Frequently Asked Questions
Ideas to Action is a project of the University to strengthen our undergraduate students' abilities to think critically and to apply what they are learning to authentic problems, that is, ones that don't have single, known, correct answers and are therefore like most of the problems we encounter in life. It asks faculty members to be intentional about teaching critical thinking skills in their courses. It asks departments to design the curricula of their majors to include progressive development of students' critical thinking skills, leading to a Culminating Experience, which might be a research project, an internship, a service learning project or some other opportunity to bring together what they have learned in solving an authentic problem.
Faculty members are asked to teach critical thinking skills in the process of teaching the usual material of their courses. We are also asked to use the Paul-Elder terminology when possible so that students can see that the same skills are transferable across disciplines. To teach critical thinking, one might not only design assignments and test questions that require application of the Elements and Standards but also model such intellectual operations in class and review some student work in class, noting successful applications and also some examples that could be improved (for example, "what part of this answer could be more precise?").
Probably most of us are already giving assignments that require critical thinking. On surveys, however, students often indicate that they aren't aware of being taught to think critically. So we are asked explicitly to teach students the skills represented by the Elements and Standards. The phrase "critical thinking" refers to thinking judged by criteria. If you are using criteria other than those of the Paul-Elder framework, it would be helpful to let students know what those criteria are. It is hoped, however, that many faculty will use the Paul-Elder criteria, enabling students to see these applied across the disciplines.
No. We are all asked to teach whichever of the Elements and Standards are appropriate for our content.
Teaching critical thinking can be more about how we teach than what. (For example, it's not that I'm teaching Shakespeare and Critical Thinking; it is that I am teaching students to think critically about Shakespeare.) Teaching students to think critically about the content of our courses should lead them to learn that content more fully. Click the resources link to see how some of our colleagues have implemented Ideas to Action in their courses.
In a large lecture class, we can model critical thinking for our students. We can, for example, teach them how to handle contradictory evidence in coming to a conclusion. We can design assignments that require students to use critical thinking skills. And we can show them examples of various answers to possible test questions and explain why one answer is preferable if it is more clear, accurate, precise, etc. For examples of ways in which colleagues have implemented Ideas to Action in large lecture classes, click on those classes under the Resource tab.
Yes. General Education classes have a key role to play in giving students a solid foundation in critical thinking skills. Instructors in General Education classes are asked to teach the Elements and Standards in a way that is appropriate for the content of their class.
SACS, like most other regional accrediting agencies, now requires colleges and universities coming up for reaccreditation to develop a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), that is, to do a self-study and determine their highest priority for enhancing the education they offer. At UofL a University-wide committee, with lots of representation from A&S, held open meetings for faculty, staff, and students, invited input to a website, and studied data from recent student surveys, including the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). The need most often expressed by faculty and students and indicated on surveys was the need to strengthen critical thinking skills and their application to authentic problems. So, on the committee's recommendation, the University chose "Using Critical Thinking to Foster Student Learning and Community Engagement" for its QEP and initiated the Ideas to Action project to implement it. We must show measurable progress in an interim report to SACS, due in 2013, and satisfactory progress by our next reaccreditation review in 2017.
- Is undertaken after sufficient academic preparation, for example, after completion of at least 90 credits of coursework or key prerequisite courses.
- Is part or all of a credit-bearing course (400 level) approved or accepted by the major discipline. The unit/department has the responsibility for designing the culminating experience.
- Provides the opportunity for demonstration of the student's mastery of content and use of critical thinking skills that includes reflection.
- Requires integration and application of knowledge and skills to address an authentic issue. Authenticity includes meaningful, real-world issues, problems or concerns that are relevant to the learner and the discipline and are shaped by practical constraints of time, space, or resources.
- Incorporates ongoing, comprehensive feedback from students, faculty or others involved with the experience.
- Results in an output that can be assessed by internal or external reviewers using evaluation criteria favored by the discipline. Examples of outputs include a paper, portfolio, or performance.
Here is the current draft of the criteria for a Culminating Experience. Departments are invited to pilot a CE course in spring 2010 and report on its success, including any suggestions for changes in these criteria:
A detailed overview of the Paul-Elder framework, including the Elements of Thought and Universal Intellectual Standards, has been posted on the University's Ideas to Action web site: Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Framework (i2a @ UofL website).
The University's i2a leadership team (i2a @ UofL website) at the Delphi Center also has small booklets detailing the framework, including the Elements of Thought and Universal Intellectual Standards, available in both hard copy and electronic form: see The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools (PDF - UofL Login Required) by Drs. Richard Paul and Linda Elder. You may be able to obtain electronic or hard copies for not only you but also your students. For more information about the booklets, contact the i2a program. In addition, various seminars and other sessions about the framework are being held across campus; check the University's daily e-mail newsletter, UofL Today, to find out about these learning opportunities.
The implementation of i2a and the Paul-Elder framework of critical thinking is, ultimately, up to the academic departments and colleges of the University (along with other non-academic entities as well). Eventually, each college will be held responsible for ensuring that undergraduate students have learned and applied critical thinking during their education. But exactly how that is done is largely up to the discretion of the colleges, and by way of extension, departments. In the case of the College of Arts and Sciences, it will really be up to the departments to make decisions on where and how the Paul-Elder framework will be infused into the curriculum. As a consequence, you need to check with your department chair and/or department curriculum committee to find out if your efforts to infuse critical thinking need to be approved and/or monitored.