Critical Thinking


Teaching critical thinking is one of my favorite topics. It is a part of many courses but to teach it as a full course is very interesting.

Students generally entered the course believing that all their thinking was “critical.” One definition of critical thinking is deliberating in a purposeful, organized manner to assess the value of old and new information. Are you using critical thinking when you select an item off a fast food menu? What about when you’re buy a car or a home? It precedes problem solving because it defines the problem that needs to be solved.

CT 101 (currently called “Critical Thinking in a Diverse World”) was a GenEd 3-credit course with a catalog description of having “an emphasis on practical reasoning, problem solving.” The newest iteration added “the expression of diverse viewpoints on social, political and ethical issues.”

The standard syllabus included topics (primarily based on the current textbook) such as:
Thinking: Living the Examined Life and Choosing the “Good Life,” Thinking Critically, Solving Problems, Perceiving and Believing, Inferring, Constructing Knowledge, Language and Thought, Forming and Applying Concepts; Relating and Organizing, Constructing Arguments and Reasoning Critically.

In looking at other CT course online, I found that Cornell University offers a certificate in it with 6 courses

It has always seemed to me that not only should critical thinking be a conscious element in every course but that a course in it should be required at all levels from elementary school through college.

Though we do use CT to some degree very day, it is the “conscious” use of it that is important. Teaching students to discriminate between observation and inference sometimes seems like a revelation to them. And more so today it seems that being able to separate established fact and subsequent conjecture is critical thinking and a critical life skill.

When I was working at NJIT, I know that CT courses were offered in subject areas with specificity to the subject. For example, “Critical Thinking for Life Science” was a graduate-level course in the biology department. Its description is “to prepare graduate students in understanding the scientific method, reading and critical analysis of scientific literature, and effective oral and written scientific communication in the context of biological sciences.”