Becoming a Critical Thinker: For your university studies and beyond
Publishing in 2021, Becoming a Critical Thinker is a brand new textbook from OUP that focuses on developing essential critical skills in all undergraduate degree subjects. This clear, user-friendly, and inspiring guide will help students appreciate how vital critical thinking is in an academic, professional, and personal context.
In October, author Dr Sarah Birrell Ivory and editor Nicola Hartley sat down for a live webinar to discuss ways in which lecturers can help their students to develop their critical thinking skills. They explored the complexity of teaching critical thinking and the pedagogical tools available to help lecturers engage students when learning these important skills.
Sarah and Nicola's discussion was followed by a Q&A session where we answered as many questions as possible in the time available. Following the live webinar, Sarah Birrell Ivory answered the remaining questions which you can find below.
Watch the video webinar recording here.
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Q: There are a significant number of international students - from Asia in particular - who may have had a different educational background to those coming from a western educational system. Do you have any advice on how to support those students in particular?
A: Excellent question. This is a key challenge for many academics, in particular in the UK. My advice is to be explicit and go early. The best time to alter expectations about what a western educational system values is when they first join that system. If we aim to 'ease them into it' with a first year which values 'learn and repeat' assessment and discourages (or fails to actively encourage) discussion and debate, we can't expect them to change later in the UG. That is going early.
And then we need to be explicit. My book is entirely about being explicit. About explaining what an argument is, and why it is essential and how to assess them and develop your own. That is being explicit.
But just setting my book (or any other) as additional (or even required) reading is not enough. The lessons from it need to be integrated into the pedagogy of the course, how the assessments are structured, and the type of feedback students receive. Only then will students be convinced that this is not only what western educational systems value, but what they exist to achieve.
Q: One of the main challenges faced is often convincing students that they need to carve out the time to learn about/practice critical thinking skills when they have so much reading and learning to do on other modules. How can we encourage them to make time for critical thinking?
A: I wonder if I can reply to this question with an analogy? Given people have so much to do in life - like sport, socialising, and career development - how can we encourage them to make time to eat? The answer, of course, if that eating is a key part of sport (to have energy), of socialising (part of social events), and of career development (because it keeps us healthy and means we can survive).
Critical thinking is an integral part of reading and learning - at least, it should be if that reading and learning is going to be effective and useful in future graduate and personal lives. Again, being explicit is key. But also being consistent. Continually demonstrating the importance of critical thinking to learning, from the start of their studies, means that they will learn to value critical thinking as a key skill to achieve the other goals.
Q: Can you briefly explain how we should guide students to critically review literature?
A: Try to identify what argument the author is making in each of the sources. Look for common themes. Look for contradictory themes or perspectives. These contradictions are often fertile ground to uncover and comment on literature with a critical eye.
And make sure students understand what we mean when we say 'critical'. This isn't a synonym for 'finding fault', as that word is used in common language. It might be better described as an 'evaluative' approach to reviewing the literature: the pros and the cons, the strengths and the weaknesses, the areas consistent with other literature, and the areas that show dissonance.
If you have any questions about the webinar or critical thinking in general, please get in touch with either:
Dr Sarah Birrell Ivory Sarah.Ivory@ed.ac.uk
Nicola Hartley email@example.com
Over the coming months, we'll be revealing more about Becoming a Critical Thinker and asking for your input and comments.
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