Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Embedding Critical Thinking in IS Curricula

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Embedding Critical Thinking in IS Curricula

Article excerpt


Critical thinking is seen by some (Fagin, Harper, Baird, Hadfield & Sward, 2006) as "the cornerstone of academic maturity and a trademark of a well-educated person." The IS 2002 curriculum requires "an embedded problem solving and critical thinking for all courses" (Gorgone et al., 2002, p. iv). What is critical thinking? How do we go about integrating critical thinking throughout an Information Systems course? Can we assume that if we give students problems to solve they will have the skills needed to solve them? Can we assume that students have the skills necessary to critically analyse written work and write effectively themselves? Can we assume that they are able to evaluate their own work and the work of others effectively?

Critical thinking has been defined as "the ability to think clearly and logically and to detect errors and fallacies in the thinking of others" (Jones, 1997). Some see it as problem solving, reasoning or higher-order thinking. Ayersman and Reed (1995-1996) describe critical thinking as the use of thinking skills to focus and adjust one's thinking to an appropriate form of thinking and, as a consequence, develop traits such as integrity and confidence in one's thinking. Critical thinking enables graduates to examine issues, establish relationships where appropriate, construct arguments, recognise and respect diverse perspectives, view phenomena from different points of view, and have the flexibility to restructure their thinking when reason leads them to do so.

The fact that universities are being called upon to develop students' critical thinking abilities underlines an assumption that students do not arrive at university with these skills. This paper will demonstrate that carefully scaffolded tasks in the first year, reinforced through the gradual transfer of responsibility for scaffolding from teacher to student in subsequent years, enables students to work at the higher-levels of Bloom's Taxonomy (Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill and Krathwohl, 1956) from the first year of their university experience. Given such a foundation, we can then expect students to begin to develop the independent ability to work at the higher levels of evaluating and creating because we have progressively developed their skills to work at these levels. This approach is also supported by Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) who found in studying the affect of tertiary studies on students, that formal critical thinking and reasoning skills improved just over 10 percentile points on average over the period of their studies and that, of particular note, approximately 85 percent of this improvement occurred during the freshman year (first year) of their studies (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991, p.118).

The problem for tertiary educators is how to foster and develop these skills in our students. Is it possible through our teaching, activities, and assessments to help students develop these complex higher-order thinking skills? We believe so.

This paper considers the need for students to develop their metacognitive skills in order to develop their higher-level order thinking skills. Scaffolding as a teaching method to help students learn to think critically is then described. The paper discusses the implementation of a foundation subject in reasoning and critical thinking in an ICT program. The examples used will be those from the Australian Catholic University (ACU National) where a subject called Reasoning and Critical Thinking for IS Professionals was introduced into the curriculum in 2003. The paper shows how scaffolding in the early years of the degree can be removed at later years to create independent learners.

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy and the Need for Metacognitive Skills

The IS 2002 curriculum uses Bloom's taxonomy in its recommendation for handling depth of knowledge and higher-order thinking skills. As knowledge is moved from awareness through to advanced knowledge, Bloom's levels of knowledge go from knowledge recognition, comprehension and application through to analysis, synthesis and evaluation. …

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