Defining, Teaching, and Evaluation Critical Thinking Skills in Adult Education
Vaske, Joann M.
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One of the goals of adult education is to develop students' abilities to think critically, yet there is a paucity of research to guide adult educators in their pursuit of this goal. This exploratory study was designed to examine adult educators' perceptions of components related to critical thinking, including definitions of critical thinking, instructional methods used for teaching critical thinking, and methods of measuring students' growth in critical thinking. A self-report survey method was used to elicit responses from adult educators who currently teach or previously taught adult education courses in institutions within the United States offering graduate degrees in adult education. Seventy-eight of 155 questionnaires were returned. Sixty-eight questionnaires were usable for a response rate of 47%. Data were summarized using frequencies, percents, means, and standard deviations. Some tests of statistical significance were carried out using the chi-square statistic. No statistically significant results were found. Respondents agreed one of the goals of adult education should be to develop students' critical thinking skills. Moreover, they believed they are teaching critical thinking, using an indirect approach. However, they indicated that adult educators do not have a clear idea about what critical thinking is which suggests critical thinking instruction has not been addressed systematically. Although no single definition of critical thinking emerged, results led to development of a conceptual framework of critical thinking for adult educators. The framework presents critical thinking as a two-dimensional construct consisting of cognitive skills and dispositions. Relative to instructional methods, results indicated adult educators used experiential and participatory methods when teaching critical thinking skills. To evaluate gains in students' critical thinking skills, adult educators reported using a variety of qualitative measures. Further research is needed to develop or adapt a uniform and comprehensive definition of critical thinking by adult educators. Additionally, it should be determined if critical thinking is perceived differently by adult educators than by educators in other disciplines. Also, instructional methods should be examined to determine which are most effective in teaching critical thinking skills and dispositions in adult education. This would lead to investigation of the validity and reliability of qualitative measures adult educators use to measure gains in critical thinking. Finally, longitudinal studies are needed to examine if adult learners who show improvement in their ability to think critically maintain these gains over time and whether they are able to transfer these skills to other areas of their lives such as employment and personal/social.
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