Implications of critical thinking for future practice

Though our research into WPL experiences demonstrates that critical thinking is present within university curricula, it also highlights the fact that there are many missed opportunities by academics and WPS to help students develop an approach to critical thinking that would more adequately prepare them for future professional practice and reduce unnecessary constraints to existing practices.

The current dominant type of critical thinking leads students to adapt to criteria of employment (which do not necessarily lead to employment) (Lepage 1996), to cultivate a compliant technical practice, and to identify as self-administrating role models able to embody and enforce codes of conduct and the law (Bourdieu 1994; Wolfe 1993). The case studies discussed above show that a non-questioning approach will prepare students for factual knowledge and predictable times, while what we need to do is prepare them for uncertain times ahead, because, as Barnett (2010, 5) writes: "there is no stable world of practices to which higher education could 'correspond' even if it so wished."

We believe that WPL experiences are ideal opportunities to foster critical thinking, because they are the meeting place of academic and industry worlds. During WPL placements students are exposed to diversity (workplace cultures), complexity (the many interrelated factors and relationships that shape practice and, at times, competing interests), and ambiguity (the need to make judgments in the face of uncertainty), which cannot be simulated in the classroom. If well facilitated, WPL can enable students to reflect and critique professional expectations and practices. Such early exposure to critique and reflection sows the seed for lifelong critical thinking.

Critical thinking rooted in critical theory enables students to make sense of the diversity, complexity, and ambiguity they will encounter in the workplace, because it helps them understand professional practice as culturally and historically constructed. It equips students with the skills and capacity for ongoing learning and improvement. It also provides a framework for selfassessment and imagining other possibilities. Finally, it encourages students to make change happen and prepares them to solve elements of conflicts and contradictions within their professional practice. Such enabling kind of critical thinking would develop critical thinkers who have a greater awareness of options and the capacity to exercise choice, are able to participate more fully in their own practice, and in the making of history and transforming culture. A culture of questioning in critical thinking at university urgently needs to be addressed and reintroduced if universities are to truly deliver on their mission to educate future professionals ready for the future world of work.

Learning through questioning is immediately relevant and situated for the learner. It is the opposite of learning through being told. To question is crucial, because it creates the capacity to identify paradoxes, injustices, and contradictions leading to imagining other possibilities. Without questioning there would be no problematizing and deeper understanding, only memorizing, recalling, and copying.

The type of questions that enhance critical thinking from a critical theory perspective are not closed questions that require a "yes" or "no" answer. They invite others to explain and articulate themselves, and engage in critical dialogues. Critical questions are not immediately about gathering facts, but about problematizing events and situations. Critical thinkers ask questions to expose motivation and interests in order to get to the bottom of things. They ask questions about why things are the way they are. They open up rethinking and deliberate ownership of professional practice, culture, and identity.

In what follows, we examine critical approaches to questioning and the ways in which they allow students to acquire and understand technical tasks and roles (within and beyond occupation-specific skills and knowledge), to navigate and actively engage with workplace cultures and environments, as well as to develop a professional identity. We also highlight the ways in which the integration of this type of critical thinking in WPL provides an ideal opportunity to promote critical thinking outside of universities.

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