Critical Thinking: Contesting Perspectives from University Academics

Siaw Wee CHEN
The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
swchen@hku.hk

Abstract

Critical thinking is widely regarded as a defining characteristic and a key learning outcome of higher education. However, despite the general consensus on the need for critical thinking development, views and opinions greatly differ among university academics and researchers alike regarding what critical thinking means, what the concept entails, and how it can be developed. Drawn from a doctoral-level project, this paper explores the conceptions of critical thinking held by academics from different disciplinary areas in an institution of higher education in Hong Kong. Data were collected from eight academics across seven disciplines through in-depth, semi-structured interviews, which were conducted individually with the participants. The interview data were analysed using the constant comparison method, and the analysis shows that although critical thinking was generally defined as a form of judgement making, there were differences in how judgement making was perceived within different disciplinary contexts. Dispositions were also found to be a common constitutive component in the participants' descriptions of critical thinking, but they appear to be generic rather than domain specific. Notwithstanding the detailed conceptual understandings identified by the participants, their explanations of how they encouraged critical thinking in their pedagogy were vague. These findings clarified the specific areas that needed further investigation and how they could be explored in the subsequent stage. The outcomes of this study and their implications help us rethink higher education research in a globalized world through critical thinking development.

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