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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Critical Thinking Discussed, Not Applied on NPR

Today's Morning Edition discussed a study that purported to show that a large fraction of college students aren't learning critical thinking skills. This may well be true, but it was never stated how this outcome had been measured — particularly ironic given that Steve Inskeep had opened the interview with a declaration that he'd be applying critical thinking to the study, yet never asked this rather basic question. Here's the comment I posted:

You said you'd apply some critical thinking to the study, but actually did very little. You never asked the guest how it was determined that a third of the students surveyed showed little improvement in critical thinking skills. The only metrics mentioned were the amount of writing done, and how difficult students feel their courses are. Neither of these bears any necessary relation to critical thinking. One can write at great length, but if the teacher gives a high grade simply for regurgitating what he said, no critical thinking need be involved. On the other hand, if a professor knows how to teach critical thinking really well, the student might find it very easy despite the fact that he's learning a lot.

Some good ways to measure such skills can be imagined. For instance, one could ask a person to read an essay and then identify all the fallacies it contains. This might involve very little writing — none at all if administered orally — but would still provide a definite measure of critical thinking skills. But the guest said nothing about whether this or any similarly relevant test was actually employed in the study.
You can read a transcript of the story at http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=133310978.

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