Posts tagged ‘Critical thinking’

October 24, 2014

Trying to teach the enigmatic and increasingly popular skill of critical thinking

by Grace

The mysterious skill of “critical thinking” — schools try to teach it and employers seek workers who have it.  But the definition is  hard to pin down.

Here are some definitions of critical thinking:

  • “The ability to cross-examine evidence and logical argument. To sift through all the noise.”
    -Richard Arum, New York University sociology professor
  • “Thinking about your thinking, while you’re thinking, in order to improve your thinking.”
    -Linda Elder, educational psychologist; president, Foundation for Critical Thinking
  • “Do they make use of information that’s available in their journey to arrive at a conclusion or decision? How do they make use of that?”
    -Michael Desmarais, global head of recruiting, Goldman Sachs Group

I like the first definition the best, but of course employers define it any way that makes sense for their workplace.

In any case, it has become an increasingly sought-after skill.

Mentions of critical thinking in job postings have doubled since 2009, according to an analysis by career-search site Indeed.com. The site, which combs job ads from several sources, found last week that more than 21,000 health-care and 6,700 management postings contained some reference to the skill.

A concrete example of what critical thinking means in the workplace comes from NYU music business graduate Brittany Holloway.

Ms. Holloway, who now works as a content-review and fraud specialist at Brooklyn-based digital-music distributor TuneCore, defines the skill as “forming your own opinion from a variety of different sources.”

Ms. Holloway, 21 years old, says her current job requires her to think critically when screening music releases before they’re sent to digital stores like Apple Inc.’s iTunes.

Critical thinking and problem solving skills are related, and employers report they are having difficulty finding college graduates that measure up in those areas.  Colleges, having “institutionally supported and encouraged [a] retreat from academic standards and rigor”, are regularly chastised for failing to teach those skills.

A broad base of knowledge is needed before we can become critical thinkers.

… Dan Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is a leading expert on how students learn. “Data from the last thirty years leads to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not only because you need something to think about,” Willingham has written. “The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).”

Will Common Core Standards help develop critical thinking skills?

Part of the problem is a decline in content-based instruction that affects students from kindergarten to college.  Common Core Standards, with their emphasis on non-fiction reading and evidence-based writing, may remedy that.  But that is still to be determined, partly due to the ongoing implementation problems of CCS.

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Melissa Korn, “Bosses Seek ‘Critical Thinking,’ but What Is That?”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2014.

November 18, 2013

College students think they’re ready for the workplace, but employers disagree

by Grace

College students consider themselves well prepared for the workplace, but hiring managers disagree.

Nearly 80% of current college students say they’re “very” or “completely” prepared to put their organization skills to work, just 54% of hiring managers who’ve interviewed recent grads would agree, according to a survey of 2,001 U.S. college students and 1,000 hiring managers, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of education company Chegg. …

Some of the biggest disagreements are about the students’ ability to prioritize, write well, collaborate, persuade, manage projects, and communicate.

… The biggest mismatch came in students’ ability to communicate with bosses and clients—70% of students thought they were primed for the challenge; only 44% of recruiters agreed.

Schools don’t seem to be doing a good job of teaching critical thinking.

“The notion that college graduates exit universities and lack the ability to clearly organize and communicate information suggests institutions are failing to meet their mandate of forming critical thinkers,” according to the report’s author….

Ruth Brothers, consultant and former human-resources executive, believes students need “more hands-on, applied learning” and coaching on interview skills.

How about if schools focus more on teaching “factual knowledge”, which is “intimately intertwined” with critical thinking skills, as a way to close this job skills gap.

… Dan Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is a leading expert on how students learn. “Data from the last thirty years leads to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not only because you need something to think about,” Willingham has written. “The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).”

Interviewing skills may be the least of these students’ problems.

Related:  Five skills that will help you find and keep a job after college (Cost of College)

April 13, 2012

Using the Internet is ‘supereasy’, but ‘deep reading, advanced math, scientific reasoning’ is hard

by Grace

‘Digital Literacy’ Will Never Replace The Traditional Kind

I would like K-12 schools to focus more on teaching background knowledge and traditional competencies instead of spending so much time teaching so-called 21st century skills.

… But that’s not how an increasingly powerful faction within education sees the matter. They are the champions of “new literacies” — or “21st century skills” or “digital literacy” or a number of other faddish-sounding concepts. In their view, skills trump knowledge, developing “literacies” is more important than learning mere content, and all facts are now Googleable and therefore unworthy of committing to memory.

Students need a broad base of knowledge before they can become critical thinkers.

Indeed, evidence from cognitive science challenges the notion that skills can exist independent of factual knowledge. Dan Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is a leading expert on how students learn. “Data from the last thirty years leads to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not only because you need something to think about,” Willingham has written. “The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).”

iPads are not a prerequisite for innovation, collaboration, and evaluation.

