Manifesto on Critical Thinking Education

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This manifesto claims that critical thinking is highly needed in society. The development of critical thinking is therefore an important aim of higher education. The development of critical thinking needs devoted attention and specific educational interventions. This manifesto puts an educational protocol to the forefront, that can be used as a guide in fostering the development of critical thinking in higher education institutions at the course/module, programme and institutional level. The protocol does not adhere to a single definition of critical thinking. Such a definition is essential and context specific and therefore no definition is imposed. It is important that higher education institutions formulate and/or adapt a contextually appropriate definition of critical thinking for their own purposes.

 

Educational protocol on critical thinking education

This educational protocol reflects a historically situated, operational understanding of the theoretical and empirical research on critical thinking on the one hand, and actual experiences with developing critical thinking on the other. The educational protocol rests on two major claims:

  1. students will develop their critical thinking by explicitly engaging in appropriate learning activities, and
  2. becoming stronger in critical thinking requires repeated engagement in critical thinking processes. The educational protocol has three parts: goals, conditions and supportive interventions.  

Goals

In order to support the development of critical thinking, critical thinking has to be a goal of education. This is shown by:

  • At the institutional level: A clear mission statement recognising critical thinking as an important goal and explaining how it can be accomplished.
  • At the teaching program level: A clear description of critical thinking as an important goal of the teaching program, detailing how it can be reached.
  •  At the course level: A clear description of critical thinking as an important learning outcome, explaining how it can be realized.  

In the above, ‘clear’ means that an explicit clarification (by referring to the relevant literature) of the meaning of critical thinking is provided. In other words, the goals are explicit and transparent; they can be read and understood by all those involved.  

In the above, ‘important’ means that not reaching the goal would be considered a failure. At the institutional level, it means that the institution would not be accredited unless the goal was realized. At the teaching program level, it means that a student could not graduate unless the goal is realized. At the course level it means that a student could not progress unless evidence of critical thinking is provided. In other words, considering critical thinking as an important goal implies that it is part of assessment and evaluation. Given substantial conceptual and methodological differences between the fields and the disciplines, it is to be expected that clear descriptions of critical thinking as an important goal at the teaching program and/or course level will vary between the fields and between the disciplines.  

Conditions

Critical thinking requires that at the institutional, the teaching program and course levels, critical thinking is continuously and congruently allowed and made possible.

  • “Continuously” implies that the development of critical thinking is not a one-shot operation. Critical thinking does not occur automatically or effortlessly. It needs continuous practice, reinforcement and support. 
  • “Congruently” implies that all actions with respect to critical thinking are aligned to the goals.
    • Allowing critical thinking implies that critical thinking cannot have a negative consequence for the institution, its staff and its students. More specifically, it requires autonomy of the institution, the staff and the students who are enabled to think for themselves and with an authorial voice.
    • Making critical thinking possible implies that the resources needed for critical thinking are made available. It implies that students can flourish in an environment that is well-designed and offers them the time needed for development. It also implies that teaching programs can operate within a transparent and open structure, and institutions can work within clear legal frameworks.  

Supportive interventions

Research suggests that with regard to the development of critical thinking (skills, dispositions or combinations of both), four categories of intervention (to model, to induce, to declare, to surveil) can be identified. For all supportive interventions the rule is that the support gradually withdraws.

  • To model: Critical thinking development is supported when the institute (through its management structures), the teaching program (through its representatives) and the course (through its teachers) show what it is to think critically. This can take various forms.
  • To induce:  Critical thinking development is supported by inducing critical thinking. This implies that open questions are raised, ill-structured tasks are provided, complex problems are discussed and/or authentic, real-world issues remain at the core. What ‘inducing’ entails and how it can be done may vary for different fields and disciplines and may be done in different ways. 
  • To declare: Critical thinking development is supported by declaring or making explicit what is at stake, what strategies can be used and what criteria are to be met. Declaring can be either spoken or written, but in all the cases it is both explicit and specific. What ‘declaring’ entails and how it can be done may also vary in different fields and disciplines. 
  • To surveil: Critical thinking development is difficult. To increase the probability that sustained action is taken, surveillance may help. Surveillance monitors the ongoing efforts and activities, provides feedback on those efforts and activities and helps to keep the efforts and activities oriented towards the (development of) critical thinking. While differing in its concrete content and form among fields and disciplines, surveillance will always entail monitoring, feedback and orientation.  

Herewith I sign the “Manifesto on Critical Thinking Education”. By signing it, I declare that I endorse the protocol and that I will promote the actualisation in my own context to the full of my capabilities.

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The protocol was developed in the context of the Erasmus+ project CRITHINKEDU. The text in italics is the Executive summary of the output 4 of the project: Elen et al. 2019, Promoting Critical Thinking in European Higher Education Institutions: Towards an educational protocol, p. v-viii; (accessed May 7, 2019).

 


An Verburgh (crithinkedu@utad.pt)    Contact the author of the petition

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