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The Journal of General Education 55.3&4 (2006) 247-272

Stand-Alone Versus Integrated Critical Thinking Courses
Donald L. Hatcher

For well over 25 years, critical thinking has been declared an educational ideal (Siegel, 1980, 1988). According to Diane Halpern, "The ability to think critically is almost always listed as one of the desirable outcomes of undergraduate education" (1993, p. 238). More recently scholars claim that few concepts have attracted more attention in higher education than the notion of critical thinking (Williams, Oliver, & Stockdale, 2004, p. 37). If one looks at the catalogs of many colleges and universities, the goal of improving students' critical thinking skills is often found in their educational goals statements. However, though institutions are committed to teaching "critical thinking" (CT), there are numerous important questions that need careful treatment if this goal is to be met. First, the faculties must arrive at a shared understanding of what they mean by the phrase "critical thinking." This is because one's conception of CT will determine what courses or materials are included in the attempt to enhance students' CT skills (Hatcher, 2000). This in turn will lead to questions of pedagogy. That is, just how is it that these skills are best taught? Although the first of these questions is important (Hatcher, in press), this article will focus on the second. Given recent assessment data, what sort of general approach is most effective for teaching CT?

As Halpern (1993, p. 238) has pointed out, one fundamental question is whether to require stand-alone courses in CT or to integrate instruction in CT skills with other courses. In 2001, one extensive survey concluded that "specialized courses in critical thinking have generally been successful in promoting this skill, but recent attempts to infuse critical thinking activities into subject-matter courses have yielded marginal results" (Williams & Worth, 2001, p. 13). In spite of this research, this article will argue that, given more recent, as well [End Page 247] as substantial, studies, the data indicate that an integrated approach to teaching CT yields greater pre- to posttest gains on a variety of standardized CT tests than a typical stand-alone CT/informal logic course. This is especially good news because it opens up the possibility that the higher-order thinking skills required of critical thinkers might well be imparted by faculty from across the disciplines in a variety of departmental courses, if they only took the time to do so. This essay also includes data from a lengthy longitudinal study of freshman to senior gains in critical thinking abilities. These data also support the position that an integrated approach is to be preferred. The article will end by proposing a series of hypotheses that may account for the success of the integrated programs relative to stand-alone courses.

Before beginning, some distinctions are in order with respect to the phrase "integrated approaches." There are at least three possibilities. First, one could mean teaching only those critical skills that are specific to a discipline in a standard course in that discipline. For example, one could imagine a course in critical approaches to literature being thought of as a critical thinking course taught by the English department. In such courses, students are taught the various ways that literary critics go about criticizing works of literature. An alternative to courses that focus on only discipline-specific critical skills is to integrate instruction in the generic logical skills, those usually found in a typical informal logic/critical thinking textbook, with courses that provide instruction in other generic academic skills such as oral or written communication—skills that have value and application across the curriculum. For example, one might include instruction in logic and argumentation in a speech communication course. Another approach is to identify a set of generic critical thinking skills and show students how these apply in a specific area of study or course. For example, one might show how the standards of deductive and inductive logic help us evaluate studies in the social sciences or controlled experiments in...


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