CRITICAL THINKING: DEFINITION, DIMENSIONS AND MEASUREMENT

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CHAPTER 3 FACTORS THAT MAY INFLUENCE STUDENTS’ CRITICAL THINKING

INTRODUCTION

Chapter 2 examined what critical thinking is and how it can be measured. It provided an understanding of several key constructs, concepts, assumptions, beliefs and theories related to critical thinking and possible relationships between these. Critical thinking is, however, an active process that may be influenced by various factors.
The objective of Chapter 3 is to obtain a clearer understanding of factors that may influence students’ critical thinking, thereby addressing secondary research objective A2 and secondary research question B2.
Through this understanding, Chapter 3 offers insight into key constructs, concepts, assumptions, beliefs and theories related to factors that may influence critical thinking and its development in students. This understanding also sheds light on possible relationships between these concepts and sets the foundation for the preliminary framework presented in Chapter 5. Knowledge on these factors may assist educators in making critical thinking instruction more effective and may lead to optimised use of critical thinking assessment instruments (Facione 1990b: 7).
In Chapter 3 some of the major studies on factors that may influence students’ critical thinking were identified and reviewed. A traditional literature review was carried out (Jesson et al. 2011: 73–76), providing a broad overview of potential factors that could influence students’ critical thinking. This review was issue-based, looking at examples of these factors, and not necessarily sequences of events. The purpose was thus not to provide an exhaustive list of factors or their correlation with critical thinking. Some of the main scholarly databases were consulted such as EBSCOhost, Emerald, Google Scholar and ProQuest. Search terms such as: ‘factors that may influence student’s critical thinking’, ‘aspects that affect the development of critical thinking’, ‘student-related factors that influence critical thinking’, ‘educator-related factors that influence critical thinking in students’ and ‘instructional factors that influence students’ critical thinking’ were entered. Section 3.2 provides an overview of the main categories of factors that may potentially influence students’ critical thinking.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Given the nuanced nature of critical thinking and its different dimensions, it is no surprise that several factors may affect the development of critical thinking in students (Mortellaro 2015: 17–18). Various studies in the literature have endeavoured to examine these aspects as well as their influence on students’ critical thinking. There is, however, little consensus with regards to these factors and their exact influence on students’ critical thinking (Mortellaro 2015: 17–18).
The literature on these factors is extensive and is distributed among various disciplines with frequently contradicting views. This literature review suggests that the factors which may influence students’ critical thinking involve (i) the student (Mortellaro 2015: 33–46; Rubenfeld & Scheffer 2015: 59–74; Tiruneh et al. 2014: 1–8; Chan 2013: 236–240; Purvis 2009: 64–70; Facione 1990b: 1–7), (ii) the educator (Tiruneh et al. 2014: 1–8; Chan 2013: 236–240; Facione 1990b: 1–7) and (iii) instruction (Mortellaro 2015: 33–46; Rubenfeld & Scheffer 2015: 97–103; Tiruneh et al. 2014: 1–8; Chan 2013: 236–240; Purvis 2009: 51–64). Student-related factors, educator-related factors and instructional factors are therefore discussed in sections 3.3 to 3.5. Figure 9 provides the layout of the sections addressed in Chapter 3.

STUDENT-RELATED FACTORS

Students differ regarding preferred learning styles, gender, ethnicity, culture, race, emotional development, intellectual level, self-esteem, knowledge level, characteristics, maturity, to only name a few (Elder 2004: 1). Certain factors related to the student may potentially influence their critical thinking scores as measured by various measurement instruments (Facione 1990b: 1). These factors might also influence critical thinking capabilities in general (Rubenfeld & Scheffer 2015: 59–76) and its development (Mortellaro 2015: 33–47). The effectiveness of critical thinking educational interventions may also be influenced by these student-related factors (Tiruneh et al. 2014: 6–10). The literature is not consistent regarding the exact influence these factors have on critical thinking (Mortellaro 2015: 12; Purvis 2009: 70). This is indeed the case with most of the student-related factors discussed in this section. Table 10 provides a summary of several student-related factors.
The student-related factors summarised in Table 10 are discussed in greater detail in sections 3.3.1 to 3.3.8.

