4 Tips to Encourage Your Students to be Critical Thinkers

This blog post is based off of an online course called “Critical Thinking” that was created for Atomic Learning by Valeria Becker. She is a Learning Specialist/Tutor Coordinator at the University of North Dakota. Learn more about her. 

Critical thinking is a valuable skill for college, career, and beyond. Whether you are a faculty member or student, being able to showcase your abilities as a critical thinker is important.

If you are wondering, "What exactly does 'critical thinking' mean?" Don’t worry. Commonly referred to as 'problem-solving', critical thinking involves not being content with the first solution to a problem, but instead thinking more deeply to determine if it is the best solution to the problem. Knowing, understanding, analyzing, synthesizing, applying, and evaluating an idea or problem are all activities that occur during critical thinking.

To encourage these activities and get your students thinking critically, here are four characteristics of a critical thinking to consider:

  1. See Problems as Challenges
    If you think about it, everything around us started out as a problem. One person (or a group) decided to look at something considered status quo as a challenge, and then invented or discovered something new to change things. Inventions such as phones, light fixtures, computers, and machines of all kinds were created to solve a problem most people didn't realize they had. Inventors of the past did this all the time with physical issues. Even non-physical problems, like the desire to connect with others and needing to be more active, can be viewed as a challenge and solved. Social media has taken off like crazy to help people connect with others, and technologies like Fitbits are being created to keep people motivated and healthy.
  2. Use Evidence to Make Judgements
    When listening to other people’s ideas, keeping an open mind and open ear will help you gain a wealth of knowledge to make future decisions. With that in mind, never stop asking questions. Even if you don't ask them outloud, be sure to write them down so you can find the answers to your questions later. Learning starts with questions.
  3. Observing, Thinking, and Asking Questions
    The next time you are approached to sign a petition or join a cause of some sort, take a minute before jumping into action. Ask yourself (or them) questions before signing, joining, or doing anything. For example: What if someone came up to you and asked you to join them in banning Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO)? It sounds like a terrible chemical, right? Based on an assumptiong, you may agree with them at first glance. However, when you stop, observe, and think about the name DHMO for a minute, and ask the right questions, you'd likely have a different reation. Dihydrogen monoxide is also known as H2O... meaning water.
  4. Make Educated Decisions
    Asking the right questions can help you to making educated decisions. These are the decisions that we make that are based on facts, but even facts need to viewed with a skeptical eye. Always try to get a good understanding of the facts at hand, at look at various perspectives of the issue at hand. Educated decisions come about from having knowledge in a variety of areas and making use of available resources.

Interested in learning more about critical thinking? Be sure to check out the Critical Thinking course on Atomic Learning, as well as check out other courses on in-demand skills for students and faculty alike.


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