Last changed 3 July 2010 ............... Length about 700 words (6000 bytes).
(Document started on 9 Jan 2010.) This is a WWW document maintained by Steve Draper, installed at You may copy it. How to refer to it.

Web site logical path: [] [~steve] [talks] [this page]

Supporting critical thinking as a Core Disciplinary Criterion

Title: Supporting critical thinking as a core disciplinary criterion
Occasion: PLAT2010 conference
Place: Craiglockhart campus, Napier University
Presenters: Steve Draper,   Stephany Biello,   Department of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.

Slides: PDF
Handout: PDF file
Related material: My notes/docs on reciprocal peer critiquing
My static document giving advice on critical reviews
My advanced tips on promoting feedback for students


This paper offers a (mostly post hoc) rationale for an important aspect of our honours psychology teaching.

What we would like our best graduates to exhibit is critical thinking: not the reproduction of asserted truths about psychology, but balanced assessments of the degree of certainty that might be attributed to published claims. We expect them to exercise and exhibit this graduate attribute in their final year dissertations, and in one hour unseen essays in finals exams. This amounts to a core disciplinary criterion, which underlies almost all assessment in the programme. Some of the most important educational literature on feedback and assessment (A&F) e.g. Sadler, 1989, argues that the biggest issue is not the timing or emotional carefulness of feedback, but conveying the meaning of the criteria. If you tell a student to spell "colledge" correctly, they are quite capable of doing so even if you don't give them the spelling: they know how to find out. But telling them to "be critical" has almost no effect at all: the whole point is, that they don't know how.

The main tactic supporting this has been to require students to write a series of three "critical reviews" (CRs) over their final two years, which requires them explicitly to focus on being "critical", and lets them tackle this criterion in work on a long scale (3 months each). Repeated spontaneous praise from several external examiners for the quality of the work produced suggests these are valuable.

The CR assignments are supported both by advisory documents, and by small group or personal tutorials. While common thinking in HE assumes that feedback should be spread evenly across all activities, courses, and content, our department in fact is extremely unbalanced in its allocation of feedback effort, and focusses it heavily on CRs. Our recent high NSS ranking may be due to this effective focussing. Because it is a core criterion, benefit from the CRs is seen in the quality of exam answers too.

Not only have we had apparent success by stretching the task from exam 60 minute tasks to 3 month CRs, recently we've seen some benefit in shrinking it to a 5 minute version of a critical thinking task, which will be described. Varying the timescale may be beneficial in helping students abstract the underlying commonality (the core criterion).

Finally, we've had some promising results from introducing yet another exercise in relation to CRs: reciprocal peer critiquing where students critique each other's work using the marking criteria especially "being critical". The argument in part is that to understand a criterion fully, it helps to exercise it in different ways: not just as an author but as a reader; and in the micro task, not just on serious psychology, but on everyday journalistic topics too.

In order to book see PLAT2010 conference

Web site logical path: [] [~steve] [talks] [this page]
[Top of this page]