Educational Institutions and Systems
Educational institutions, ranging from primary to higher education institutions, are under pressure to demonstrate that they measurably improve thinking skills of their students. In some countries, such as the U.S., accreditation bodies are promoting measurably improved thinking skills as one important criterion of institutional success.
Separate courses or modules? Institutions and education systems can promote better thinking skills through ensuring appropriate curriculum adjustments. They might offer separate courses and modules in critical thinking. They might infuse critical thinking into courses in other subjects. But they might do both. I favor both, if feasible (given local conditions).
A Satisfactory Definition/Conception, and Assessment. Moreover, to reduce student confusion and to check to see that that students are learning critical thinking in courses supposedly teaching critical thinking, it is a good idea to identify a satisfactory definition/conception of critical thinking. One is suggested under “Definition of Critical Thinking“, and most briefly is that “Critical Thinking is reasonable reflective thinking focused on what to believe or do.” See “A Super-Streamlined Conception of Critical Thinking” in the same place, and “Critical Thinking: A Streamlined Conception” for incresingly longer accounts. Then seek a test or set of assessment procedures that for your students is a valid and reliable indicator or measure of the definition/conception you have chosen. Then use it on a scientifically controlled basis, perhaps with sampling, to make that check.
Coordination. The more classes in your institution that incorporate critical thinking, the more coordination is needed in order to avoid unnecessary duplication, to avoid crucial omissions, and to avoid confusing students with different vocabularies. To exemplify the latter, English and philosophy use different meanings for ‘denotation’ and ‘connotation’; and the fields of philosophy, logic, and mathematics tend to use one meaning for ‘logic’ (the study of necessary inference), while most others have a broader meaning, treating ‘logical’ and ‘reasonable’ as having roughly the same meaning.
This central coordination might be in the hands of one person, or even a center for critical thinking across the curriculum, depending on how widely critical thinking instruction is distributed.
Glossary. In addition to providing information and advice about who is, or should be, doing what, this central organizer should help provide a glossary, probably after consulting with, and reaching agreement among different fields, groups, and interests. The glossary need not require universal agreement, although that is desirable, but if there are irresolvable differences, they should be flagged. Then, for example, the glossary could recognize the deductive sense of ‘logic’ by calling it the philosopher’s meaning of ‘logic’, or, alternatively recommend calling it ‘deductive logic’ (although the latter has the difficulty of being at variance with Sherlock Holmes’ use). In spite of Holmes, I have personally adopted calling the study of necessary inference ‘deductive logic’.
Coordination of Assessment, etc. Central coordination is also needed for the assessment of the institution’s selected definition/conception of critical thinking, so that any results will have a clear meaning. There will be other things requiring coordination as well, depending on the breadth of participation, but some coordination is needed if there is any breadth of participation.
Agreement on the Definition/Conception. Securing agreement on a satisfactory definition/conception of critical might be difficult, though students would be less confused if there is agreement. If not, however, I strongly recommend that at least three things thing in common be an interest in making good decisions, in having reasonable beliefs, and in providing students with guidance (or even better, criteria) for making good decisions and having reasonable beliefs.
Post-education Application. I also hope that there will also be agreement on having this goal apply to life after graduation—students’ vocational, civic, and personal lives. Some faculty might demur for their own courses, but their infusing critical thinking into their own courses, though they neglect promoting transfer to life after graduation, might still be of help, if others undertake to promote this transfer, making use of the results in the infusion-only classes.
Advice. The article, “Incorporating Critical Thinking in a Curriculum“, would be of help in working through this process, if you have time. It is more detailed than this brief summary.
Difficulty and Importance. Succeeding in the critical thinking mission is difficult. But the alternative is worse. I wish you success.
Robert H. Ennis