Critical Thinking In Higher Education

In this approach, students are given a problem to solve.At Plymouth State, students were asked to conduct a mock trial of Lizzie Borden, who was accused (but eventually acquitted) of the sensational 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother in Massachusetts.

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Educators need to provide students with the critical thinking skills they will need in college and to navigate the garden of the forking paths that is their—and our—future.

While the CLA illustrates the difficulty in preparing students for this path, it should also serve as a clarion call to action for America’s educators.

The second annual State of Critical Thinking survey from Mind Edge asked respondents to complete a brief quiz requiring them to use digital literacy and critical thinking skills.

In 2018, respondents scored lower on every question compared to 2017, and 52 percent of last year’s respondents received a failing grade.

They blame a “Google It” mentality that encourages young people to rely on the Internet, rather than their own memories, for basic information.

In an environment rife with fake news and “alternative facts,” over-reliance on Google and other search engines poses obvious problems.Those results show wide divergences between schools, but they don’t necessarily explain why some schools perform well while others do not.The Journal looked closely at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, which saw the largest improvement in critical thinking skills between freshmen and seniors.The most recent results of the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus (CLA ) test—a standardized testing initiative designed to measure college students’ critical thinking skills—are not encouraging.Relatively few students who took the test showed any improvement between freshman and senior years, even at schools where critical thinking was part of the curriculum.The CLA tests are administered to incoming freshmen and outgoing seniors at more than 200 public colleges and universities.The results are typically not published, but this year The Wall Street Journal filed a public records request and was able to get details on the results at a number of colleges and universities that administered the test between 20.Consider two paths: the first taken by a student for whom facts exist independently of reality, and for whom all facts (as long as they fit into an existing world view) have equal merit.That student’s intellectual development will be stunted, and her ability to make sense of new information will be compromised.Pair that with confirmation bias (the tendency to seek out and believe information that maps to one’s own beliefs) and you have a recipe for trouble.Today’s educators need to do a lot more to help students understand how to evaluate information.


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