Knowledge and expectations about critical thinking: some implications

As we noted earlier, students from all three groups referred to numerous characteristics of critical thinking when discussing study-related thinking requirements. The students also appeared well aware of situational factors that may limit or make the use of such thinking skills unwise. These findings are encouraging indicators that students are developing not only knowledge about, but also practical understanding of, various thinking skills—including aspects of critical thinking—that, ideally, formal education should inculcate (see, e.g., Glassner, Weinstock, and Neuman 2005; Halpern 1998; Thomm and Bromme 2011).

What is not as encouraging, however, is the finding that, when explicitly asked what they thought critical thinking meant, some misconceptions about it also surfaced in the students' responses. As we noted earlier, the Auckland and Okinawa students mentioned other thinking characteristics that would not normally be considered as aspects of critical thinking, like creativity, positivity, and intuition (cf. critical thinking definitions provided by Ennis 1962; Fisher and Scriven 1997). The Kyoto students put forward definitions and qualities that were appropriate, but they did not say many of these, suggesting that perhaps they too were not so certain about the exact meaning of critical thinking. This finding about students' misconceptions and uncertainties about the meaning of critical thinking suggests that there is a need to provide more explicit, systematic, and comprehensive education about this thinking approach. If the capacity to think critically is as important to develop in students as many tertiary institutional documents worldwide suggest, then critical thinking should be taught more explicitly and its development incorporated more systematically into course curricula.

An issue related to student knowledge and skills development is teacher knowledge and skills development. We found ample evidence from the comments provided by students that thinking skills expectations vary considerably across courses and instructors, with some apparently requiring only superficial thinking approaches such as rote memorization. This indicates the need to ensure that tertiary-level instructors are knowledgeable about the thinking skills that students need to develop and are sufficiently skilled in the facilitation of their development through the courses they teach. Hence, appropriate means for teacher professional skills development in these areas

(e.g., training and resources) ought to be made available to all tertiary education instructors.

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