Thursday, December 06, 2007

Faculty Workshop 2: Enhancing critical thinking in the classroom

Faculty Workshop 2: Enhancing critical thinking in the classroom

Thursday 6th Dec. 2007-12-06

Sun streaming in across the lake at the front of the brand new, shiny CIT Building lit up the welcoming remarks by Dr. Amber Haque to the workshop which followed on from an earlier workshop on Oct. 25th.

Dr. Haque began by asking participants whether we foster a thinking climate in our classrooms, adding that as well as helping students what to think, we should be helping them how to think as well.

Dr. Ray Percival got the ball rolling by getting us to ‘think outside the box’ – quite literally, by giving us a diagrammatical conundrum to solve. In explaining our obvious difficulties in solving the puzzle, Dr. Percival urged us to question our assumptions first, adding that learning to think critically is analogous to learning to ride a bicycle – we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. It seems that being habitually reluctant to make mistakes somewhat inhibits our ability to think critically.

Einstein said that he let his pencil do the thinking for him – a whimsical remark on the face of it until Dr. Percival that whereas the mind can hold between 5 and 7 concepts at the same time, the power of writing – the act of writing - increases this number to between 10 and 100. Writing assists thinking, Dr. Percival maintained.

Prof. Dennis Leavens urged self-reflection, stressing our powers to reason rather than calling upon our emotional intelligence. Prof. Leavens had participants work on sample problems in thinking, identifying issues, questioning assumptions and assessing evidence and then eliciting feedback from teaching staff and the many students who attended and contributed to the whole workshop.

Dr. Raja Bahlul from the Dept. of Philosophy outlined various obstacles to thinking critically, beginning with what he termed ‘Literalism’ – taking words literally rather than contextually, and going on to ‘extreme factualism’, which he said was symptomatic of students unable to question the authority of the written word and the facts stated in any source – going beyond the facts is part of the essence of one’s ability to think critically, he said.

After a welcome break in the foyer of this cross between a futuristic airport and a 7-star hotel, faculty students gave a presentation of a survey they had conducted, in which they elicited responses to questions about whether students had a perception of what is involved in critical thinking. A lively debate followed.

In his final closing remarks, Prof. Donald N. Baker, Dean of the College of Humanities, opined that critical thinking comes with age – it is what is left, he said, after names are forgotten. Prof. Baker deliberated upon whether our curriculum is structured to facilitate critical thinking skills in our students, in, ‘a logical progression of rising complexity and challenge.’

Many people had to be thanked for this useful workshop, not least the participants, many of whom were students in faculties. Critical thinking should be encouraged and facilitated at the university, and this workshop added to what is already in motion in faculty classrooms and lecture theatres.
Robert L. Fielding