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  The Open University Thinking Critically This booklet accompanies the Skills for OU Study website: w ww . open.ac.uk/skillsforstudy Skills for OU Study Thinking Critically The Open University Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA Copyright © 2008 The Open University  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted or utilised in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher or a licence from the Copyright Licensing Agency Ltd. Details of such licences (for  reprographic reproduction) may be obtained from the Copyright Licensing Agency Ltd of 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 4LP. Open University materials may also be made available in electronic formats for use by students of the University. All rights, including copyright and related rights and database rights, in electronic course materials and their contents are owned by or licensed to The Open University, or otherwise used by The Open University as permitted by applicable law. In using electronic course materials and their contents you agree that your use will be solely for the purposes of following an Open University course of study or otherwise as licensed by The Open University or its assigns. Except as permitted above you undertake not to copy, store in any medium (including electronic storage or use in a website), distribute, transmit or re-transmit, broadcast, modify or show in public such electronic materials in whole or in part without the prior written consent of The Open University or in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The Open University is incorporated by Royal Charter (RC 000391), an exempt charity in England & Wales and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 038302). Edited, designed and typeset by The Open University. Printed in the United Kingdom by Thanet Press. ISBN 978-0-7492-2920-7 1.1 Skills for OU Study Thinking Critically Critical thinking is an essential part of successful study at university. In this booklet you will discover what critical thinking is and how to do it. This booklet accompanies the Skills for OU Study website http://www.open.ac.uk/skillsforstudy, which contains advice, quizzes and exercises to help you. Contents 1 Critical thinking and why it is important 7 2 Reading with a critical eye 11 3 Writing with a critical voice 19 4 Critical thinking and working with others 26 Summary: thinking for yourself 28  Appendix 29 References 30 Further reading 31 Contents 7 1 C �� t �����  C �� t �����  t �� n �� n ��  t �� n �� n ��   � n ��   � n ��   ����   ����   � t � t � s � s ��� o � t � nt ��� o � t � nt 1  Critical important thinking and why it is Thinkingcriticallyasastudentwillconferbenefitsinmanyareasofyourlife.Criticalthinking skillsareavitalpartofyouracademiclife–whenreading,whenwritingandwhenworkingwith other students. You probably already use critical thinking skills in domestic decision- making or at work – for example, when you are choosing car insurance or assessing how to move forward in a project. Now you need to transfer these skills to academic life. This booklet will show you how to do that effectively. 1.1 What is critical thinking? To think critically is to examine ideas, evaluate them against what you already know and make decisions about their merit. The aim of critical thinking is to try to maintain an ‘objective’ position. When you think critically, you weigh up all sides of an argument and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. So, critical thinking skills entail: ã actively seeking all sides of an argument ã testing the soundness of the claims made ã testing the soundness of the evidence used to support the claims. Because your aim when thinking critically is to respond objectively to what you are reading or thinking through, you need to keep an open mind and be prepared to question the author’s claims. How you do this and the questions you ask will vary depending on what – and why – you are reading (for example, you might be responding to an assignment question). As a result, you must always be prepared to adapt your approach according to the demands of the material. 8 T �� n �� n ��  C �� t ���������   The type of evidence varies between disciplines – in Arts subjects, it may be the close reading of a text; in Science it will more likely be a set of data. You may find thinking in a critical way quite difficult at first, but rest assured it gets easier the more you practise it.  As you read through your course materials you will pick up some of the terminology that Open University academics use to communicate the objectiveness of their reasoning. Pinpoint the words they use to indicate a balanced approach to the topic. For example, you will notice that phrases such as: ã ‘it can be argued that’ ã ‘tends to’ and ã ‘there is evidence to suggest that’ ... convey a certain amount of restraint. Look out for other examples of phrases you can use in your own writing. 1.2 Why is critical thinking so important?  For an author, writing academically means that she or he must be able to defend an argument against charges such as bias, lack of supporting evidence or incompleteness. Critical thinking enables you as a reader to assess the evidence in what you are reading and identify spurious or illogical reasoning. Thinking critically will also help you to create strong arguments of your own (for example, in assignments). This means that you will be able to present and justify any claims you make based on the evidence you have evaluated. If you learn and practise effective critical thinking skills early on in your studies with the OU, they will contribute at many levels in your academic life. When reading, they will allow you to understand the content of your course clearly. You will be able to analyse and evaluate – and compare and contrast – the value of particular materials, including theories, methods, concepts and the major debates that have been presented. Developing critical thinking skills will allow you to develop more reasoned arguments for your assignments, projects and examination questions. You will be able to use and draw on evidence to justify your own arguments and ideas. In addition, you will be able to synthesise your own thoughts, the thoughts of differing theorists/ researchers and those of the course materials authors. Much of university education and assessment has been greatly influenced by these ideas. 9 1 C �� t �����  C �� t �����  t �� n �� n ��  t �� n �� n ��   � n ��   � n ��   ����   ����   � t � t � s � s ��� o � t � nt ��� o � t � nt 1.3 Being an independent learner  All universities encourage their students to be ‘independent learners’ and critical thinking is central to this. You show you are an independent learner when you analyse, evaluate and synthesise information from a variety of sources and present your own justified interpretation. This is known as employing ‘higher order thinking skills’. You may encounter some activities during your study that don’t require high levels of critical thinking. For example, some multiple-choice questions might simply elicit your knowledge and understanding of your topic. However, essay- and report-style assignments frequently demand interpretation and synthesis skills. Part of this is using ‘higher order thinking skills’. These are the skills used to analyse and manipulate information (rather than just memorise it). In the 19 0s, Benjamin Bloom identified a set of important study and thinking skills for university students, which he called the ‘thinking triangle’ (Bloom, 19 6: see Figure 1). evaluate make judgements about the value of information combine information synthesise and ideas into something new make a methodical analyse and detailed examination apply use knowledge comprehend have understanding know be aware, remember information Figure 1 Levels of intellectual skill: the thinking triangle. Source: adapted from Bloom, 1956 10 T �� n �� n ��  C �� t ���������  

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