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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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1.1 What constitutes ‘critical thinking’?

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that there are a range of views on what constitutes critical thinking. We do not aim to explore these fully here, but as postgraduate students it is very important that you appreciate the problematic nature and use of some of these ideas. For example, a blog post on the ‘The Conversation’ by Dennis Hayes in 2014 generated an interesting debate around this topic, which is useful for us to consider.

Activity 2 Perspectives on critical thinking

Timing: Allow approximately 30 minutes

Read this blog post by Dennis Hayes [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and summarise the key ideas presented.

Now scroll down the web page and click on ‘show all comments’. Note the differing views shared by other contributors to the debate and list some of the key ideas that come up.

Which of the contributors do you agree with and why?

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In this blog post, Dennis Hayes takes a particular perspective on the teaching of ‘criticality’ and draws on the work of Matthew Arnold in particular. He argues for the propagation of knowledge and thought, through which he believes criticality may emerge, rather than teaching criticality as a ‘skill’. This presupposes that one’s deeper engagement in discourse and critical debate may help the person to be critical. The challenge, though, is how does one engage and debate critically? This is what many academics find lacking in students today, hence the drive to improve the situation.

As you can see from the blog responses there is significant divergence among educators. Broadly there are a number of scholars who argue that critical thinking is a skill and is transferable, while there are others who hold a contrasting view. Let’s delve into some of these ideas.