In my recent webinars on critical thinking in EAP I asked participants to write in the chat box any definitions of critical thinking and any teaching tips they had. The aim was to then analyse the definitions and to try and pick out any commonalities. I also asked everyone to share teaching tips for encouraging students to think critically.
With around three hundred participants across the two sessions I did wonder what I had let myself in for, but it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss with such a diverse range of cultures involved. One of the great things about these sessions is that they bring together people from all over the world in one forum to discuss issues relevant to all of us in our teaching contexts. Whether it was six in the morning for some people or midnight for others it certainly did not stop the ideas flowing. In all, there were just under one hundred definitions and a whole host of ideas. So what ideas stood out?
Before moving on I should probably point out that this was not the most scientific collection method or analysis and I certainly won’t be awarded a PhD on the basis of it; however, hopefully it will prove of interest.
One of the first things I decided to do was to look at the frequency of individual words in the definitions. I was about to cut out function words and look at the content words when fortunately the alphabet intervened. The first word I noticed in the alphabetical list was the final word: ‘you’. When I highlighted this along with other pronouns and words related to the concept of ‘self’, one thing that stood out strongly was the interaction of the person with many other things. As we might expect there were a lot related to the interaction of the reader with the ideas in the text, but also the interaction of the individual with concepts such as society, culture and our own past influences. Other words that had a particularly high frequency were; think, inform, critic, analyse, evaluate, culture, difference.
One other thing that stood out quite strongly as a feature of the definitions was that I felt many could be categorised in two ways. One set could be perhaps defined as ‘interpretation of information’. These tended to focus on analysis, evaluation, interpretation and challenging ideas. The second set could perhaps be defined as ‘using information’. These tended to contain more concepts along the lines of synthesising, organising, using and applying.
In terms of teaching ideas many people seemed to feel that the ideas of self-reflection, peer evaluation and the use of video work well in encouraging critical reflection. For recording and sharing presentations for peer review one participant suggested the use of www.mybrainshark.com
Another suggestion was that The CRAAP test would help many students as a useful set of transferable questions. These focus students with questions related to issues of:
Currency: the timeliness of the information
Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs
Authority: the source of the information
Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content
Purpose: the reason the information exists
Many examples of the test can be found online.
Other ideas included using definitions as a discussion tool as they are often open to debate. For low language levels, ideas that were suggested were the analysis of images and the different meanings of a word.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the chat room transcript afterwards. As a presenter you try to follow and join in with the lively discussions but you’re often too preoccupied remembering the points you want to make so it’s really beneficial to be able to take time to analyse the contributions after the event.