TITLE: Critical Thinking Skills Don't Transfer; They Overlap AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 10, 2016 3:09 PM DESC: ----- BODY: A few years ago, I was giving a short presentation about one of our new programs to people from the community and campus. One of the prompts for the talk was how this program would contribute to teaching "critical thinking skills" across the curriculum. I made a mild joke about the idea, wondering aloud which programs on campus taught uncritical thinking skills. Only later did I learn that our new provost, who was in the audience, had just announced a major focus on critical thinking. Fortunately, our new provost had a sense of humor. I don't believe that we can teach critical thinking in any useful way outside the context of a particular discipline. I do believe, though, that we can teach it as a part of any discipline -- not just in the humanities or liberal arts, which in too many people's minds don't include the sciences. Studies show that these skills don't tend to transfer when we move to a different discipline, but I am convinced that people who learn to think deeply in one discipline are better prepared to learn another discipline than someone who is learning deeply for the first time. In a recent essay for Inside Higher Ed, John Schlueter offers a new analogy for thinking about critical thinking:
When it comes to thinking skills, it would be much more productive if we stop thinking "transfer" and start thinking "overlap". That is, once thinking skills become more explicitly taught, especially in general education classes, both professors and students will notice how thinking in the context of one domain (say, economics) overlaps with the kind of thinking processes at work in another (biology).
The idea of overlap fits nicely with how I think about these skills. Making thinking skills more explicit in our instruction might enable students to notice intersections and differences across the disciplines they study. That awareness may help them to internalize general strategies that are useful across disciplines, for times when they are in unknown waters, and be aware of possible points of failure in their own thinking. I'm not sure if this analogy is any easier to operationalize or test than the notion of transfer, but it does give me a different way to think about thinking. -----