In the time Dr. Amye Warren has been with UTC she’s developed some unique approaches to foster critical thinking in her classes. This August will mark her 30th year at the university. This faculty highlight article will outline a few of the innovative methods Dr. Warren has developed to get her students deeply involved in her course material.
One theme that is pervasive throughout all of her classes is the integration of multiple sources. These sources can be from the course textbook, peer-reviewed articles, news articles, videos online or other class readings. Ideally, assignments should include two or three sources that reach across different disciplines. Combining sources provides a unique challenge for students because it forces them to integrate information from multiple authors and multiple topics to a single issue.
For example, Dr. Warren has her class focus on the trial of the Central Park Five, who falsely confessed to violent crimes in central park, New York City. Before studying the case, the students are given research regarding the effects of sleep deprivation on the decision making process. People who are sleep deprived often have a difficult time assessing the consequences of decisions they are making. The students are also given research regarding adolescent brain development and it’s effect on sleep cycles. Once the class integrates these three sources they can develop new insights into the case and follow up by applying what they have learned to their own lives and situations they may have encountered.
The Central Park Five example also applies to another technique that Dr. Warren finds effective for fostering critical thinking in the classroom. This case study is a real life example that the students may be able to relate to. Much of the peer-reviewed literature available makes little effort to apply itself to real life scenarios. Asking students to apply empirical research to real life scenarios can be an effective way to foster critical thinking in the classroom. An additional exercise that can enhance academic research is to ask the students what the research may have missed or how it may could be improved if it were repeated.
Dr. Warren also holds open book or open-note tests in her courses to take the focus away from memorization and direct it towards understanding of the material. Open book tests generally require more integrated answers and less fill in the blank or multiple choice questions.
Using these techniques, the class becomes more valuable for the students and the grading process becomes more interesting for the teacher. Critical thinking can definitely be a win-win situation if it’s approached correctly.