Introduction to the Special Issue on Critical Thinking in Higher Education

Higher Education Research and Development 30 (3):255-260 (2011)
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The articles included in this issue represent some of the most recent thinking in the area of critical thinking in higher education. While the emphasis is on work being done in the Australasian region, there are also papers from the USA and UK that demonstrate the international interest in advancing research in the area. ‘Critical thinking’ in the guise of the study of logic and rhetoric has, of course, been around since the days of the ancient Greeks and the early beginnings of universities. In a narrower sense, critical thinking has been central to higher education as a desirable attribute of graduates since at least the beginning of the twentieth century. The work of John Dewey, and others, emphasised the importance of ‘good habits of thinking’ as early as 1916. In 1945, the Harvard Committee placed emphasis on the importance of ‘thinking effectively’ as one of three desirable educational abilities in their General education in a free society. This was later endorsed in 1961 by the US-based Educational Policies Commission: ‘The purpose which runs through and strengthens all other educational purposes … is the development of the ability to think’ (Kennedy, Fisher, & Ennis, 1991, pp. 11–12). In recent times, universities have made a point of emphasising the importance of critical thinking as a ‘generic skill’ that is central to most, if not all, subjects. There is not a university today (in Australia at least) that does not proudly proclaim that their graduates will – as a result of a degree program in their institution – learn to think critically. Further, there is rarely a subject taught that does not offer the opportunity to acquire skills in critical thinking. However, where is the evidence that we teach critical thinking in higher education? Disturbingly, despite our best intentions, it appears we may be teaching very little of it.

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Martin Davies
University of Melbourne


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