There is no doubt that the students of today, and the workers of tomorrow, will need to innovate, collaborate and evaluate, to name three of the “21st century skills” so dear to digital literacy enthusiasts. But such skills can’t be separated from the knowledge that gives rise to them. To innovate, you have to know what came before. To collaborate, you have to contribute knowledge to the joint venture. And to evaluate, you have to compare new information against knowledge you’ve already mastered. Nor is there any reason that these skills must be learned or practiced in the context of technology. Critical thinking is crucial, but English students engage in it whenever they parse a line of poetry or analyze the motives of an unreliable narrator. Collaboration is key, but it can be effectively fostered in the glee club or on the athletic field. Whatever is specific to the technological tools we use right now — and these tools are bound to change in any case — is designed to be easy to learn and simple to use.

Using the Internet is “supereasy” compared to “deep reading, advanced math, scientific reasoning”, which are hard.  Schools need to focus on providing expert instruction for the hard stuff.


Related:  Wikipedia co-founder says we need to memorize things, not just ‘Google it’

March 27, 2012

Liberal arts skills are profitable for college graduates

by Grace

It turns out that employers are looking for the skills that liberal-arts studies instill — critical thinking, logical reasoning, clear writing.  College graduates who tested best at liberal-arts skills were “far more likely to be better off financially than those who scored lowest.  The problem is that many college graduates seem to lack these critical qualifications.

“Most senior managers are unimpressed with the entry-level job applicants they’re seeing, reports a new survey.

Note to recent college grads and the Class of 2012: You may not be as ready for the working world as you think you are. At least, that’s the opinion of about 500 senior managers and C-suite executives in a study by Global Strategy Group, on behalf of worldwide architectural firm Woods Bagot.

In all, a 65% majority of business leaders say young people applying for jobs at their companies right out of college are only ‘somewhat’ prepared for success in business, with 40% of C-suite executives saying they are ‘not prepared at all.’ Not only that, but even those who get hired anyway may not rise very far. Almost half (47%) of C-suite executives believe that fewer than one-quarter (21%) of new grads have the skills they’ll need to advance past entry-level jobs.

And what skills might those be? The most sought-after are problem-solving (49% ranked it No. 1), collaboration (43%), and critical thinking (36%). Also in demand is the ability to communicate clearly and persuasively in writing (31%). Technology and social media skills came in at rock bottom on the list, valued highly by only a tiny 5% minority of senior managers. The kicker: According to the poll, new grads fall far short of the mark in every one of these areas — except tech savvy, the least desired. …”

Get off the Internet and go read a book!
It might be that some of that time students spend waste creating snazzy PowerPoint presentations, socializing on Facebook, and editing Tumblr photos would be better spent in more reading, writing, and studying for classes.  According to data presented in Academically Adrift, students are spending less time on these academic pursuits.

Evidence that liberal arts skills pay off

A new survey should prompt renewed focus on a fundamental higher-education truth: The skills that liberal-arts studies instill — critical thinking, logical reasoning, clear writing — are crucial for success.

The Social Science Research Council study involved 925 college graduates who took the standardized Collegiate Learning Assessment as seniors. It found those who tested best at liberal-arts skills were “far more likely to be better off financially than those who scored lowest,” according to USA Today.

They were three times less likely to be jobless, half as likely to live with their parents and far more likely to avoid credit-card debt.

January 24, 2012

Apple iBooks 2 – Is easier and flashier always better for learning?

by Grace

Apple announced it would update its iBooks platform to include textbook capabilities.


iBooks 2 was introduced last week, and I can’t help but get excited.

… a new textbook experience for the iPad. The first demonstration showed what it’s like to open a biology textbook, and see an intro movie playing right before you even get to the book’s contents. When you get to the book itself, images are large and beautiful, and thumbnails accompany the text. To make searching easier, all users need to do is tap on a word and they go straight to the glossary and index section in the back of the book.

Navigating pages and searching is easy and fluid, and at the end of each chapter is a full review with questions and pictures. If you want the answers to the questions, instead of searching for a page toward the back of the book, all you need to do is tap the answer to get immediate feedback.

Need to take notes? Apple now lets anyone highlight any text on the page using your finger. iBooks 2 immediately and automatically takes your highlighted notes and turns them into flash cards for later studying.

Downsides?
Okay, I’m salivating just thinking about how easy this will be to use.  But I wonder about the downsides.  Remember, there are always downsides.

I’m taking a self-study continuing education course right now, using an e-textbook.  When I need to look up a term in the book, it’s easy to do a quick search without having to know the context, without having to think much about it.  But if I had to search the old-fashioned way, I would be forced to consider what chapter or context would likely include the term.  I would have to think more and in different ways – assess, infer, predict, recall, reason, apply logic, and more.  It would not be as easy as simply typing in a word and letting the search function find it for me.*  Does this make a difference in how I’m learning?  Yes, I believe it does.  And while I don’t know exactly how it’s different, I strongly suspect there’s a downside.  Does the overall improved efficiency make up for the decreased amount of critical thinking?  I just don’t know.

Here’s my question in a nutshell.  Even if it’s easier to go through the course material, is it possible that I am actually learning less?

* Yes, a paper book typically has an index that can be used in a manner similar to an ebook search function, but it usually requires more thinking skills to use as efficiently.


A more basic problem for public schools:  In order to buy and read these textbooks, each student will have to own an Apple iPad.

Related:  Kindle Fire – the end of deep and focused reading?

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