Learning to teach critical thinking in Higher Education

Wason, Hilary (2023). Learning to teach critical thinking in Higher Education. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0001568b


This study has explored how educators learn to teach criticality. The impetus for the research came from my own teaching where I noticed that educators lacked access to support in teaching critical thinking. It has investigated what helped their learning, the challenges they faced and what professional development they might need. This study is situated within a relativist ontology and pragmatic social constructivist framework, and is guided by transformative and experiential learning, and threshold concepts theory. A qualitative case study has collected data from 14 educators from a range of disciplines, using semi-structured interviews, peer to peer observations, followed by professional learning conversations and focus groups. Reflexive thematic analysis has been used to identify five key themes: learning through experience; connections and collaborations; pedagogy and common language; resistance and fragility and authentic professional learning.

Findings indicate how educators were developing the skills, knowledge and teaching behaviours to teach critical thinking. Their learning had been helped by critically reflecting on their teaching experiences and using a common language and pedagogy of critical thinking. Educators needed the support of a collaborative teaching culture and a connected curriculum. Their learning was challenged by academic and student resistance and pedagogic fragility. Educators valued authentic professional development, for example co-constructing teaching examples and participating in action learning and communities of practice.

This study offers an enhancement to an existing framework for professional learning called ‘A Framework for Learning to Teach Critical Thinking’. It makes a contribution to transformative learning, experiential learning, and threshold concepts theory. It adds to the methodological literature by providing a unique intersection of data collection instruments. Finally, it recommends that teaching toolkits, action learning sets, professional learning conversations, dialogic teaching and a collaborative teaching environment can support educators to learn to teach critical thinking.

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