The development of critical thinking in natural sciences, interior design and nursing courses




Boisvert, Jacques

The development of critical thinking is a primary training objective in college programs of study. But how does one develop students’ critical thinking in specific programs of study? In this article, we examine how critical thinking is developed- essentially its representation and its implementation by teachers – in three programs: natural sciences, interior design and nursing. These three programs of study reflect the diversity of training programs offered at CEGEP: the last two belong to the technical sector, the first one is part of the pre-university sector. In addition, the two technical programs are very different in nature, which makes it possible to study the development of critical thinking in distinct technical training contexts. Our research is exploratory and collaborative in nature, it deals with two specific concepts of critical thinking, that of Robert Ennis (1987) presented in Table 1 and that of Richard Paul and his collaborators (1989) presented in Table 2. The teachers were introduced to these two concepts through the writings of the author, which completed their spontaneous representation of critical thinking and provided a common base to promote exchanges on the subject. This research can be considered qualitative/interpretative in nature with over 250 participating students and some fifty teachers from Cégep Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. To ensure methodological triangulation, we resorted to a diversity of data collection methods, such as group interviews, document analysis, observation and critical thinking tests. The data was collected during three consecutive sessions of courses in specific training and courses in general education. We conducted group interviews with the majority of teachers and some students in each of the three programs, and also with one or more teachers from each of the four general education courses. We also analyzed the course plans and other educational documents, observed team presentations and a discussion among the students; we also administered, the two tests on critical thinking presented in note 3 and repeated the measurement one year later. For the present article, we will limit ourselves to data resulting from interviews and tests. The data relating to document analysis and observation is not explicitly covered, nor is the data relating to the general education courses. The themes covered in each of the three programs are designed to meet specific research objectives. Three of the six themes are the object of this article: the cognitive representation of critical thinking, the specification of critical thinking aspects addressed in the courses, and the development of critical thinking throughout the entire program. The three other research themes are course content, educational approaches and evaluation methods focusing on the development of critical thinking.


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