[C04] Teaching critical thinking

In a survey conducted by the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute, 99.6% of university teachers agreed that critical thinking is an "very important" or "essential" goal for undergraduate education. (HERI (2009) The American College Teacher: National Norms for 2007–2008. Higher Education Research Institute, University of California.)

But how should critical thinking be taught? There are lots of different issues to be investigated, such as:

  • Should critical thinking be taught as a separate subject on its own, or should it be taught in combination with other specific subjects that the students are studying?
  • Which are the topics that are most crucial? How useful are lessons in formal logic or Venn diagrams? How should we go about designing a curriculum?

Research from education psychology and cognitive science are very much relevant when designing an effective pedagogy for teaching critical thinking. Here is a research article on this topic commissioned by our website:

Tim van Gelder (2004) "Teaching Critical thinking: Lessons from cognitive science"

A later version is published as van Gelder, T. J. (2005). Teaching critical thinking: some lessons from cognitive science. College Teaching, 53, 41-6.

Abstract: This article draws six key lessons from cognitive science for teachers of critical thinking. The lessons are: acquiring expertise in critical thinking is hard; practice in critical thinking skills themselves enhances skills; the transfer of skills must be practiced; some theoretical knowledge is required; diagramming arguments ("argument mapping") promotes skill; and students are prone to belief preservation. The article provides some guidelines for teaching practice in light of these lessons.

Download PDF article

Some researchers have suggested that studying argument mapping is a good way to improve critical thinking, and sometimes more effective than traditional lectures. You can find some of the research articles from google scholars here: https://scholar.google.com.hk/scholar?q=argument+mapping+critical+thinking.

Also, see our next tutoral on the importance of metacognition.

If you are interested in issues related to critical thinking in higher education, the following volume might be useful:

Martin Davies and Ronald Barnett (2015) The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Thinking in Higher Education Palgrave.

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