Friday, June 7, 2019

Friday Feature: Critical Thinking

This week, I've been putting the finishing touches on the syllabus for my summer class (a more condensed -- and therefore intense -- version of a class I teach in fall and spring semesters). I've reviewed my objectives and assignments, read the course evaluations from my spring semester students and done the usual tweaking. It's ready to go, as is my to-do list of tools to adjust and create.

In other words, I've engaged in critical thinking.

As adults, we don't think of it that way. But any time we listen to someone else's perspective, make ourselves aware of our own biases or choose to accept someone we care about despite an egregious difference of opinion in one area or another, we're practicing this skill, even if we don't label it as such.

As an instructor, sharpening this skill in my students is one of my priorities and therefore one of my stated course objectives in every course I teach. In a world where it's easy to confuse clicking the "like" button with forming a considered opinion, I want to, at the very least, teach in a way that encourages my students to exercise their brains.

Is this merely an academic exercise? I don't think so. In fact, I think teaching college students how to think (for themselves) instead of teaching them what to think is one of the most important things we can do for them. While this may seem like a luxury when a year of college costs more than most cars, it's a skill that transfers to the world after graduation.

Case in point: an article in Inc. that focuses on mental exercises that will make us (in the real world, not the educational world) better critical thinkers. Author Larry Alton "is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship" -- in other words, someone with his feet firmly planted in the world outside academia, which is my students' desired destination.

Alton's article had me nodding and smiling, in part because of the connections he made (critical thinking can improve creativity), in part because the ideas were so easy to do, and, in part because they're the very things I seek to incorporate into my classes.

While some students of my students embrace critical thinking, others fight it. Among the evaluations I received last semester was one advising me to teach only the material that would be on the test.

Not gonna happen.

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