• From Habits of Mind to Critical Thinking: A Study of Student Learning Behaviors in a University Great Books General Education Course

      Caldwell, Corrinne A.; Davis, James Earl, 1960-; Schifter, Catherine; Smith, Michael W. (Michael William), 1954-; Laufgraben, Jodi Levine, 1966- (Temple University. Libraries, 2014)
      Accreditors and administrators have begun to focus on general education with an eye to improvement. One of the most valued, but difficult to assess, learning outcomes in general education is critical thinking. Critical thinking is thought to play a role in student engagement and positive student learning outcomes. This study examined students' acquisition of critical thinking skills in a required general education great books course at a large, mid-Atlantic, Research I university with a high transfer-in population. Student interviews, class observations and document analysis were employed in the study. Specific attention was paid to dialogic learning, as Vygotsky's theory of social learning and the theory of student engagement underpinned the study. This study found that critical thinking learning goals were not communicated to the students explicitly through the syllabus. Only 20 percent of the students in the class reported acquiring critical thinking skills. All of those students were female transfer students. Many students described the class as outside their primary educational interests. Those who acquired critical thinking skills were more likely to be active participants in the class, value professor-student conferences and have a strong academic support network. Social interaction contributed to students' acquisition of critical thinking skills in this class. Future assessment of critical thinking will depend on a clearer definition of the concept. General education programs and courses that link social interaction and the acquisition of critical thinking skills are worthy of further study.