CTL Guide to the Critical Thinking Hub Area

This guide reviews the importance of critical thinking in academia and today’s workforce, explains the learning outcomes for the CRT Hub area, and provides guidance for designing CRT courses and assignments.

Introduction

The ability to think critically is the fundamental characteristic of an educated person. It is required for just, civil society and governance, prized by employers, and essential for the growth of wisdom. Critical thinking is what most people name first when asked about the essential components of a college education. From identifying and questioning assumptions, to weighing evidence before accepting an opinion or drawing a conclusion— all BU students will actively learn the habits of mind that characterize critical thinking, develop the self-discipline it requires, and practice it often, in varied contexts, across their education.

Learning Outcomes

Courses and cocurricular activities in this area must have all outcomes.

  1. Students will both gain critical thinking skills and be able to specify the components of critical thinking appropriate to a discipline or family of disciplines. These may include habits of distinguishing deductive from inductive modes of inference, methods of adjudicating disputes, recognizing common logical fallacies and cognitive biases, translating ordinary language into formal argument, distinguishing empirical claims about matters of fact from normative or evaluative judgments, and/or recognizing the ways in which emotional responses or cultural assumptions can affect reasoning processes.
  2. Drawing on skills developed in class, students will be able to critically evaluate, analyze, and generate arguments, bodies of evidence, and/or claims, including their own.

If you are proposing a CRT course or if you want to learn more about these outcomes, please see this Interpretive Document. Interpretive Documents, written by the General Education Committee, are designed to answer questions faculty have raised about Hub policies, practices, and learning outcomes as a part of the course approval process. To learn more about the proposal process, start here.

Area Specific Resources

Assignment Ideas

Weekly writing assignments

These assignments are question-driven, thematic, and require students to integrate disciplinary and critical thinking literature to evaluate the validity of arguments in case studies, as well as the connections among method, theory, and practice in the case studies. Here, students are asked to utilize a chosen critical thinking framework throughout their written responses. These assignments can evolve during the semester by prompting students to address increasing complex case studies and arguments while also evaluating their own opinions using evidence from the readings. Along the way, students have ample opportunities for self-reflection, peer feedback, and coaching by the instructor.

Argument mapping

A visual technique that allows students to analyze persuasive prose. This technique allows students to evaluate arguments–that is, distinguish valid from invalid arguments, and evaluate the soundness of different arguments. Advanced usage can help students organize and navigate complex information, encourage clearly articulated reasoning, and promote quick and effective communication. To learn more, please explore the following resources:

  • Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative course on this topic provides an excellent introduction to exploring and understanding arguments. The course explains what the parts of an argument are, how to break arguments into their component parts, and how to create diagrams to show how those parts relate to each other.
  • Philmaps.com provides a handout that introduces the concept of argument mapping to students, and also includes a number of sample activities that faculty can use to introduce students to argument mapping.
  • Mindmup’s Argument Visualization platform is an online mind map tool easily leveraged for creating argument maps.

Research proposal and final research paper

Demonstrates students’ ability to identify, distinguish, and assess normative, ideological, and evaluative claims and judgments about the selected research topic. Leading up to the final project, students learn to distinguish empirical claims about their topic from normative, ideological, and evaluative claims and judgments. Throughout the semester, students have the opportunity to practice their ability to evaluate the validity of arguments, including their own beliefs about the topic. Formative and summative assessments are provided to students at regular intervals and during each stage of the project.

Facilitating discussion that Presses Students for Accuracy and Expanded Reasoning. This resource is part of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education “Instructional Moves” video series.

Additional sample assignments and assessments can be found throughout the selected Resources section located above.

Course Design Questions

As you are integrating critical thinking into your course, here are a few questions that you might consider:

  • What framework/vocabulary/process do you use to teach the key elements of critical thinking in your course?
  • What assigned readings or other materials do you use to teach critical thinking specifically?
  • Do students have opportunities throughout the semester to apply and practice these skills and receive feedback?
  • What graded assignments evaluate how well students can both identify the key elements of critical thinking and demonstrate their ability to evaluate the validity of arguments (including their own)?