As educators, we nurture students’ intellectual development and help them acquire the hard and soft skills they need to be successful in business, including strong critical thinking skills. Employers consistently note that critical thinking skills are among the most important skills students can learn. Among employers surveyed in 2020, 95% of respondents considered critical thinking skills to be either very or somewhat important to workforce success. Of the 60% who considered critical thinking skills to be very important, only 39% thought that graduates were very well prepared in the area of critical thinking.
We all have an idea of what critical thinking looks like in our respective classrooms, but does that idea align with the students’ understanding of it? Are we creating an environment where students can develop their critical thinking skills? Last year, as part of my dissertation research, I interviewed several Fox undergraduates to answer these questions. Each student interpreted critical thinking a bit differently but was able to identify specific skills that they associated with critical thinking, including analyzing and applying information, curiosity, problem-solving, creativity, communication and strategic thinking. For our students, critical thinking takes the shape of written assignments, projects, teamwork and solving problems that reflect the real world.
Read the tips below for ideas about cultivating critical thinking in your classroom.
Cultivate the process.
Both researchers and students recognize that critical thinking is a process. However, its application is context-specific. Scaffolding assignments and course experiences familiarize students with the process and allow them to employ it as they move through your course and the curriculum. Provide opportunities for students to build on their foundational knowledge by incorporating reflection, applying their existing knowledge, acquiring new knowledge from their peers and from other sources, and evaluating the output. This process builds a critical thinking mechanism in your class.
Create opportunities for peer-to-peer learning.
Successful critical thinkers are able to draw from their experiences, build on previously held knowledge, and incorporate different perspectives and other knowledge sources to help solve problems or make decisions. Those new perspectives can come from something as simple as peer interaction. Create opportunities for teamwork or peer review. This exposes students to new situations that help them expand their knowledge base and gives them more information to draw from when solving problems in the future. Understanding their peers’ experiences helps students consider problems from different perspectives, leading to deeper critical thinking.
Students’ critical thinking flourishes when (they’re) interested and curious about a topic. Help develop their interest and pique their curiosity by explaining how your course topics fit into the broader curriculum and how they can be applied in the business world. Where possible, create course activities that simulate real-world experiences and help students actively engage with the material. While it may seem like the most efficient option, especially in large sections, be mindful about the use of third-party platforms for homework and exams. These tools are beneficial for reinforcing a basic understanding of course concepts, but students find that they detract from their learning and limit critical thinking.
Fostering critical thinking in the classroom is not easy. It requires a substantial amount of work to design and facilitate the types of activities that help students develop their critical thinking skills. Assessing critical thinking is even more time-consuming as strong measures of critical thinking ability are often found in written work, group projects and through Experiential Learning. Critical thinking development is not limited to graded work either. Experiences in the classroom—from teach-outs, teamwork, peer review and discussion—help deepen student learning, hold their interest and develop their critical thinking skills.
Join us at the Engendering and Assessing Critical Thinking workshop on Nov. 4 at 1 p.m. for a deeper discussion of critical thinking and how it supports academic integrity.
Laura Aboyan is the director of curriculum management and assessment at the Fox School of Business. She recently earned her EdD in Higher Education from Temple’s College of Education and Human Development.