ABSTRACT - CPCC .ABSTRACT BOUTON, DEBORAH THIGPEN. Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking in

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  • ABSTRACT

    BOUTON, DEBORAH THIGPEN. Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking in the Community College Classroom: An Examination of the Beliefs of Exemplary Instructors. (Under the direction of Carol E. Kasworm.) The purpose of this study is to explore how exemplary community college instructors

    describe their beliefs about critical thinking and how they attempt to foster its development in

    their students. Situated in both constructivist learning theory and theories of action, the study

    examines how participants make meaning of critical thinking, and how their beliefs are

    reflected in their teaching practices. In this multiple case study, the author employs semi-

    structured interviews, videotaped class observations, and course documents to provide insight

    into the perceptions and experiences of exemplary instructors. Through a cross-case analysis

    of data, the author delineates elements of common understanding about teaching for critical

    thinking.

    This research demonstrates that the relationship between an instructors ability to

    articulate her understanding of critical thinking and her capacity to teach for critical thinking

    is not as straightforward as some research would suggest. The tacit understandings that these

    exemplary instructors bring to the classroom provides a valuable framework for their

    teaching practice. There are commonalities in how participants conceptualize critical

    thinking, even though their understandings tend to be a product of personal learning and

    practice rather than adherence to a particular theoretical perspective. The common elements

    in how they understand critical thinking include the ability to: 1) see underlying connections

    in seemingly disparate subjects; 2) value multiple perspectives; 3) exercise prudent

    skepticism; and, 4) articulate and defend a position with credible evidence.

  • The educational goals that these instructors establish for students show remarkable

    similarities, in that they reflect the understandings these instructors articulate about the nature

    of critical thinking. Participants want their students to expand their worldview, question

    assumptions, articulate defensible positions, and construct a personal understanding of the

    content. Instructors believe that they can best foster these skills by assuming a facilitative

    role. Not only do these instructors talk about the importance of critical thinking in the

    classroom, they put their beliefs into practice. That is, their teaching practices reflect the

    values they espouse.

  • Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking in the Community College Classroom: An Examination of the Beliefs of Exemplary Instructors

    by Deborah Thigpen Bouton

    A dissertation submitted to the Graduate Faculty of North Carolina State University

    in partial fulfillment of the Requirements for the degree of

    Doctor of Education

    Higher Education Administration

    Raleigh, NC

    2008

    APPROVED BY:

    ______________________________ ______________________________ Carol E. Kasworm Colleen Aalsburg Wiessner Chair of Advisory Committee ______________________________ ______________________________ Maxine Atkinson Gerald Ponder

  • ii

    BIOGRAPHY

    Deborah Thigpen Bouton has worked in education her entire career. For the past

    fifteen years, she has been employed at Central Piedmont Community College where she

    worked in both student services and instruction. Ms. Bouton coordinated the learning college

    initiative at CPCC and was instrumental in helping develop the succession management plan

    for the College. Bouton has also been a part of the strategic planning committee, helping

    chart the direction of the states largest community college. Most recently, Ms. Bouton has

    been leading the efforts of the College to identify and assess core competencies for graduates

    of CPCC.

    Ms. Bouton graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, receiving

    both a BA in psychology and a M.Ed. in Counseling. She is a licensed professional

    counselor and a certified career counselor. Ms. Bouton received her Ed.D. in adult and

    community college education from North Carolina State University. Her research interests

    focus on faculty beliefs and perceptions in the learning environment of the community

    college. Her dissertation discusses the beliefs of exemplary instructors about critical thinking

    in the community college.

  • iii

    ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

    Completion of this dissertation would not have been possible without the help of

    many people. First I would like to thank the seven instructors who opened up their

    classrooms and volunteered their time without incentive. They were generous with time and

    with their experiences. I found that they not only provided invaluable information for my

    dissertation, but also inspired me by their dedication to helping educate their students. The

    experience was rich and enlightening, and I am grateful to have had an opportunity to work

    with these educators.

    I am indebted to Dr. Carol Kasworm, my dissertation chair. She was gracious enough

    to take me on after my initial chair, Dr. George Vaughan retired. The distance between

    Charlotte and Raleigh seems like a long, long way when you need support and direction. Dr.

    Kasworm went out of her way to help guide me through this process. I would also like to

    that the other members of my committee Dr. Colleen Wiessner, Dr. Gerald Ponder, and Dr.

    Maxine Atkinson - for their support and encouragement.

    The support I have received from my colleagues has been truly amazing. My

    supervisors, Gary Nelson and Mary Vickers-Koch have been encouraging and understanding

    and have really pushed me to finish. Dr. Amy White read the interview transcripts and

    helped me with the coding. Dr. Rick Sipes and Ed Driggs read drafts of my dissertation and

    made suggestions for improvement. Terina Lathe and I talked about the study on many

    occasions and her insights were very valuable. Frank Granger and Jerry Pickler helped

    produce the charts and tables used to represent my findings. Dr. Ed Neal was generous with

    his support and guidance. Tony Esposito has been a long-time friend and supporter and even

  • iv

    made a notebook for me to take to my first course at NCSU. To Caroline, Susan, Cathey,

    Richard, and Karen, I owe you my thanks for all your many expressions of support and faith.

    My father, Dr. Donald Ross Warren, completed his doctorate in adult and community

    college education at NCSU thirty-five years ago. He was a community college president and

    an inspiration to me. He and my mother, Barbara Warren, have always believed that I could

    do whatever I wanted. My husband Hal has been there from the beginning. He even drove

    me from Charlotte to Raleigh to attend evening classes so that I would not be on the road

    alone at night. He claims to be even more anxious than I am for this part of my life to reach

    closure. He thinks I can now jump on the back of his motorcycle and see the sights. Lets

    not tell him that I recently enrolled in a course on world religions.

    It would have been impossible for me to have accomplished this had it not been for

    the overwhelming support and generosity of so many people. It is truly humbling to have so

    many people offer help without expectation of anything in return. They just want to be there

    for support. They may have felt that it was a small thing, but it made all the difference to me.

  • v

    TABLE OF CONTENTSLIST OF TABLES...............................................................................................................................vii

    CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION....................................................................................................1

    Background........................................................................................................................................4

    Conceptual Framework......................................................................................................................6

    Research Purpose.............................................................................................................................10

    Research Problem.............................................................................................................................10

    Significance......................................................................................................................................11

    Summary..........................................................................................................................................12

    CHAPTER TWO: REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE........................................................................14

    Understanding Teacher Beliefs........................................................................................................14

    Understanding Critical Thinking......................................................................................................26

    Community College Faculty.............................................................................................................46

    CHAPTER THREE: RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY..............................................55

    Resear

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