Do universities really teach critical thinking? This huge CLA longitudinal study on 2,322 students for four years from 2005 to 2009 across broad range of 24 U.S. colleges and universities, suggests not. Richard Arum of New York University found that they were woeful at critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication. 36% showed no significant gains in "higher order" thinking skill. 45% made no significant improvement in critical thinking.
Students with most gains studied:
Students with least gains studied:
Extra data threw up some other surprises:
Students who studied alone did better than those who studied in groups
Only a fifth of their time spent on academic pursuits
Over 50% of time spent socialising
ded courses that involved a lot of reading and writing
This is a timely report and there has already been much soul searching, as many start to question the real value for money that HE delivers in the US. "No one concerned with education can be pleased with the findings of this study," said Howard Gardner.
It questions the fundamental purpose of higher education, as it has been assumed that these skills were precisely what was being taught. What needs to happen is a re-evaluation of ‘teaching’ in Higher education. Fiscal pressure, along with rising student costs and expectations, will make this happen. My own view is that the lazy ‘lecture’ is the dark secret at the heart of academic teaching. Since Benjamin Bloom first showed the pedagogic weaknesses of lectures in the 50s, we’ve had decades of confirmatory research showing their deficiencies. It comes as quite a shock to lecturers when you subject their teaching method to the same levels of academic scrutiny as their own research. Bligh, Gibbs and Mazur all describe their double standards on this issue.
There is no evidence that the dominant 'lecture' approach to teaching promotes critical thinking. Even Bligh, who promotes lectures makes it clear that it does not and couldn't find a single study that claimed it did. All 21 studies showed that other methods were better. Gibbs confirms this view. Mazur's work in the teaching of physics is also clear on the subject. Significant gains in understanding come from avoiding traditional lectures. This is an important debate, because if I, along with Bligh and others are right, there's a serious pedagogic hole in higher education.
This topic is covered in more detail in my own talk ‘Don’t lecture me!’ and in a follow up webinar from ALT. Richard Arum’s new book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press) discusses the report in detail and is published later this month.