudes. However, the review also exposes a crucial theoretical gap in the existing literature: the continued reliance on theories of teaching and learning that were initially developed based on studies of Western university contexts. As both teaching and learning are cultural processes, this limitation may be preventing this emerging body of literature from fully supporting universities to develop new ways of teaching that may best benefit their student populations.
... Our results are consistent with research from other academic disciplines. Duro et al. (2013) found that psychology students value explicit critical thinking training. Similarly, our political science students reported recommending and benefiting from the critical thinking sessions. ...
Many argue that critical thinking is a democratic necessity, a valuable career readiness skill, and a key learning outcome of political science education. Research suggests that critical thinking training is most effective when students are explicitly taught critical thinking skills and develop valuation of and self-efficacy in utilizing these skills. This paper reports on a case study of explicit critical thinking skills awareness and practice training in a second-year political science class. Pre- and post-test analyses found statistically significant increases in students’ self-rated valuation of critical thinking and self-efficacy. The instructor felt that the explicit linking of the class course material to the critical thinking sessions promoted quality class discussions of the core course material.
Critical thinking features in university syllabi, programmes and classes both in the UK and US and is considered one of the primary learning outcomes of higher education. Yet empirically we still know very little about how critical thinking is taught in practice or the extent to which teaching practice is informed by academic research. Further work is needed to understand teaching practice across disciplines through the light of critical thinking research. In the present study, we surveyed 176 UK and US university instructors from a range of humanities and social sciences about their teaching practices. The instructors ranked ten critical thinking skills drawn from the research literature, and they identified the approaches and learning activities that they used to teach critical thinking. The key findings showed that there was broad consensus in the critical thinking skills that instructors considered most important (analysis, evaluation, and interpretation) and the skills that they considered least important (creativity, deductive reasoning, description, and problem-solving). The findings were similar irrespective of subject taught or country of instruction. We also found that instructors were more likely to report teaching critical thinking with an implicit approach as opposed to an explicit approach, and that instructors reported using dialogue-based activities to develop critical thinking. We use these findings to consider how we can further ‘close the gap’ between critical thinking research and teaching practice.
Good critical thinking is important to the development of students and a valued skill in commercial markets and wider society. There has been much discussion regarding the definition of critical thinking and how it is best taught in higher education. This discussion has generally occurred between philosophers, cognitive psychologists and education researchers. This study examined the perceptions around critical thinking of 470 chemistry students from an Australian University, 106 chemistry teaching staff and 43 employers of chemistry graduates. An open-ended questionnaire was administered to these groups, qualitatively analysed and subsequently quantified. When asked to define critical thinking respondents identified themes such as ‘analysis’, ‘critique’, ‘objectivity’, ‘problem solving’, ‘evaluate’ and ‘identification of opportunities and problems’. Student respondents described the smallest number of themes whereas employers described the largest number of themes. When asked where critical thinking was developed during the study of chemistry students overwhelmingly described practical environments and themes around inquiry-based learning. When teaching staff were asked this question they commonly identified critiques, research, projects and practical environments to some extent. This research highlights that there is only limited shared understanding of the definition of critical thinking and where it is developed in the study of chemistry. The findings within this article would be of interest to higher education teaching practitioners of science and chemistry, those interested in development of graduate attributes and higher order cognitive skills (HOCS) and those interested in the student and employer perspectives.
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Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) has become a popular methodological framework in qualitative psychology. Studies based in IPA focus on examining how individuals make meaning of their life experiences. A detailed analysis of personal accounts followed by presenting and discussing the generic experiential themes is typically paired with the researcher's own interpretation, which is an expression of double hermeneutics in practice. IPA draws upon phenomenology, hermeneutics, and idiography. This paper presents fundamental principles behind IPA and offers guidelines for doing a study based on this framework. For many decades, the mainstream experimental psy-chology relied on quantitative methodology based on a model which involved testing theories by deriving hypotheses from them, which could then be checked in practice via an experiment or observation. The researcher looked for disconfirmation (falsification) of theory and, by eliminating claims which were not true, he or she was believed to move closer to the truth. In contrast to this approach, we have observed a growing development of qualitative research methodologies.
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Critical thinking (CT), or the ability to engage in purposeful, self-regulatory judgment, is widely recognized as an important, even essential, skill. This article describes an ongoing meta-analysis that summarizes the available empirical evidence on the impact of instruction on the development and enhancement of critical thinking skills and dispositions. We found 117 studies based on 20,698 participants, which yielded 161 effects with an average effect size (g+) of 0.341 and a standard deviation of 0.610. The distribution was highly heterogeneous (QT = 1,767.86, p < .001). There was, however, little variation due to research design, so we neither separated studies according to their methodological quality nor used any statistical adjustment for the corresponding effect sizes. Type of CT intervention and pedagogical grounding were substantially related to fluctuations in CT effects sizes, together accounting for 32% of the variance. These findings make it clear that improvement in students’ CT skills and dispositions cannot be a matter of implicit expectation. As important as the development of CT skills is considered to be, educators must take steps to make CT objectives explicit in courses and also to include them in both preservice and in-service training and faculty development.
Data from a study of a learning community program in an urban community college are used to explore the educational character of student persistence. Analyses reveal that classroom activities influence student persistence by changing the way students and faculty interact within and beyond the classroom setting. Implications for current theories of persistence are discussed and a modified theory proposed.
It was during a presentation on ways to enhance critical thinking in college classes that a jaded faculty member shot back at me, “What kind of thinking do you think I teach – noncritical thinking?” I assured this faculty member that no offense had been intended, although certainly it had been taken. In fact, often there is noncritical, or more appropriately labeled, rote memorization or lower level thinking that is taught and tested in many classrooms at all levels of education at the expense of higher order or critical thinking. Consider, for example, typical questions that might be found on tests given in developmental psychology classes. There is the ubiquitous question that asks students to list each stage of Piaget's theory of cognitive development, along with the age range for each stage, and an example of a cognitive task that can be accomplished at each stage. This is a basic recall question, even though there is an opportunity to provide an example, which allows for the application of the knowledge of what cognitive abilities become possible at each stage of development. The example given is almost always the same as an example that was presented in class or in the text. If this is the extent of students' knowledge, they are unlikely to be able to use Piaget's conceptualization of cognitive development in any applied setting (such as designing an age-appropriate toy or activity for a preschool) or in a novel or useful way.
We present some key findings of a four-year, two-phase writing assessment project at Central Michigan University: Phase One (2002), a survey of faculty members (n=115) and subsequent focus groups (n=14) and Phase Two (2005), an evaluation of two samples of student writing (n=635 and 632). Major findings of Phase One reported here include the amounts and types of writing assigned by faculty members and their perceptions about the quality of their students’ writing. Phase Two revealed some surprising results about our students’ critical reading and writing abilities, confirmed the limitations of a timed-writing assessment methodology, and exposed an intriguing artifact of the data set. We reflect on the process of developing and conducting the assessment project, examine its strengths and weaknesses, and share our thoughts about the next phase of our assessment odyssey.