College Critical Thinking

College Critical Thinking-40
John Mc Peck, professor of education at the University of Western Ontario; Daniel T.Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia; and, to a certain degree, Moore himself have defended the specifists' position.If there is one thing that we know for sure, it is that thinking skills, general or otherwise, can’t be learned if they’re not taught in as overt a manner as other content in college courses.

John Mc Peck, professor of education at the University of Western Ontario; Daniel T.Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia; and, to a certain degree, Moore himself have defended the specifists' position.If there is one thing that we know for sure, it is that thinking skills, general or otherwise, can’t be learned if they’re not taught in as overt a manner as other content in college courses.

In fact, if institutions disseminated essential readings in this area as a sort of primer to get people started, it would be time and money well spent.

With a wider appreciation of the debate, faculty members must then begin to think about thinking within the context of their own disciplines.

It does not make sense to impose some set of critical-thinking skills onto a subject area independent of the content being taught.

Rather, professors of literature, science, psychology, economics and so on must reflect on how they think as scholars and researchers within their own disciplines -- and then explicitly teach those cognitive processes to students.

The generalist position, the one that many of us simply assume to be true, is the philosophical basis for the stand-alone, generic “thinking skills” course, in which students supposedly learn skills that across subjects and domains.

But Daniel Willingham points out that evidence shows that such courses “primarily improve students’ thinking with the sort of problems they practiced in the program -- not with other types of problems.” That suggests that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to separate the thinking skill from the content.That metaphor leads us to look for a packaged set of thinking skills that apply with equal relevancy to virtually any situation or domain, when, while still debatable, it seems increasingly clear that no such skills exist.When it comes to thinking skills, it would be much more productive if we stop thinking “transfer” and start thinking “overlap.” That is, once thinking skills become more explicitly taught, especially in general education classes, both professors and students will notice how thinking in the context of one domain (say, economics)overlaps with the kind of thinking processes at work in another (biology).A key question in the debate, therefore, is whether thinking skills can exist independently from discipline-specific content in a meaningful way such that transfer is possible.Writing on this, Tim John Moore, a senior lecturer at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, called this “the generalizabilty debate.” On one side are the generalists, who believe “critical thinking can be distilled down to a finite set of constitutive skills, ones that can be learned in a systematic way and have applicability across all academic disciplines.” Some notable proponents of this position are Robert Ennis, emeritus professor of philosophy of education at the University of Illinois; Peter Facione, former provost at Loyola University of Chicago; and Richard Paul, director of research and professional development at the Center for Critical Thinking.The study that has become most emblematic of higher education's failure to teach critical-thinking skills to college students is Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s (2011).The researchers found that college students make little gain in critical-thinking skills, as measured by students’ scores on the Collegiate Learning Assessment.“The university seeks to foster in all its students lifelong habits of careful observation, critical thinking, creativity, moral reflection and articulate expression.” “…University fosters intellectual inquiry and critical thinking, preparing graduates who will serve as effective, ethical leaders and engaged citizens.” “The college provides students with the knowledge, critical-thinking skills and creative experience they need to navigate in a complex global environment.” These are but a tiny sampling of the mission statements from higher education institutions around the country where critical thinking is a central focus.The student can then manage those overlapping experiences as a kind of portfolio that shows him or her how content is processed and problems are solved.If a core set of thinking skills can be distilled from this portfolio, great.

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