Instructional Methods Influence Critical Thinking: Do Students and Instructors Agree?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Critical thinking skills are considered one of the key soft skills to be honed through an undergraduate education. This paper investigates whether selected teaching strategies and instructional methods have impact on student perceptions of critical thinking instruction. Survey results indicate that students and instructors in an undergraduate business program have limited agreement in their respective perceptions of critical thinking instruction as well as limited agreement regarding the impact of selected instructional methods.

SCOPE AND PURPOSE

The issue of relating teaching strategies and instructional methods to critical thinking student outcomes is a frequent topic among administrators and faculty (Bruan, 2004). There is a significant body of literature regarding critical thinking as well as case studies of the application of various instructional methods and teaching strategies (Cohen, 1981; Gellin, 2003; Snyder & Snyder, 2008). However, there appears to be a void in the literature regarding the alignment of perceptions between instructors and students as to what methods influence or enhance critical thinking.

For clarification, we are using the definition of critical thinking from Scriven and Paul (1987):

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

This study reports findings of a survey of students and instructors in the business school of a small Southern college that addresses the basic question "do students and instructors agree which instructional methods or teaching strategies influence student perceptions of critical thinking instruction? Three propositions are examined to determine the extent of any relationship between instructor perceptions of their selected teaching strategies and student perceptions of critical thinking instruction.

Proposition 1: Student perceptions of critical thinking instruction differ significantly between courses. As they progress to higher level courses, students will increasingly respond to critical thinking instructional methods reflecting synthesis, analysis and application of course content.

Proposition 2: Student perceptions of critical thinking instruction are highly correlated with the instructor's perception of critical thinking instruction in the course pedagogy.

Proposition 3: An instructor's emphasis on a selected instructional method or teaching strategy is highly correlated with student perceptions of critical thinking instruction.

METHODOLOGY

A standard instrument for measuring student perception of critical thinking instruction developed by the Foundation for Critical Thinking (Paul & Elder, 2007) was administered to both instructors and students. This instrument contained twenty items addressing the purposes and cognitive skills associated with critical thinking. The phrasing of each item was slightly altered for a corresponding survey of instructors as "my instructor" became "I". Data was collected in a census survey of core courses in the business program. A total of 60 core course sections were surveyed with 689 responses from an enrolled total of 797 students (86.4% response rate).

In addition, instructors were surveyed regarding the instructional methods and teaching strategies incorporated in their respective courses. This instrument contained a selected list of twenty common direct and indirect teaching methods. Faculty members were asked to indicate which methods they employed in a class, the relative importance of the method or strategy to the course and an approximate percentage of classroom time allotted to the method. …