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Targeting Critical Thinking Skills in a First-Year Undergraduate Research Course

    Author: Susan Carson1
    VIEW AFFILIATIONS HIDE AFFILIATIONS
    Affiliations: 1: Department of Plant and Microbial Biology and Division of Academic and Student Affairs, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Supplemental materials available at http://jmbe.asm.org
    • Corresponding author. Mailing address: Campus Box 7105, Division of Academic and Student Affairs, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695. Phone: 919-515-3803. E-mail: sdcarson@ncsu.edu.
    • ©2015 Author(s). Published by the American Society for Microbiology.
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2015 vol. 16 no. 2 148-156. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i2.935
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    Abstract:

    TH!NK is a new initiative at NC State University focused on enhancing students’ higher-order cognitive skills. As part of this initiative, I explicitly emphasized critical and creative thinking in an existing bacteriophage discovery first-year research course. In addition to the typical activities associated with undergraduate research such as review of primary literature and writing research papers, another strategy employed to enhance students’ critical thinking skills was the use of discipline-specific, real-world scenarios. This paper outlines a general “formula” for writing scenarios, as well as several specific scenarios created for the described course. I also present how embedding aspects of the scenarios in reviews of the primary literature enriched the activity. I assessed student gains in critical thinking skills using a pre-/posttest model of the Critical Thinking Assessment Test (CAT), developed by Tennessee Technological University. I observed a positive gain trend in most of the individual skills assessed in the CAT, with a statistically significant large effect on critical thinking skills overall in students in the test group. I also show that a higher level of critical thinking skills was demonstrated in research papers written by students who participated in the scenarios compared with similar students who did not participate in the scenario activities. The scenario strategy described here can be modified for use in biology and other STEM disciplines, as well as in diverse disciplines in the social sciences and humanities.

References & Citations

1. American Association for the Advancement of Science2011Vision and change in undergraduate biology education: a call to action: a summary of recommendations made at a national conference organized by the American Association for the Advancement of ScienceJuly 15–17, 2009Washington DC[Online.] http://visionandchange.org/files/2011/03/Revised-Vision-and-Change-Final-Report.pdfAccessed 17, February 2015
2. Anderson LW, Krathwohl DR2001A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: a revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectivesAllyn & BaconBoston, MA (Pearson Education Group)
3. Carson S, Miller ES2013Introducing primary scientific literature to first-year undergraduate researchersCURQ-WSummer 2013 edition. [Online.] http://www.cur.org/assets/1/23/Summer2013_V34.4_Carson-Miller_web.pdf
4. Ennis R1985The logical basis for measuring critical thinking skillsEduc Leadership4324448
5. Gasper BJ, Gardner SM2013Engaging students in authentic microbiology research in an introductory biology laboratory course is correlated with gains in student understanding of the nature of authentic research and critical thinkingJ Microbiol Biol Educ14253410.1128/jmbe.v14i1.460238583513706163 http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.460
6. Gottesman AJ, Hoskins SG2013CREATE cornerstone: introduction to scientific thinking, a new course for STEM-interested freshmen, demystifies scientific thinking through analysis of scientific literatureCBE Life Sci Educ12597210.1187/cbe.12-11-0201234632293587857 http://dx.doi.org/10.1187/cbe.12-11-0201
7. Halpern DF1998Teaching critical thinking for transfer across domainsAmer Psychol53944945510.1037/0003-066X.53.4.449 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.53.4.449
8. Jordan TC, et al2014A broadly implementable research course for first-year undergraduate studentsmBio511810.1128/mBio.01051-13 http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/mBio.01051-13
9. Kahan DM, Peters E, Dawson EC, Slovic P2013Motivated numeracy and enlightened self-governmentYale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 307Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2319992or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2319992
10. Kahneman D2011Thinking, fast and slowFarrar, Straus and GirouxNew York
11. Miri B, Ben-Chaim D, Zoller U2007Purposely teaching for the promotion of higher-order thinking skills: a case of critical thinkingRes Sci Educ3735336910.1007/s11165-006-9029-2 http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11165-006-9029-2
12. Sawyer K2013Zig Zag: the surprising path to greater creativityJossey-BassSan Francisco, CA
13. Stein B, Haynes A, Harris K2013Engaging faculty in assessing critical thinking using the CAT instrument [PowerPoint slides]Presented at the Texas A&M Assessment ConferenceCollege Station TX[Online.] https://www.tntech.edu/files/cat/2013_Texas_AM_CAT.pdfAccessed 10 February 2015
14. Stein B, Haynes A, Redding M2006Project CAT: assessing critical thinking skillsProceedings of the National STEM Assessment ConferenceNSF and Drury University
15. Tennessee Technological UniversityCAT© Instrument Technical Information2010[Online.] https://www.tntech.edu/files/cat/reports/CAT_Technical_Information_V7.pdfAccessed 10 February 2015
16. Wakefield AJ1999MMR vaccination and autismLancet35494995010.1016/S0140-6736(05)75696-810489978 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(05)75696-8
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/content/journal/jmbe/10.1128/jmbe.v16i2.935
2015-12-01
2017-08-19

Abstract:

TH!NK is a new initiative at NC State University focused on enhancing students’ higher-order cognitive skills. As part of this initiative, I explicitly emphasized critical and creative thinking in an existing bacteriophage discovery first-year research course. In addition to the typical activities associated with undergraduate research such as review of primary literature and writing research papers, another strategy employed to enhance students’ critical thinking skills was the use of discipline-specific, real-world scenarios. This paper outlines a general “formula” for writing scenarios, as well as several specific scenarios created for the described course. I also present how embedding aspects of the scenarios in reviews of the primary literature enriched the activity. I assessed student gains in critical thinking skills using a pre-/posttest model of the Critical Thinking Assessment Test (CAT), developed by Tennessee Technological University. I observed a positive gain trend in most of the individual skills assessed in the CAT, with a statistically significant large effect on critical thinking skills overall in students in the test group. I also show that a higher level of critical thinking skills was demonstrated in research papers written by students who participated in the scenarios compared with similar students who did not participate in the scenario activities. The scenario strategy described here can be modified for use in biology and other STEM disciplines, as well as in diverse disciplines in the social sciences and humanities.

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Figures

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FIGURE 1

Data for MMR/autism critical thinking scenario.

MMR = mumps, measles, rubella.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2015 vol. 16 no. 2 148-156. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i2.935
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Image of FIGURE 2

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FIGURE 2

Critical Thinking Assessment test pre and post scores by question as percentages of total points. = 14.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2015 vol. 16 no. 2 148-156. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i2.935
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Image of FIGURE 3

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FIGURE 3

Comparison of gains in critical thinking skills between this course and other high-impact courses.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2015 vol. 16 no. 2 148-156. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i2.935
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Image of FIGURE 4

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FIGURE 4

Mean rubric scores with standard error of control group versus test group. = 14 for both groups. = 0.0064 and = 0.016 (2-tailed) for each question respectively.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2015 vol. 16 no. 2 148-156. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i2.935
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