Creating Innovators in Critical Thinking Courses

I am scheduled to teach NYiT’s Foundations of Inquiry during the Fall 2012 semester, and I have a bunch of thoughts and ideas running through my head. The course, in my view, should focus on the main steps of critical thinking, as one of the key purposes and outcomes of the course is to lay a critical thinking foundation for in-coming freshmen upon which they can build as they progress through NYiT’s Discovery Core and on into their major coursework.

Many academics and teachers cannot agree on what the term critical thinking even means, but I have a pretty good idea of what I want students to understand about this term: critical thinking is an ongoing habit of mind in which the individual is able to (1) understand concepts, ideas, arguments, and problems as full as possible on their own terms; (2) evaluate the legitimacy of these ideas by analyzing and critiquing principles and assumptions, logic, evidence, and the relationship of the ideas to lived experience; and (3) establish their own solid position based upon analyzing the available information, always being open to the possibility that as new information presents itself, positions may change accordingly. My own composition textbook, Writing That Makes Sense: Critical Thinking in College Composition, is structured on this basic model.

In my inquiry class, I will be using a great little text called Beyond Feelings: A Guide to Critical Thinking, by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. This gem of a book is short but jammed packed with excellent information, examples, discussions, applications, and case studies. I appreciate how he introduces students to the complexities of critical thinking and logical analysis without bogging readers down with philosophical jargon which, for most freshmen in most colleges these days, is too distancing: the language becomes a barrier to good learning. I’m looking forward to using this text.

Moreover, I’ve recently discovered the educational views of Tony Wagner. He believes our educational model is currently obsolete, and we should be focused on creating innovators. His ideas are intriguing, and they are supported by some very compelling research. Interestingly, many of the outcomes he has identified as crucial to creating innovators are the same curriculum outcomes NYiT has established for its new Discovery Core. Using some of Wagner’s ideas, I’ll be incorporating more case studies and problem solving assignments into my course, all in the hopes of teaching students effective critical thinking and how to apply these strategies not only to persuasion but also to problem solving.

Here is a brief video introduction to Wagner’s ideas: