Developing Critical Thinking within a Master of Science in Leadership Program

By Watkins, Daryl V.; Earnhardt, Matthew P. | Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, January 2015 | Go to article overview

Developing Critical Thinking within a Master of Science in Leadership Program


Watkins, Daryl V., Earnhardt, Matthew P., Academy of Educational Leadership Journal


INTRODUCTION

Leaders reason through emergent situations. In environments of rapid change, application of old solutions do not always work with new problems. Complex, adaptive environments require leaders who think. The Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) program incorporates critical thinking at its core. Critical thinking is considered a foundational set of competencies, skills, and behaviors that can be systematically developed and cultivated.

While critical thinking is widely recognized as important and institutions are developing instructional tools to enhance critical thinking development, academics are still puzzled on how to teach critical thinking. Many students are not aware of their thought processes and do not approach reasoning in a disciplined or systematic way (Scott, 2014). To address the gaps in our students' thought processes, the MSL provides explicit critical thinking instruction throughout the program and uses a critical thinking assessment to assess understanding of basic critical thinking skills. From a programmatic perspective, administrators are interested in ensuring that students improve their critical thinking skills and that improvements persist over the duration of the program.

The importance of having students thinking at the highest levels served as the impetus to infuse critical thinking in the Leadership program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide (ERAU-WW). The MSL is a comprehensive leadership development program.

Critical thinking is introduced in the first required course and systematically developed through each subsequent course. In the MSL program, the readings, learning activities, assignments, discussions and tests that permeate each week's activities throughout the courses and program have critical thinking components. The students begin by learning critical thinking concepts and carry those concepts through each activity outlined in the program. To expose how we have done this, we define and discuss critical thinking, provide relevant background on our MSL program, describe our approach to critical thinking in our program and explain the activities we use to teach both leadership and critical thinking concepts.

CRITICAL THINKING

Critical thinking, with origins dating back to ancient Greece, emerged as a focal point of modern education. The modern movement of critical thinking in education gained momentum with the implementation of California Executive Order 338 in 1980 and the release of the U.S. Government report, A Nation at Risk in 1983. California Executive Order 338 mandated critical thinking instruction in the California State University system and A Nation at Risk recommended critical thinking be at the forefront of all educational levels. A Nation at Risk reported that most 17 year old students failed at complex, logical tasks and yet those skills were needed in the workplace. The report recommended that students needed to develop advanced cognitive skills and should continue improving those skills throughout their careers (Notgarnie, 2011). The California Executive Order 338 and the Nation at Risk catalyzed the interdisciplinary focus of critical thinking in education. In 1990, the American Philosophical Association (APA) commissioned a Delphi study composed of a panel of educators, philosophers and scientists.

This study produced a definition of critical thinking and listed attributes of critical thinkers (Falcione and Falcione, 1996). The APA report stressed three key points, including: (a) critical thinking is a holistic phenomenon that is not domain specific, (b) critical thinking should not be conflated with other models of thinking, and that (c) developing and applying critical thinking involves interaction with the context provided by domain knowledge (Sadler, 2010). As such, the work of critical thinking in an educational context became vitally important and research of critical thinking increased significantly. …

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