Commentary: Critical thinking: Can we teach it? Should we teach it?

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<ul><li><p>Multimedia in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education</p><p>Commentary: Critical ThinkingCAN WE TEACH IT? SHOULD WE TEACH IT?</p><p>Received for publication, December 14, 2001</p><p>Graham R. Parslow</p><p>From the Department of Biochemistry, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia</p><p>I have a high dislike of any title that is a question,because it immediately implies that if there was an answerthen that would have been the title. True to this logic thereare no answers here but simply a suggestion that multi-media may be even better than contact teaching in devel-oping critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is both a buzzphrase and a recognizable topic of study across a numberof disciplines including philosophy and psychology. Toillustrate the usage as a buzz phrase consider the title andcontents of the book Critical Thinking in RespiratoryCare [1]. To me this title is an oxymoron, because thecontent is a guide to pattern recognition that is the anti-thesis of critical thinking. As to what critical thinking is,most sources agree that your own definition may well beas good as that of an expert. One of the agreed experts isPeter Facione of Santa Clara University [2]. Facione be-guilingly asserts, Liberal education is about learning tolearn, to think for yourself, on your own and in collabora-tion with others. Liberal education leads us away fromnave acceptance of authority, above self-defeating rela-tivism, beyond ambiguous contextualism. It culminates inprincipled reflective judgment. Learning critical thinking,cultivating the critical spirit, is not just a means to this end,it is part of the goal itself. People who are poor criticalthinkers, who lack the dispositions and skills described,cannot be said to be liberally educated, regardless of theacademic degrees they may hold.</p><p>The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases,prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clearabout issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seek-ing relevant information, reasonable in the selection ofcriteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking re-sults which are as precise as the subject and the circum-stances of inquiry permit [2]. Facione holds that the corecognitive skills that contribute to critical thinking are anal-</p><p>ysis, interpretation, inference, explanation, self-regulation,and evaluation. All of these are amply defined and ex-plained in Faciones paper. It is noteworthy that criticalthinking (CT to the cognoscenti) can be measured by astandard tool called the California critical thinking skillstest, constituted as multiple choice questions about stemscenarios that pose challenges in interpretation [3]. Differ-ent questions tease out the individual skills that Facionehas identified. Using this tool it seems that critical thinkerstend to be born, not created, because before and aftertesting of university courses dedicated to teaching criticalthinking shows that students rarely improve their Californiacritical thinking skills test by an amount that is statisticallysignificant. It is tempting to set out to devise a Biochem-istry and Molecular Biology course that would show thatthe holy grail of improving critical thinking can beachieved. However, Tim van Gelder, one of my colleagues,has impressive improvements to show in California criticalthinking skills test scores after students take sessions ofReason!Able, a computer package he has developed [4].</p><p>Reason!Able is a generic package to establish and an-alyze the evidential basis for propositions and to quantitatethe logical soundness of connections in an argument. Theresults with students are that it creates measurably bettercritical thinking. Even so I am not rushing to introduceReason!Able to my courses. Is my inactivity conservatism,mistrust of a relatively new approach, or a feeling thatgenuine critical thinkers will achieve without directed help?Another unanswered question.</p><p>REFERENCES</p><p>[1] S. C. Mishoe, M. A. Welch (2001) Critical Thinking in Respiratory Care,McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York.</p><p>[2] Peter A. Facione. Critical thinking: what is it and why it counts. A paperfrom California Academic press reprinted at http://www.calpress.com/critical.html.</p><p>[3] The California Critical Thinking Skills Test: www.calpress.com/.[4] Tim van Gelder. The Reason!Able project is decribed at http://www.</p><p>philosophy.unimelb.edu.au/reason, and information on critical thinkingcan be accessed at http://www.philosophy.unimelb.edu.au/reason/critical.</p><p> To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:g.parslow@unimelb.edu.au.</p><p> 2002 by The International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology BIOCHEMISTRY AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY EDUCATIONPrinted in U.S.A. Vol. 30, No. 1, p. 65, 2002</p><p>This paper is available on line at http://www.bambed.org 65</p></li></ul>