The disposition to think critically – Veronica Brown

waterloo campus bikesAs I write this post, several Waterloo colleagues are attending the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’s (STLHE) annual conference. Seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on my experience at last year’s conference.  STLHE was the first conference I attended when I joined CTE three years ago. It was held in Toronto that year, wrapping up on the same weekend as the G-20 summit. Last year, it was in Montreal, where I watched people march a block or two from our hotel as part of their day of protest.

Interestingly, the session that continues to haunt me was related to critical thinking. In her session, Beyond skills to dispositions: Transforming the critical thinking classroom,  Shelagh Crooks, a professor at Saint Mary’s University, explored elements of the instruction of critical thinking, her goal to “raise questions in the participants’ minds about the purpose of critical thinking education, rather than propose clear solutions”(Abstract, para.3). She certainly fulfilled that goal in my case.

This idea of the disposition to think critically is what is really stuck in my head. Not just for critical thinking, but other areas  of the curriculum in which we must move beyond the knowledge and skills of a topic and encourage thought in the affective domain. Consider themes such as health and safety, societal or environmental impact, ethical behaviour, integrity, teamwork, management, etc. As educators, what is our role in the development of our students? Take health and safety for instance. Is it enough for our students to know about hazardous materials, for example, and to have the skill to work with them appropriately? Or is there a third element, to actually value health and safety? To look critically at a situation, to question a current practice when appropriate, to have the disposition to continuously look at the lab through a health and safety filter.

And so here I am, a year later. I find myself with more questions about this disposition idea than answers. It is something I am exploring as part of the curriculum work I support. Many of us are wondering not only about teaching and learning in the affective domain but, as a next step, how to assess it. If developing this disposition is our instructional goal, how will we know our students have achieved it? If this is a question you are pondering, too, let me know, I’d love to chat with you about it.

I realize this image isn’t related to critical thinking but I thought I would share it for anyone missing the snow…


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Veronica Brown

As Senior Instructional Developer, Curriculum & Quality Enhancement, Veronica Brown provides oversight and facilitative support for departmental and Faculty-wide curriculum planning initiatives. She also leads the development and implementation of the Centre’s assessment plan for understanding the impact and quality of our work.