WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?

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CHAPTER 2 CRITICAL THINKING: DEFINITION, DIMENSIONS AND MEASUREMENT

 INTRODUCTION

In Chapter 1 it was noted that the focus of this study is on the development of critical thinking. Critical thinking is, however, a multifaceted concept with various definitions. It is thus vital to obtain a thorough understanding of what exactly constitutes critical thinking in order to ensure that it is effectively developed and measured. To this end, the objective of Chapter 2 is to gain an understanding of what critical thinking is and how it is measured, thereby addressing secondary research objective A1 and secondary research question B1.
Through this understanding, Chapter 2 provides insights into several key constructs, concepts, assumptions, beliefs and theories related to critical thinking as well as possible relationships between these. This understanding creates a foundation for the preliminary, literature-based, conceptual framework presented in Chapter 5.
A traditional literature review was carried out (Jesson, Matheson & Lacey 2011: 73–76) to obtain an understanding of the current state of knowledge about what constitutes critical thinking and to obtain an understanding of how critical thinking can be measured. This literature review covered seminal works and key studies on the topic. I consulted some of the main scholarly databases such as EBSCOhost, Emerald, Google Scholar and ProQuest. Search terms such as: ‘what is critical thinking?’, ‘what are the features of critical thinking?’, ‘definition of critical thinking’, ‘dimensions of critical thinking’, ‘how is critical thinking measured?’, ‘assessing critical thinking’ and ‘critical thinking measurement instruments’ were entered. An overview of critical thinking definitions and dimensions is provided in section 2.2 while section 2.3 provides an overview of the different types of critical thinking measurement instruments that are generally used. These include standardised and non-standardised instruments. Figure 2 provides an illustration of the layout of Chapter 2.

WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?

Critical thinking is a complex concept with virtually no consensus on a clear definition (Hepner 2015: 68; Rubenfeld & Scheffer 2015: 28–34). As a result, it is not well understood, not applied consistently (Kataoka-Yahiro & Saylor 1994: 351), considered to be abstract and interpreted in many different ways (Nair & Stamler 2013: 131). The concept of critical thinking has been studied in various disciplines and countless definitions of critical thinking exist in the literature (Atabaki et al. 2015: 93–97; Jordan D’Ambrisi 2011: 16–28). From the abundance of definitions in the literature, it is clear that defining critical thinking is not a simple task (Mojica 2010: 16) as it is understood in many different ways (Jordan D’Ambrisi 2011: 19). Hepner (2015: 68) is of the opinion that the lack of consensus regarding the concept of critical thinking among various disciplines has had negative effects on both students, educators and employers.
The absence of an agreed upon terminology has also created confusion and further lack of consensus (Hepner 2015: 73–74; Reed 1998: 14–15). The sheer number of surrogate terms contributes to the confusion surrounding the concept (Turner 2005: 275). Turner (2005: 275) performed a concept analysis on critical thinking and found 27 surrogate terms in the literature. ‘Problem-solving’ as well as ‘decision-making’ are some of the surrogate terms most often used according to this concept analysis. These should, however, rather be seen as arenas in which critical thinking capabilities can be utilised (Bailin et al. 1999a: 276–277). The term ‘critical thinking’ is also often interchangeably used with ‘higher-order thinking’ (Hepner 2015: 73–74; Lewis & Smith 1993: 131; Facione 1990a: 5). Ennis (1985: 45), however, maintains that critical thinking is a much more clearly defined concept than the vague term, ‘higher-order thinking’. Other surrogate terms for critical thinking include ‘creative thinking’ (Mojica 2010: 16; Facione 1990a: 5), ‘rational thought’ (Lewis & Smith 1993: 131), ‘reasoning’ (Hepner 2015: 73–74; Lewis & Smith 1993: 131), ‘thinking skills’ (Mojica 2010: 16), ‘critical reflection’, ‘argumentation’, ‘judgement’ and ‘metacognition’ (Hepner 2015: 73–74). For the purposes of this study, the term ‘critical thinking’ will be used, as this is the most widely used term in the literature, with the others used as related terms (Mojica 2010: 16).
To overcome some of these conceptual problems, a thorough understanding of critical thinking is essential (Bailin, Case, Coombs & Daniels 1999b: 286). Although, a universally accepted definition of critical thinking may not exist, it is the responsibility of each researcher to precisely state the definition of critical thinking that forms the basis for their own study (Brunt 2005: 66) and for educators to state the working definition that drives their teaching strategies (Van Erp 2008: 29–30). In this regard, section 2.2.1 provides a brief historical overview of some of the core definitions, dimensions and theories relating to critical thinking that have emerged in literature over the years as well as the key individuals who have shaped their development. The aim is not to provide a complete history of critical thinking, but rather to present a brief overview of the origins of critical thinking in Western history and the subsequent development that shaped the concept as we understand it today.

