Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Critical thinking: what is it and how to assess it, a case for eportfolios

Late last week, attended a workshop convened by our staff development team and facilitated by Jan Kent.

I needed to work my through the various definitions of critical thinking and to update my knowledge on the role of critical thinking in applied vocational education. I had read Stephen Brookfield’s book on critical thinking as part of my M Ed studies and have dipped back into the book whenever I have found the need to clarify my understanding of how critical thinking applies to my own learning and research.

Jan used work by Stephen Brookfield and also the work of Jenny Moon to work through a definition of critical thinking and in particular provided examples of how critical thinking could be broken up into levels and types. Examples from Jenny Moon’s handout include a focus on Baxter Magolda’s (1992) epistemological development which identified four domains or stages. These are absolute knowing, transitional knowing, independent knowing and contextual knowing.

The group worked through several exercises to try to sort student comments and student work into the various stages of epistemological development. We also had a good discussion leading on from these exercises as to how to best assess ‘critical thinking’. There was agreement on the importance of sharing our understandings of critical thinking within our own teaching teams. There was also a need to ensure that students are then prepared for the level of critical thinking required from their programme of study.

From the point of view of my mlearning pilot, an eportfolio contains many aspects of critical thinking related to the collation of the portfolio. However the depth of critical thinking required is not unachievable by the majority of the apprentices who are constructing their eportfolios. I have provided guidelines on what is expected so the next step is to evaluate what we now have in the collections and to find out how I can nudge apprentices on to the next level. Which is to view their collection as evidence of their growing skill and knowledge as they become bakers and to then present their evidence in a way that shows their learning trajectory.

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