Conceptions of critical thinking

Analysis of student conceptions of critical thinking revealed four broad themes that were categorized as

  • 1. weighing up different author arguments;
  • 2. making up your own mind;
  • 3. critical thinking as analysis; and
  • 4. assessing the validity of author claims, or testing hypotheses.

Three students claimed not to understand the meaning of critical thinking and three of the six students using the online unit forums did not address the issue of critical thinking in their responses. There was no apparent difference to be found between students in first- and second-year units.

A common conception of critical thinking cited by four different student participants was aligned with the idea of weighing up different author arguments to come to an opinion. One student explains: "I suppose you get given the left and the right of the issue or both sides of the topic and you go, well, I think that's side is right or that side is right, or I think both" (cs2011). A similar theme cited by two students was the idea of making up your own mind and showing that you have thought about a topic. Two students defined critical thinking in terms of analysis, either with reference to breaking down a topic or analysis of theory and practice.

Four other students did refer to activities such as assessing the validity of author claims, or testing hypotheses. For example, one participant focused on: "Verifying their [authors'] sources and opinions because most writers will look to express some sort of opinion or slant" (tk2010): of these two had prior experience in another of the politics units.

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