My Introduction to Critical Thinking Research

By Dr. Stephanie Bennett, Department of Sociology and Provisions Critical Thinking Fellow

When I first engaged in researching for the Provisions Critical Thinking Fellowship, I started like any other academic.  I went into a variety of databases for academic articles in my field.  In my discipline specific searching, I found a wealth of information on Sociologists interpret critical thinking.  But I did know that my search needed to move from a discipline specific search to a more interdisciplinary search to fit to be able to engage in a campus wide conversation.  So I moved to a more general search, and yes I will admit it moved me to a Google search.

Regardless of the search terms I put in, one of the first results was the Foundation for Critical Thinking.  I found Richard Paul philosopher, author of a variety of books, and a founder of the foundation.  His name was familiar as it was referenced in other critical thinking articles with a co-author Linda Elder.  The Paul-Elder model of critical thinking had become a standard.  For me, I needed to know what they believes were.   I felt that if I was going to provide resources for others on campus, there was no way I could overlook such a prominent name.

So I choose the book, Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs To Survive in a Rapidly Changing World.  I choose this one of all his books, because it was a collection of his what he believes are his “major” papers.  I started reading articles on education.  While I found that many of the articles on teaching were centered on k-12 education, I found the critique in the articles was relevant to all structured education.  Paul criticizes the lack of deep learning emphasis today and proposes a more Socratic method.

The more I read of the articles the more I began to understand the Paul-Elder model.  He believes that critical thinking is a way to reconstruct the way one thinks.  “In thinking critically we take command of our conceptual creations, assessing them more explicitly than is normally done.”

I found that reading the articles I got a deeper understanding of Paul’s belief system and his outlook on Critical thinking.  I feel there are parts of his theory that have opened my eyes to further understanding of the wide definition of Critical Thinking.  He not only critiques the lack of Critical thinking in society and education, but he also suggests ways to change this.  It was worth the read for me.

Closing the Gap: What Colleges Produce vs. What Employers Want

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In “Put Undergraduates to Work, for Their Own Good,” John A. Fry, president of Drexel University, writes that despite an improving economy, eager and talented new college graduates are still encountering significant difficulty in securing jobs, explaining that parents turn to colleges and universities expecting higher returns for the significant investment in their children’s education.  In “What It Takes to Make New College Graduates Employable,” Alina Tugend posits why this gap between what colleges produce and what employers want is widening, citing reasons such as: “when it comes to the skills most needed by employers, job candidates are lacking most in written and oral communication skills, adaptability and managing multiple priorities, and making decisions and problem solving.”  Fry believes that in order to start closing this gap, access to a college education is no longer enough, and that “colleges and universities must complement a traditional education with real experience, including authentic connections to the workplace.”

Fry states that many people argue for the expansion of internships, but that that’s an “outdated answer,” where internships are too short and not in-depth enough—usually more job-shadowing than job-doing— and believes a better option is to require students to participate in real-life job experiences (or co-operative work experience) before graduation.  Fry argues that co-op jobs: “provide students with opportunities to apply their knowledge and acquire the practical know-how that employers value;” “inject a healthy dose of reality;” and “allow students to identify skills they lack, areas that need improvement, and even whether the career path is right for them.”  Fry also points out that if a student can demonstrate an ability to add value, it’s highly likely that the co-op employer will offer a full-time position upon graduation, and conversely, “employer input helps colleges recalibrate their curricula so academics and workplace skills are better aligned.”  Fry realizes that the co-op model is neither easy nor cheap, however, can be built and expanded over time, bridging the gap between a college education and the needs of employers.  What other ways might help bridge the gap?