Critical thinking at undergraduate level

Being a critical thinker
Sara Steinke
[email protected]
Aims of the session
• To identify what is meant by critical thinking at
• To identify the importance of critical thinking
for academic study
• To reflect on how you can develop your critical
thinking skills
• To introduce the link between critical thinking
skills and academic reading and writing
Think about the following
thinkers can
Summarise complex ideas
Evaluate arguments and evidence
Understand opposing positions
Draw reasonable conclusions
Predict logical consequences
Devise sensible alternatives
Solve complex problems
See connections between subjects
Distinguish between emotive and
neutral vocabulary
10. Distinguish between theory, fact,
Importance of critical thinking at university (1)
• Occurs across all teaching/learning/research
activities - cornerstone of academic study
• Involves thinking analytically about yours and
other peoples work/ideas - adopting a critical
• Pushes the boundaries of knowledge forward examines the grey area, rather than providing
black or white, yes or no answers
• Transferable skill to the workplace
Importance of critical thinking at university (2)
• Not simply related to academic content; also
involves the journey of discovery - a process
• Involves a variety of academic skills
- reading, note-taking, essay/report writing,
revision strategy, exam technique, presentations,
organisational skills, time management
• Requires an active, independent and reflective
approach to learning - C.R.E.A.M. approach to
learning (Stella Cottrell)
How to develop your critical thinking skills
• Importance of your
everyday critical
reasoning skills
• Who, what, when,
where, why and how
• Critical questions to
Recognize Assumptions: Separate
fact from opinion
Evaluate Arguments: Impartially
evaluate arguments and suspend
Draw Conclusions: Decide your
course of action
Everyday critical reasoning skills
• Adult learners process a diverse range of
knowledge, qualities, experiences and skills
that use critical reasoning, involving family,
friends and work; these qualities are of great
value for university studies
• Everyday decisions are rarely straightforward;
similarly, critical thinking at university is
‘messy’, topics are not seen as ‘black’ or
‘white’, answers are rarely ‘yes’ or ‘no’
Think about the following
a) Job opportunities
What factors were
involved in your
decision to study a
particular course at
b) Desire to return to
c) Financial concerns
d) Time constraints
e) Course subject
f) Other reasons
Think about the following
You have been asked
to read an article in
preparation for a
What questions might
you ask in order to
think critically about
the article?
1. What is the main
argument of the article?
2. What are the reasons
given to justify the
3. What evidence has been
4. What do you know about
the author?
5. What audience is the
author addressing?
6. What sources has the
author used?
1. What is the main argument or thesis
of the text?
• Look at the introduction or first two
paragraphs and check the conclusion
• A well written piece should tell you the main
argument, thesis or position
• These first paragraphs should also tell you the
parameters or timeframe if relevant, and the
interpretation and final conclusion of the
What are the reasons given to justify
the conclusion?
Can you list them?
Are they well presented?
Is there a clear, logical line of reasoning?
Are the reasons given supporting the final
• Are you convinced?
• What is your conclusion?
• Has the writer included and considered dissenting
What evidence has been used?
• What facts or evidence is being presented?
- statistics, expert authoritative opinion, quotes
Are these valid, up-to-day, relevant to the case?
Is the writer’s interpretation of these facts valid?
Does the evidence support the argument?
Is it an acceptable interpretation?
What has been left out?
What points of view have not been considered?
Why? Because they present opposing views?
What do you know about the author?
• What do you know about the author’s
• What are the author’s credentials or specialism?
• What are the author’s affiliations?
• Has the author written other books or articles?
• Does the author have a vested interest in the
• Has the author a reputation for being
provocative, controversial?
What audience is the author addressing?
• Is the article published in a serious journal
read by other scholars?
• Is the author addressing a general well
educated readership?
• Is the article’s intention to introduce a topic to
people who are new to the subject?
• Is the author writing for a wider, crossdisciplinary readership?
What sources has the author used?
• Check the footnotes, references and
• Has the author used a wide range of sources?
• Are there unusual, unexpected or new
• How narrow or wide a literature search did
the author undertake?
• Has the author concentrated on a particular
type of sources?
Importance of critical reading
more at session on 28 August
Can you:
select and use different reading strategies (e.g. skim,
scan, in-depth)?
think about what you need to find out before you
start reading (are you reading to verify facts, to
understand a subject in general or to analyse a
particular argument)?
critically evaluate reading?
deal with new vocabulary?
Importance of critical writing
more at session on 1 September
Can you:
express your ideas clearly in written form?
make an outline of what you are going to write?
write in clear sentences and paragraphs?
link your ideas in a logical order?
use correct grammar?
develop your own argument?
identify your audience and write in an
appropriate register?
Recap of the session
• Do you know what is meant by critical thinking
at university?
• Are you clear about why critical thinking is
important for academic study?
• Have you identified ways to develop your
critical thinking skills?
• Have you recognised the link between critical
thinking skills and critical reading and writing
Useful sources for critical thinking
Cottrell, S. (2005) Critical Thinking Skills (London, Palgrave)
12 minute audio file based on Cottrell’s Critical Thinking Skills
helpful information on critical thinking skills on the Skills4Study
5 minute interactive tutorials supporting this Student
Orientation programme
academic skills workshops dealing with critical thinking skills –
and other academic skills - in greater detail
Next session
• Thursday 28 August, 6pm-7.30pm, room 421
• Reading at undergraduate level
– coping with large amounts of reading
– increasing your understanding of the
– reading strategies for academic purposes
– note making for academic purposes

similar documents