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Age

Critical thinking is a developmental phenomenon in which age plays an important role (Kuhn 1999: 16–23). Some believe that critical thinking develops only late in adolescence to adulthood (Springer & Borthick 2004: 278), while others believe that it develops gradually from childhood, throughout school and higher education (Gharib, Zolfaghari, Mojtahedzadeh, Mohammadi & Gharib 2016: 275). As a person ages, he or she is faced with more opportunities to utilise their reasoning skills (Purvis 2009: 65). Critical thinking capabilities of students can thus vary with age and educators should take this into account in their instructional strategies (Ten Dam & Volman 2004: 364).
Various studies have attempted to examine the influence of age on critical thinking and whether there is a significant correlation between greater age and higher critical thinking scores. Eleven studies were identified that examined this potential correlation. These are summarised in Table 10. Three studies support the idea that greater age is highly correlated with higher critical thinking scores (Günaydin & Barlas 2015: 4; Shinnick & Woo 2013: 1065; Martin 2002: 246), while eight studies found no significant correlation between age and critical thinking scores (Azizi-Fini et al. 2015: 3; Mortellaro 2015: 117; Hunter et al. 2014: 812; Perry 2014: 122–123; Cevik 2013: 58; Chau et al. 2001: 116; Reed 1998: 156; Facione 1990b: 5).
It is difficult to determine the exact influence of age on critical thinking scores without taking into account the influence of other factors such as prior knowledge or experience (section 3.3.4) and academic grade or level (section 3.3.6). One reason being that students with no or low levels of knowledge and/or experience could be in the younger age groups, while more knowledgeable and/or experienced students could be in the older age groups (Shinnick & Woo 2013: 1065–1066; Martin 2002: 246). It could thus be that correlations observed between critical thinking scores and age could rather be related to knowledge or experience than in fact, age. Insight Assessment (2017: 70), which owns the copyright of the CCTST and the CCTDI measurement instruments, also asserts that age does not significantly predict critical thinking capabilities if academic grade or level (section 3.3.6) is controlled for. Another factor that may influence critical thinking is gender. Section 3.3.2 provides an overview of gender and its potential influence on critical thinking.

 Gender

Twenty studies were identified which explored the influence of gender on critical thinking scores. Table 10 provides a summary of these studies. Six studies found that gender is strongly correlated with higher critical thinking scores. Of these six studies, four found that females achieved higher critical thinking scores than males (Arslan et al. 2014: 49; Serin 2013: 241–242; Yenice 2011: 500; Besoluk & Onder 2010: 679). Two studies reported higher scores in favour of males (Facione 1991: 11–12; King et al. 1990: 176). However, Facione (1991: 11–12) credits this result to other factors such as differences in Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) results and grade point averages (GPA) (section 3.3.3). Fourteen studies found that there was no significant correlation between gender and critical thinking scores (Günaydin & Barlas 2015: 1; Karagöl & Bekmezci 2015: 89; Mortellaro 2015: 76; Azizi-Fini et al. 2015: 4; Sunay 2015: 659; Hunter et al. 2014: 813; Perry 2014: 75; Shinnick & Woo 2013: 1062–1067; Gedik 2013: 1022; Whitten & Brahmasrene 2011: 9; Burbach et al. 2004: 487; Martin 2002: 246; Chau et al. 2001: 116; Reed 1998: 157–158). Insight Assessment (2017: 70) asserts that there is no significant difference between the critical thinking scores achieved by males compared to those achieved by females as measured by the CCTST and CCTDI. They note that when there are differences, these can in most cases be attributed to skewed sample selections.
Perry (2014: 24) maintains that academic performance is a more reliable predictor of students’ critical thinking scores than demographic factors such as age or gender. Section 3.3.3 provides an overview of academic performance as a factor that may influence students’ critical thinking.

