Are students thinking about their thinking?

August 2, 2019

 

The findings were disturbing.

 

Millennials struggle to identify false content. Millennials understand critical thinking is important but they are not confident of their skills in this area. The lack of critical thinking skills in millennials may also contribute to the spread of false information through social media.

 

These were the results of an online survey of 1002 young adults aged 19-30 – both current college students and recent graduates. The survey was commissioned by MindEdge (an online learning platform founded by Harvard and MIT educators).

 

The 2010 Noel-Levitz Employer Satisfaction Survey of over 900 employers identified critical thinking to be the second largest negative gap between performance and expectation. Four years later, a follow up study by Association of American Colleges and Universities found little progress. Employers gave students low grades in critical thinking, and students judged themselves to be better prepared for post-college success than did the employers.

 

In 2016 professional services firms PayScale and Future Workplace surveyed 76,000 managers and executives and found that 60 percent of employers believe college graduates lack critical thinking skills.

 

The Wall Street Journal reviewed the unpublished results of College Learning Assessment Plus, a little known test taken by freshmen and seniors in 200 colleges across the United States. Between 2013 and 2016, more than half of the schools, at least a third of seniors, were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret date in a table.

 

Colleges and universities, including University of Guam, are paying attention.

 

Dr. Sharleen Santos-Bamba, acting associate dean of College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and professor of English and Chamorro Studies at UOG, said the university started to require all incoming students to take Critical Thinking (CT) 101 starting in 2017.

 

This coming fall, there are 20 sections open, or 700 potential students, taking the class. A person was hired last month to teach CT fulltime and coordinate the course. The rest of the classes are taught by English and Philosophy professors, or adjunct instructors like me. Some of my students in my Spring 2018 class were seniors and juniors.

 

“We are finding that some upper level students are taking it even though it is not required. They see the value of the course,” Santos-Bamba said.

 

Based on initial pre- and posttest, students are showing improvement in critical thinking skills, Santos-Bamba said. We need to do a longitudinal study, she said, to see if the gains are maintained in the long term.

 

Students have been coming in from high school to UOG with better writing skills than before, said Santos-Bamba. “There has been an improvement. Seventy five percent are college ready,” she said.

  But many still struggle with critical reading, the kind of close reading required of newspapers, essays, books or academic papers. “They are limited in the kind of reading they engage, particularly online reading where they do not engage in text more deeply,” she added.

 

“There is a complacency about reading, not as much deep reflection and engaging or grappling with the text. If the text is not challenging, we will not engage with it. It has to be challenging.”

 

Students, she added, tend to accept one resource for one subject. This is not acceptable.”

 

What is critical thinking? At UOG CT 101 is an interdisciplinary course where students learn how to analyze, critically evaluate and construct arguments, detect common fallacies in reasoning, and propose logical and creative solutions to complex problems.

 

  “A lot of times when we think about debate or argument, learners will embrace their worldview and defend it to the end. While that may not be bad thinking, a critical thinker is an informed thinker, a responsible thinker, and will consider all perspectives. That’s the basics of it – being able to make a judgement, consider multiple sources of information or observations,” explained Santos-Bamba.

 

“It’s not easy to teach, as you well know,” she added. “Getting learners to argue, come up with logical, reasonable and valid arguments is a tough challenge.”

 

Nolan Flores, a UOG sophomore majoring in Political Science, took CT 101 last semester. He said coming out of high school, he was not familiar with critical thinking. “It altered my way of thinking. I did not know there are levels of thinking. My instructor emphasized meta cognition – thinking about your thinking, and what prior experience affect your thinking.” The class, he said, strengthened his world view.

 

 Flores plans to go to public service. He said the critical thinking class helps him take the needs of different constituents in consideration and craft a public policy that works for all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeni Ann Flores, M.Ed, University of Portland, is a teacher and blogger. She is an adjunct instructor with the University of Guam. You may read more of her writings at www.teachersedition.flores.blogspot.com

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