The Relationship between Self-Regulation, Personal Epistemology, and Becoming a “Critical Thinker": Implications for Pedagogy

Iris Vardi


Developing critical thinkers is an important remit for universities, ensuring graduates who can improve our lives and our understanding of the world. So it is no wonder that universities spend much time and effort ensuring that critical thinking skills are embedded and assessed in the disciplinary curriculum. But is requiring students to use a set of skills in their studies sufficient for developing the critical thinkers society needs? This chapter goes beyond incorporating skills in the curriculum to examining the development of "critical thinkers": people who of their own volition approach problems, issues, learning, and the process of critical thinking itself through critical eyes. It does so by examining the development of critical thinkers through the lens of self-regulation and personal epistemology. Viewing development through this lens provides important insights for pedagogy. It highlights the importance of creating teaching environments that support and develop the goals, beliefs, attitudes, language, behaviors, and ways of doing things of a critical thinker. Further, it shows how such environments can be created to develop the competent, self-determined, critical thinkers we need for today and the future.

When students come to university, they usually have in mind what they want to become: a "historian," an "economist," a "physicist," or a "psychologist"—to name but a few. This ambition to move from what they are now to what they can become is very powerful. It results in a commitment to several years of study and can involve financial hardship and future financial burden. Yet students see a value in it. And they do much more than "go through the steps." They put in effort, persevere when the going gets tough, and make many changes to who they are through the process. They start to write like a "historian," view world events through the eyes of an "economist," evaluate physical phenomena like a "physicist," or observe others' reactions and behaviors like a "psychologist." They start this process of change by mimicking the language, behaviors, ways of "doing things,"and the world perspective of the members of their chosen discipline or profession (Bartholomae 1985). Their transformation is such that by the time they graduate, they are "economists" or "physicists." This change is not lost on graduates who often note how the university has changed their lives (Barnett 2009). However, for many this is not where it ends. After graduation, they often make the effort to become more skilled, knowledgeable, and influential in their field. The impact of the university on "becoming" a professional or disciplinary expert is evident in their student life and their later life.

The contrast between those who have determined what they want to become and those who haven't can be stark. Those who have not yet made the determination often change courses and programs, move in and out of university, and their effort can be lackluster. Without the desire to "become," there is no underlying reason to put in the effort and to persevere either now or in the future, and the university's impact is diminished.

How can we harness the power of "becoming" and apply that to becoming a "critical thinker," not only in students' chosen disciplines and professions, but also in their broader approach to life? Choosing to become a critical thinker involves much more than a set of skills. Much like becoming a "business person" or a "psychologist," it involves adopting the language, behaviors, ways of doing things, and perspectives of a "critical thinker." This chapter explores what it means to be a critical thinker, the factors impacting on students becoming critical thinkers, and the implications this has for developing and impacting on students' lives both in the university and beyond. In doing so, it draws on (1) the critical thinking literature, (2) the self-regulated learning literature on how students determine, control, and monitor their development, and (3) the personal epistemology literature on students' beliefs about how one "knows" something, their role in coming to "know" this, and how these beliefs relate to becoming a critical thinker.

In drawing these perspectives together, this paper aims to provide another lens through which to view critical thinking and its development within the disciplines and provide universities and teaching staff with contemporary directions for pedagogy.

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