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Academic performance

Williams and Stockdale (2003: 200–201), as well as Lovelace et al. (2016: 105) note that critical thinkers are more likely to achieve better grades. Similarly, students who are obtaining higher grades are more likely to develop better critical thinking skills than students who are performing worse. On this basis, Lovelace et al. (2016: 105) point to a reciprocal relationship between critical thinking and academic performance.
Twelve studies were identified which examined the influence of academic performance on critical thinking scores. As a proxy for academic performance, the studies largely used high school or college GPA, year in school, SAT verbal and/or SAT mathematical scores (Perry 2014: 24). These studies are summarised in Table 10. Seven of these studies found that academic performance is strongly correlated with higher critical thinking scores. Facione (1990b: 4) found a significant correlation between critical thinking scores and GPA, SAT verbal scores as well as SAT mathematical scores of undergraduate students. Taube (1995: 26) found similar results to that of Facione (1990b: 4) with educational psychology students. Jenkins (1998: 277–278) asserts that auditing students with higher critical thinkings scores will, in general, perform better academically in auditing courses than those students with lower critical thinking scores. Martin (2002: 246) found a significant correlation between GPA and critical thinking scores as well as decision-making in nursing students. Whitten and Brahmasrene (2011: 10) found that SAT verbal scores were significant predictors of higher critical thinking scores. SAT mathematical scores showed a significant correlation with the total critical thinking score as well as the inductive, deductive, evaluative and analytical reasoning sub-scores. Ghazivakili et al. (2014: 98) indicate that GPA is significantly correlated with critical thinking scores while Karagöl and Bekmezci (2015: 90–91) found a significant relationship between critical thinking dispositions and academic performance.
Five studies, however, found no significant correlation between critical thinking scores and academic performance (Azizi-Fini et al. 2015: 4; Günaydin & Barlas 2015: 6; Mortellaro 2015: 119; Perry 2014: 91; Cevik 2013: 57). Section 3.3.4 provides an overview of prior knowledge and experience as a factor that may influence students’ critical thinking.

CHAPTER 1  INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY 
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
1.2 RATIONALE FOR THE STUDY
1.3 PROBLEM STATEMENT
1.4 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES
1.5 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
1.6 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
1.7 RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY
1.8 ROLE OF THE RESEARCHER
1.9 DELIMITATIONS
1.10 ASSUMPTIONS
1.11 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
1.12 OUTLINE OF CHAPTERS
CHAPTER 2  CRITICAL THINKING: DEFINITION, DIMENSIONS AND MEASUREMENT
2.1 INTRODUCTION
2.2 WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?
2.3 HOW IS CRITICAL THINKING MEASURED?
CHAPTER 3  FACTORS THAT MAY INFLUENCE STUDENTS’ CRITICAL THINKING 
3.1 INTRODUCTION
3.2 BACKGROUND INFORMATION
3.3 STUDENT-RELATED FACTORS
3.4 EDUCATOR-RELATED FACTORS
3.6 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 4  CRITICAL THINKING DEVELOPMENT THROUGH TEACHING STRATEGIES AND TECHNOLOGY-BASED EDUCATIONAL INTERVENTIONS 
4.1 INTRODUCTION
4.2 LEARNING THEORIES
4.3 TEACHING STRATEGIES AND TECHNOLOGY-BASED EDUCATIONAL INTERVENTIONS THAT FACILITATE CRITICAL THINKING DEVELOPMENT
4.4 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 5  PRELIMINARY CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK 
5.1 INTRODUCTION
5.2 PRELIMINARY CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
5.3 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 6  RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY
6.1 INTRODUCTION
6.2 RESEARCH ORIENTATION AND INTERACTIVE QUALITATIVE ANALYSIS (IQA)
6.3 IQA RESEARCH FLOW
6.4 IQA RESEARCH DESIGN
6.5 IQA FOCUS GROUPS
6.6 SYSTEM RELATIONSHIPS
6.7 THE ROLES OF THOSE INVOLVED
6.8 QUALITATIVE RIGOUR
6.9 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 7 DATA PRESENTATION – FOCUS GROUPS 1 TO 3
7.1 INTRODUCTION
7.2 SYSTEM ELEMENTS (AFFINITIES) FOR GROUPS 1 TO 3
7.3 SYSTEM RELATIONSHIPS FOR GROUPS 1 TO 3
7.4 DESCRIPTION OF HOW AFFINITIES ARE RELATED: GROUP 1 (LEARNING
DESIGNERS)
7.5 DESCRIPTION OF HOW AFFINITIES ARE RELATED: GROUP 2 (EDUCATORS)
7.6 DESCRIPTION OF HOW AFFINITIES ARE RELATED: GROUP 3 (STUDENTS)
7.7 COMPARISON OF THE SYSTEMS OF THE THREE GROUPS
7.8 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 8 FINAL CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK 
8.1 INTRODUCTION
8.2 FINAL CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
8.3 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 9 CONCLUSIONS, RECOMMENDATIONS AND REFLECTIONS
9.1 INTRODUCTION
9.2 SUMMARY OF FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
9.3 CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE STUDY
9.4 REFLECTIONS ON THE ROLE OF THE RESEARCHER AND THE METHODOLOGY
9.5 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH AND LIMITATIONS OF THE
STUDY
LIST OF REFERENCES
ANNEXURES 
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