A european review on critical thinking educational practices in higher education institutions

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Within the scope of CRITHINKEDU project, this report is directed to university teachers, pedagogical support teams and institutional leaders, providing an overall understanding on how European Higher Education Institutions (EHEI) foster Critical Thinking (CT), taking into account both the current educational intervention studies reported in the literature and teachers’ educational practices. Adopting a mixed method research design, 46 papers from the literature were reviewed and 53 interviews with university teachers from 9 European countries were carried out. The analysis comprised both studies and teachers’ interviews from 4 different professional fields, namely Biomedical Sciences, STEM (Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), Social Sciences and the Humanities. The key findings are in line with previous reviews (Abrami et al., 2008; Behar-Horenstein & Niu, 2011; Tiruneh, Verburgh & Elen, 2014; Abrami et al., 2015): 1. Research on CT Education is a growing field within the European Higher Education (EHE) landscape. There is an increasing interest in how teaching strategies may influence the development of CT, although with scarce evidence on which characteristics of teaching strategies and learning environments better support the development of students’ CT; 2. CT dispositions are undervalued by EHE teachers. CT intervention studies and educational practices mainly address the development of CT skills in students and seem to neglect the value of CT dispositions and the importance of considerable practice, effort and long-term interventions; 3. CT instruction within subject-matter courses is the most used approach by EHE teachers. The reported studies and practices tend to be based mostly on an Immersive CT approach (Ennis, 1997), in which CT principles are not made explicit to students, assuming that the skills will be acquired once they engage in the subject-matter instruction. However, the clear identification and definition of CT skills to be developed are critical elements for the effectiveness of CT interventions, to be recognized by the students and taught directly by the instructors; 4. Active Learning methodologies, Teachers’ training and Students’ support are fundamental for CT development. Lecture-Discussion Teaching (LDT) and Problem-Based Learning (PBL) are the most used strategies reported both in the literature and by the teachers, suggesting that engaging students with active learning methodologies seems to help achieving higher improvements on CT development. Furthermore, the use of real-world situations and/or workplace-based scenarios are commonly used to support teaching and learning processes. Here, evidence points out that not only do CT-driven materials have a higher impact on students’ CT outcomes, but that teachers’ training on CT is also crucial aspects for effective CT development; 5. EHE teachers have difficulties to assess their students’ CT development. Both literature and teachers reported several difficulties in relation to assessing students’ CT progression. In particular, most of the studies and practices presented qualitative assessment methods, based mainly on students’ and teachers’ perceptions, and few adopted formal CT tests, rubrics or research designs with an experimental/quasi-experimental nature - in which the effect size of the intervention was measured. Besides that, it is clear that researchers and teachers have critical limitations to assess CT students’ permanency (the capacity of CT skills and dispositions to remain active in students after the intervention) and generalization (the ability to apply CT skills and dispositions in other contexts, such as the labour market or everyday life). Also, different difficulties were detected at the pedagogical, methodological and organizational levels. These highlight the major role of EHEI in the provision of adequate structural settings and policies to nurture teachers and students in active learning and CT development. Several implications for practice are outlined at three main levels: organizational, programme and course levels. Resulting in the main outcome and novelty of the current report, from the comparison between the first CRITHINKEDU’ intellectual output - “A European collection of the Critical Thinking skills and dispositions needed in different professional fields for the 21st century” (CRITHINKEDU_O1, 2018) - and this review (CRITHINKEDU_O2), a preliminary proposal of guidelines for quality in CT education in EHEI is presented. The focus of this proposal is on quality assurance related to CT learning and teaching in higher education, including the overall process of designing, conceiving and delivering CT instruction (and relevant associations to research). This does not exclude the already existing institutional processes to ensure and improve the quality of teaching, learning and research activities, but instead it constitutes a specific and complementary path to ensure CT learning environments in which the content of programmes, learning opportunities and facilities are fit for this purpose. Some issues were encountered when conducting this research, related to the research methodology (e.g., keywords used for papers selection), the research sample (e.g., teachers’ background or experience on CT instruction), or even data analysis procedures (e.g., language barriers in the process of data translation). However, after overcoming these difficulties, this report sheds light on how the current educational interventions and practices foster CT skills and dispositions in European Higher Education (EHE) students, on the barriers and on what is now important to focus on to improve CT education.
Pensamento crítico , Competências , Educação , Ensino superior , Séc. 21