Better Strategies Needed for Evaluation of Teaching to Foster Critical Thingking

According to National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, critical thinking is “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”

Everyone endorses the teaching of critical thinking and every teacher try to build their teaching philosophy. But critical thinking taught in what fashion? And how to evaluate teaching effectiveness for critical thinking?

In the field of Geography, there is a growing need for software training, especially for GIS and remote sensing. I think the best way to learn software is a question-driven approach or a project-oriented approach. Most of GIS and remote sensing courses use computer labs and customized class projects to help students to get familiar with software packages, and more importantly, to improve their skills in computer-aided problem-solving. Based on my experience as a teaching assistant and an instructor, two types of strategies are used mostly for computer labs. The first one is providing students with detailed step-by-step lab instructions. Students only need to follow the instructions and click the button even without thinking. There are less simple questions from students because they have all the information. But at the end of the courses, many students still know little about the software techniques. The second one is providing students with problems, goals and plenty of data. Students need to select their methods and data to support their analysis. It encourages students to think critically to solve the problems. Some students will find multiple ways to reach the goals and bring good ideas for their class projects, but many others, especially undergrads, still rely on instructors and teaching assistants to tell them step by step. They complain the second method is too hard and time consuming. They suggest instructors should provide step-by-step instructions from their evaluation. In such cases, evaluation is not effective. How to solve this mismatch problem?


6 thoughts on “Better Strategies Needed for Evaluation of Teaching to Foster Critical Thingking”

  1. Keep this in mind for later in the semester. We will talk about developing case study projects as a process of what is called problem based learning.

    One solution, I feel, is to introduce a package using the step-by-step, but then quickly transition to a tailored and individually inspired projects. Often these center around the project each student is doing. For example: to introduce home range methods and then have students have a data set of animals locations and work with that data by themselves.

  2. Having tried, both successfully and unsuccessfully, to learn different software over the years, I agree with you that if the students only have the step-by-step instructions, they don’t really learn much. I have also been the student who is frustrated at not having been taught any of the basics before being expected to jump into doing a project. So, I agree with Ken’s comment above that providing some basics to students- maybe having one or two step by step labs, or providing students with an easy-to-understand manual, and then having them jump out on their own, may be the best solution. This would also help bring less experienced students more up to speed to students who may have more experience with the same or similar software.

  3. I was in a similar position last summer, when I taught a Data Management course about how to build databases. Basically the entire class is a software tutorial with a little theory thrown in. Last year I did step-by-step demos in class and asked them to do a larger “real world”-type project out of class. I think if I teach it again this summer, I’d like to write up the demos and have them work through it on their own in class (less boring for everyone involved). I also plan to expand the project to include a client consultation portion and a presentation at the end, so it’s more like a real industry project.

    That’s the long way of saying that I agree with Ken and Kate, that it helps to have step-by-step instructions followed by more open-ended projects. That gives them enough basics that they don’t spend all their time trying to find the right button, but also forces them to figure some things out on their own. It is definitely harder to evaluate, but I think if you set out clear expectations (it will be able to perform the given task, etc.) you can make it work.

  4. It seems that the drive to foster creative, autonomous thought is merely replacing our former method of information delivery without accounting for truly different learning types. My personal learning style is to copy an existing method, then tailor said method to my needs. This to say that I believe both approaches you mentioned have their place.

    In the classes I have taught/TAed, this has been my approach. In addition, I believe collaboration further solidifies ideas and fosters creative problem solving. Therefore my students rarely, if ever, perform these activities in isolation, with me pairing them in complementary pairs/groups based on observed learning styles (usually via surveys).

  5. Very interesting discussion. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong answer of course but it seems that both methodologies have their merits. I like the idea of combining the two ideas. Especially when a basic concept is very new (such as learning GIS would be to me, a biology gal), I think there is use in having step by step instructions. As an introduction, it is nice to have someone to show you how to navigate a new system. However, once the basic concepts are learned (or experienced), then maybe asking students to take what they have learned and use it a new way such as with “real world problems” might be useful. That way they still have to use their creativity and problem solve their way through a “real world problem” but they aren’t going in totally blind.

  6. I agree with what others are saying – there is no easy solution or a right and wrong method to do so.
    If it counts, for me, the most effective way to learn a software has been by learning the basics through step-by-step documentation and then learning more through projects or by solving smaller problems.
    In helping students to learn software, designers prefer a “low floor, high ceiling, and wide walls” system – a system that is easy to begin with, has opportunities to work/learn high complexity tasks, and supports a wide range of interest among students. I am not sure whether the GIS software that is used in the classroom could be moulded in such an approach, but if it can, then it could be interesting to try.

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