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 Definition and dimensions of critical thinking

To explain what critical thinking is, it is important to provide some form of contextual and historical background (Rubenfeld & Scheffer 2015: 29). Annexure C, which is summarised as a historical timeline in Figure 3, highlights some of the key individuals and organisations in Western history which have shaped the evolution of critical thinking over the decades.
Critical thinking is certainly not a new concept (Abrami et al. 2008: 1103) as evident from Annexure C and Figure 3. Numerous key individuals have contributed to the concept as it is understood today. For many years, both philosophers and psychologists have been debating the definition, theories and dimensions of critical thinking (Atabaki et al. 2015: 93–95; Hepner 2015: 73–74). These “two academic disciplines” (Hepner 2015: 73) have mainly provided the theoretical foundations of the concept over the years (Atabaki et al. 2015: 93–99; Hepner 2015: 73–77).
Philosophers tend to focus more on the nature and quality of critical thinking as well as the aspects a person needs for thinking (Atabaki et al. 2015: 94; Reed 1998: 15). They concentrate on logical reasoning and how one should perfect thinking to decide what to believe or do (Lewis & Smith 1993: 132). These aspects can be linked to critical thinking attitudes (Atabaki et al. 2015: 95). Facione (1990a: 11) mentions that these attitudes are also referred to as ‘dispositions’, ‘habits of the mind’, ‘traits of the mind’ or ‘personal traits’. Philosophy-based theories and definitions of critical thinking can be traced back to the Greek philosophers Socrates (Norris 2011: 18; Jones-Devitt & Smith 2007: 1), Plato and Aristotle (Staib 2003: 498; Daly 1998: 324). Socrates is still referred to by many as the founder of critical thinking (Denardo 2003: 13). It is thus no wonder that the word ‘critical’ is derived from the Greek ‘kriticos’ – to question, make sense of, to analyse and judge (Paul & Elder 1997: 6).
Ennis, a philosopher of education, defines critical thinking as reflective and reasonable thinking aimed at making decisions about what to believe or do (Ennis 1985: 45). He provides twelve skills and thirteen dispositions of critical thinking (Ennis 1985: 46). Table 3 presents a summary of the definition and dimensions of critical thinking as described by Ennis. Ennis (1993: 179) asserts that although the upper three levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, namely, analysis, synthesis and evaluation (see Figure 4) form a basis for critical thinking definitions, Bloom’s taxonomy does not provide sufficient guidance for the actual development of critical thinking (Atabaki et al. 2015: 95–96).
Bloom’s taxonomy is seen as an established theoretical framework on thinking and learning. It has been used in educational settings for many years and serves as guidance to educators when they set learning objectives and assessments for higher order thinking (Bali 2014: 50). A revision on this taxonomy was conducted by Anderson and Krathwohl (2001: 1–289), with the revised levels depicted in Figure 4. The lower levels of cognitive processes are classified as remembering, understanding and applying. The higher levels of cognitive processes are classified as analysing, evaluating and creating.
A more recent philosopher who has also helped shape the definition and dimensions of critical thinking is Paul (Reed 1998: 17–19). His definition of critical thinking is still widely accepted amongst philosophers (Hepner 2015: 75–76). According to Paul, critical thinking can be regarded as disciplined and self-directed thinking (Paul 1992: 9). Paul identified seven traits of the mind, referred to as ‘dispositions’ (Paul 1992: 12–13). Table 3 provides a summary of Paul’s definition of critical thinking and these seven dispositions.
The lack of consensus between philosophers and psychologists can also be attributed to discussions on reflection and metacognition. Bensley and Spero (2014: 56) indicate that although philosophers such as Ennis and Paul noted the importance of self-reflection for critical thinking, they did not mention metacognition in their concept of critical thinking. Metacognition refers to knowledge, awareness and control of one’s own cognition and is thus related to a person’s ability to do self-assessment of their own comprehension, knowledge and thinking (Bensley & Spero 2014: 56).

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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
3.5 INSTRUCTIONAL 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) 145
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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