Critical Thinking Disposition and Locus of Control as Predictors of Evaluations of Teaching Strategies

Article excerpt

Most studies which investigate the relationship between critical thinking skills and instruction focus on how teaching strategies affect the development of critical thinking. In this paper we investigate how student characteristics affect their evaluation of teaching strategies, specifically critical thinking disposition, locus of control, gender, major and class rank. Using a sample of 66 undergraduates recruited from introductory political science classes at Truman State University, we found that, contrary to the literature, students who exhibited a disposition toward critical thinking rated lecture methods of instruction higher than students with a lesser disposition to think critically; further, political science majors rated lecture methods higher than non majors. However, locus of control, gender and year in school had no relationship with teaching strategy evaluation.

Recently, there has emerged a growing consensus in the literature on teaching strategies in favor of `group based' methods of instruction for undergraduates over the more traditional `lecture' methods. In particular, it has been argued that breaking up the class into small discussion groups better serves to cultivate critical thinking skills among students. On the other hand `traditional' lecture methods of instruction cause students to "fail to learn how to gather, analyze, synthesize or assess information. They (students) do not learn how to analyze the logic of questions and problems they face, and as a result, cannot adjust their thinking to them" (Garside, 1996, p. 212).[1]

This study differs from previous studies on the relationship between teaching strategies and critical thinking skills in two ways. First, although the focus in the literature on critical thinking has primarily been on how different teaching strategies affect the development of critical thinking skills, we investigate how characteristics of students affect their evaluation of different teaching strategies. Second, rather than focus on a single `independent' variable, we investigate the effects of multiple variables on the evaluation of teaching strategies: critical thinking disposition, locus of control, gender, major and year in school. Based upon the literature which suggests that small group methods of instruction are most effective in cultivating critical thinking skills we test the hypotheses that: (1) students with a disposition toward critical thinking will evaluate group-based teaching methods more positively than students who lack such a disposition; (2) students who have an internal locus of control will more positively evaluate group methods of teaching than lecture based methods. Using a variation of the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (Facione, Facione and Sanchez, 1994), a locus of control inventory developed by Nowicki and Duke (1974) and a teaching strategy inventory, the questionnaire was administered to sixty-six undergraduate students recruited from two introductory level political science courses at Truman State University controlling for discipline and instructor.

Literature

The literature abounds with the contention that group based in-class activities are superior as a teaching technique when compared to more traditional lecture methods of instruction (Beyer, 1985). Through such group interactions teachers don't "tell" rather they help students to critically analyze ideas; students are encouraged to become active learners rather than passive recipients of information (Meyers, 1986; Halpern 1987; Garside, 1996).

However, there has been very little work on critical thinking disposition as an independent variable affecting the evaluation of teaching strategies. Perhaps the most complete treatment of the factors which affect the evaluation of teaching strategy is offered by Husbands (1996; 1997). Husbands notes that four sets of factors may affect student evaluation of lecture versus small group oriented methods of instruction: (1) Characteristics of teachers; (2) characteristics of courses; (3) characteristics of students; (4) the interaction between these factors such as interaction effects resulting from gender of teacher and gender of student. …