Margaret Price

  • ‘If I was going there I wouldn’t start from here’: teaching students how to think rather than what to think

    Margaret Price, Berry O’Donovan 
    Oxford Brookes University

    Session 4g

    Tuesday 4 September 2007, 16.00-17.00

    Research seminar

    Themes: Lifelong learning, Skills development

    Teaching students to think critically is often cited as an aspiration of higher education and a fundamental skill that equips students for the long term. However, a common lament from academics involved in learning and teaching is the absence, or at least paucity, of a critical dimension in the assessed work of undergraduate students. The massification of higher education and the changing nature of today’s student are often blamed for this lack of criticality.

    This seminar will explore one solution to this problem involving setting assessments that encourage students to think critically. As Gibbs suggests assessment systems drive student learning, and even when tutors say they want students to be critical and thoughtful, students often identify that what is really necessary is nothing more than rote learning (1992). The seminar will examine and discuss how assessment design can encourage critical thinking and explore some of the key issues including: multiple interpretations of criticality; the tacit nature of understandings of criticality and the consequent difficulty of sharing these between staff and students; whether criticality is a high level skill only appropriate for students engaged in advanced study.

    The concept of criticality is examined and discussed in relation to Perry’s stages of student intellectual development (1970). We suggest that to encourage students to relinquish a dualistic and reproductive orientation to learning and move up the intellectual development ladder towards a relativist and critical approach requires an ‘unfreezing’ process (Lewin, 1951); assessment tasks that ‘problematise’ the subject (Grey et al, 1996); skills in information sourcing, evidencing and argument construction; and an assessment framework that stages assessment activity and allows for ‘slow learning’ (Claxton, 1998 cited in Knight and Yorke, 2002). For the last two years we have implemented such a framework with over 1,000 first year business undergraduates and initial findings will be discussed and shared with participants.


    • Claxton, G (1998) Hare brain, tortoise mind. London, Fourth Estate
    • Gibbs, G. (1992). Improving the quality of student learning. Bristol: Technical and Educational Services.
    • Grey C., Knights, D. & Wilmott, H. (1996) ‘Is a critical pedagogy of management possible?’ in R. French and C. Grey (eds) Rethinking Management Education, pp. 94-110. London: Sage
    • Knight, P.T & Yorke, M (2002) ‘Employability through the curriculum’ Tertiary Education and Management, 8, pp. 261-276
    • Perry, W. G., Jr (1970) Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme, New York: Holt
    • Lewin, K. (1951) Field theory in social science, New York: Harper & Row.