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Addressing critical thinking in your work:

Critical Thinking in Higher Education

The core of critical thinking lies in the ability to challenge existing knowledge and assumptions. The point is not to take anything for granted. The more you progress in higher education the greater the requirement to display critical thinking in your work. It is no longer sufficient to simply regurgitate what the lecturer has taught, you need to think (and read!) and come to your own conclusions.

Admittedly, not relying on the lecturer for the correct answer may initially be difficult to swallow. This is in my experience particularly the case in cultures where the traditional model of education is still very much based on declarative knowledge (also propositional knowledge). By this I mean knowing about things, e.g. that the earth orbits the sun, and that the moon orbits the earth - or that a SWOT analysis stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  

Critical thinking on the other hand goes beyond the simple regurgitation of facts. It challenges these facts. Now, you may well be wondering why it would make sense to challenge the fact that the earth orbits the sun. After all, this is a fact so there is no need to question it. The point is however that for many centuries this fact was not self-evident. It required the accumulation of observations coupled later with causal explanations before everyone (well almost everyone) became convinced that indeed this is a fact.

At the heart of critical thinking therefore lies the notion of making the case for something, demonstrating an argument or a truth claim. Now, any claim can be assessed as to its validity or truth. For example, you could query a truth claim on the basis of an absence of empirical evidence that supports your claim. Alternatively, an explanation may contain flaws in its structure, e.g. if a > b and b > c then a > c. It is not possible for c > a.

Of course, in the real world, most things are not this straightforward. Different truth claims compete. But this is ok. It is your job to untangle these truth claims and to come to your own conclusion. Doing this is thinking critically.

Perhaps a final word is in order. Without wanting to become too philosophical although I admit that this entry is already fairly philosophical, be careful of value judgements. These are statements that contain within them values such as ‘more ought to be spent on education’ or ‘universities should not charge tuition fees’. Empirically these statements are not testable. This does not mean we should ignore such claims or that they are of limited interest - on the contrary. It is precisely such claims that should be thought about critically - just do not make the mistake of making them the target of absolute truth claims.