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 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.
But how to we discern what information is correct, relevant and unbiased?
How do we know when to accept what someone is saying, and when to question it?
This study has been criticized for relying too much on the CLA, but that overlooks a much more fundamental issue underscored by a growing body of research: we don’t know what critical thinking actually is, and we can’t be sure that it even exists. Yet, if we realize that “critical thinking” implies a set of general thinking skills that transfer from one subject or domain to another, then the task of identifying exactly what those skills are becomes extremely difficult, and perhaps impossible, to accomplish.
Those of us who work in higher education have assumed that we know what critical thinking is -- how could we not? It’s becoming increasingly clear that higher education has gambled on critical thinking, and it makes sense: given that so much information is accessible via digital technology, and given the rising costs of tuition, classrooms must move beyond being places where content is delivered and become places where students learn how to process that content -- or, in other words, where they learn to think.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.The question remains, however, can we actually teach students that skill?The Thinking Skills Debate The debate over whether or not general thinking skills, or GTS, actually exist is well traveled within a relatively small circle of researchers and thinkers, but virtually unknown outside of it.How can schools give their students a competitive advantage in a tight job market?Educational institutions across the country are looking for solutions –new ways to teach critical thinking, measure student learning and demonstrate efficacy.Critical thinking has been defined as the ability to: Critical thinking is the foundation of strategic thinking, creative thinking, good judgement and good decision making.Good critical thinking results in the ability to draw the right conclusions more often.Educational institutions, accrediting bodies, students and employers all agree: students need to develop better critical thinking skills.Modern-day access to instant answers means many of us are falling behind in our ability to ask the right questions or analyse the answers we get.