The problem with standardized tests and the “Google It” mentality is that they reinforce bad intellectual habits. However, many students have not developed good critical thinking skills. A recent study showed that 52 percent of UK university admissions officers report that students have problems remembering basic facts. While this may be because of a variety of factors, the research suggests that a lack of critical thinking skills is a contributing factor. By focusing on a specific assessment, professors, and instructors can better understand what makes students think critically and develop curricular changes that promote students’ intellectual growth.
The promotion of critical thinking in higher education is a delicate task. First, educators must be committed to promoting critical thinking. They must put aside their concerns about providing mere information, which can be difficult when teaching required courses. Second, promoting critical thinking in required courses may be difficult if colleagues have an interest in achieving nominal content coverage, rather than intrinsic intellectual processes. However, the rewards for promoting critical thinking in higher education are enormous.
Third, educators must provide opportunities for students to practice their critical thinking skills. Johnathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s book, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” show that universities have to provide students with opportunities to learn how to analyze arguments and make informed decisions. By being inclusive and challenging students’ confirmation biases, universities can help prevent the creation of an echo chamber. So, how can educators encourage critical thinking in students?
The obvious place to embed critical thinking is in student learning objectives. In a well-designed course, all activities and assessments will be aligned with these core learning outcomes. The action and object of these learning outcomes are calling the “core learning outcomes.” And when you want students to gain an understanding of an idea, a strong critical thinker will be able to evaluate that evidence. This will help them understand how credible sources are and whether they have an agenda.
Another key feature of critical thinking for higher education is the ability to identify false and misleading information. As the number of false reports increases, the quality of information spreads by students is crucial. In this day and age, students often listen to their peers and share misinformation without questioning their sources. By cultivating critical thinking skills, colleges will better prepare their students to avoid the “confirmation bias” trap. So, it is essential for educators to guide students and make sure they are able to recognize when information is bogus.
To develop good critical thinking skills, students need to develop a deep and comprehensive knowledge of the subject matter they are interested in. They should also enjoy the process of inquiry and appreciate the need to understand what they are reading. After all, critical thinking skills are not just applicable in a specific subject area; they can be applied across a variety of domains. And if you’re a student in higher education, you might have a hard time judging the validity of information presented in textbooks and online articles.
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