Intro To Critical Thinking
Despite being celebrated on campus as a key skill,
critical thinking has been referred to as a slippery eel by Molinari and
Kavanagh because it's so hard to define.
This is because it's so complex, and
at the same time it can change according to context.
In a moment we'll hear from some academics
about what critical thinking means to them, so that we can understand what
critical thinking is in different contexts in academic fields.
Before we do this though,
we'd like to define three linked terms that we will use throughout this MOOC.
They are critical thinking, argumentation, and argument.
As we've already seen, critical thinking is complex and multifaceted.
We're lucky, though,
because a long line of theorists, from John Dewey to Richard Ennis and
more, have tried to define and analyze what critical thinking is.
We would firstly like to suggest following Alexander, Argent & Spencer that we remove
the problematic term, critical thinking, and simply see this as thinking, but
as a style of thinking that is questioning and transformative.
This kind of thinking, valued in university settings,
is also a thinking that reflects and considers its own basis,
its background and its reasons as well as considering these things in others'
thinking, a thinking that seeks to make original connections between ticks and
points of view, but always supported by reasons and evidence, and
a thinking that aims to be objective and free of personal bias.
While critical thinking is more related to thinking and learning, argumentation and
argument are more closely related to communicating critical thinking to others.
Before I go on I do need to point out that at university when people talk about
an argument they don't mean it in the everyday sense of angry disagreement.
At university an argument is instead presenting a set of reasons
that show that a conclusion is correct or valid.
Arguments are in a sense, the smallest observable unit of critical thinking.
In an essay, a tutorial, or
a presentation, you might have many arguments linked together.
This broader process of linking arguments, we will term argumentation.
Okay, so you've heard our definition of critical thinking, argumentation, and
Let's now hear from some academics to find out how they define critical thinking, and
find out from them how you can develop your critical thinking skills.
>> Critical thinking, in an academic context,
is quite different to thinking about problems and
critical issues in the wider world, even though we prepare
you at university to use critical thinking to apply those particular
skills to your life and your job and whatever you're doing.
So critical thinking in an academic and
university context is really about wrestling with an idea,
and thinking about how you can actually articulate your own
perspective and your own idea about an issue or a problem.
And it usually means in an academic sense, that it's not just your idea, but
that you've thought about that idea with the support of scholarship,
other people who are experts in the field, their ideas and
their resolutions, how they've tested something.
So that's really thinking critically.
It's about multiple perspectives and then your own
ideas overlaid with those particular discoveries I guess you've made.
It means to be able to be method critical,
to judge if a method is appropriate in a specific context for a specific question.
And it needs to be self-critical,
to be aware of one's preconceptions, of one's biases, and indeed,
being aware of one's purely academic stance towards a topic.
>> I'm going to answer these I think from a more pragmatic perspective,
from a student's perspective.
Because the reality is that very few students will actually go on
to be academics or researchers, and critical thinkers in an academic context.
And so for these students you have to ask, what's the goal of a university education?
What's the end product of a university education?
And when I ask my students these very often the answer that I get is that it's
to get a good job or to give me the skills to be employable in the workplace.
And then of course you have to ask well,
what makes you employable in the workplace?
What are the skills that are valued in the workplace?
And very often, aside from your technical and specialist knowledge in your field or
discipline, what's valued is the ability to think systematically and
objectively through decision making processes and problem solving processes.
And this is, in essence, what critical thinking is.
The other side of this thing, of course, is that critical thinking and this
kind of systematic and objective thinking then becomes part of the learning process.
Learning at university is not about just accepting what your lecturers and
tutors tell you and reproducing this.
It's about asking questions of them, and
becoming involved in a kind of dialogue with
the ideas that you meet in your lectures and asking questions and evaluating.
That means kind of realizing that there are different perspectives, different ways
of looking at everything, and being able to look at those and assess those
different ways of looking at something from an objective kind of standpoint.
Try not to be biased, they'll try not to favor one or the other, and
just kind of try to assess them on the same grounds and try to see them
as equals and just kind of different ways of looking at something as opposed
to fixing on whether semething's good or bad or whether something's right or wrong.
It's just kind of assessing each argument or viewpoint against each other and
kind of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each one.
>> Well, students demonstrate critical thinking within the fields of commerce and
accounting by taking existing knowledge and comprehending that knowledge, but
taking that knowledge to a higher level, so what they do is use analytical skills.
And hopefully that leads them to be over synthesized existing knowledge with their
own ideas, their own interpretations, and to come up with really good evaluations or
suggestions for what we should do moving forward in business.
We might say that it involves thinking about or
analyzing the kinds of representation or thought that are at work in those texts.
And it can involve interpreting a literary text, or
it can involve deciding on the value of a text, whatever we might mean by value.
>> In human-computer interaction, students demonstrate critical thinking
by knowing in the outset that their first assumptions are likely to be valuable,
and working continually to check that it stages throughout the design process.
Knowing and recognizing the way you might use a computer or work with a computer
may differ quite significantly to other people, and that you're going
to need data and you're going to need research to try and understand that.
And that you can't rely on your first assumptions or beliefs about that.
Introduction to critical thinking
One of the most important aspects of academic work is the ability to think critically about what you read, what you write and what you are told. Rather than accept all information as truth, you need to test the validity of others’ standpoints in order to arrive at your own point of view.
When you think critically, you are being active; you are not passively accepting everything you read and hear, but questioning, evaluating, making judgements, finding connections and categorising. Critical thinking is necessary in order to form judgements in lectures and tutorials; when reading and when writing assignments.
You will find information on how to apply critical thinking to your tasks at university in this section.
If you would like further information, please contact staff from the Academic Language and Learning Success Program (ALLSP), who run free workshops for internal and external students on all academic skills.
Phone: 08 8946 7459
In this section you will find information about: