Tag Archives: Defining Critical Thinking

Columbia University study: College rigor is a mixed bag

9 Feb

There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the state of education in America. A lot of that dissatisfaction comes from the belief that the education system fails to actually educate children and to teach them critical thinking skills. The University of Maine at Augusta defines an educated person:

An educated person exhibits knowledge and wisdom; recognizes and respects the diversity of nature and society; demonstrates problem solving skills; engages in planning and managing practices; navigates the on-line world; writes and speaks well; acts with integrity; and appreciates the traditions of art, culture, and ideas. Developing these abilities is a life-long process. http://www.uma.edu/educatedperson.html

Essential to this definition is the development of critical thinking skills. https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/01/22/critical-thinking-is-an-essential-trait-of-an-educated-person/

Scott Jaschik wrote an interesting review of the University of Chicago Press book ‘Academically Adrift’ for Inside Education.

If the purpose of a college education is for students to learn, academe is failing, according to Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, a book being released today by University of Chicago Press. The book cites data from student surveys and transcript analysis to show that many college students have minimal classwork expectations — and then it tracks the academic gains (or stagnation) of 2,300 students of traditional college age enrolled at a range of four-year colleges and universities. The students took the Collegiate Learning Assessment (which is designed to measure gains in critical thinking, analytic reasoning and other “higher level” skills taught at college) at various points before and during their college educations, and the results are not encouraging:
• 45 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” during the first two years of college.
• 36 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” over four years of college.
• Those students who do show improvements tend to show only modest improvements. Students improved on average only 0.18 standard deviations over the first two years of college and 0.47 over four years. What this means is that a student who entered college in the 50th percentile of students in his or her cohort would move up to the 68th percentile four years later — but that’s the 68th percentile of a new group of freshmen who haven’t experienced any college learning.
“How much are students actually learning in contemporary higher education? The answer for many undergraduates, we have concluded, is not much,” write the authors, Richard Arum, professor of sociology and education at New York University, and Josipa Roksa, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. For many undergraduates, they write, “drifting through college without a clear sense of purpose is readily apparent…”
The main culprit for lack of academic progress of students, according to the authors, is a lack of rigor. They review data from student surveys to show, for example, that 32 percent of students each semester do not take any courses with more than 40 pages of reading assigned a week, and that half don’t take a single course in which they must write more than 20 pages over the course of a semester. Further, the authors note that students spend, on average, only about 12-14 hours a week studying, and that much of this time is studying in groups.
The research then goes on to find a direct relationship between rigor and gains in learning:
• Students who study by themselves for more hours each week gain more knowledge — while those who spend more time studying in peer groups see diminishing gains.
• Students whose classes reflect high expectations (more than 40 pages of reading a week and more than 20 pages of writing a semester) gained more than other students.
• Students who spend more time in fraternities and sororities show smaller gains than other students.
• Students who engage in off-campus or extracurricular activities (including clubs and volunteer opportunities) have no notable gains or losses in learning.
• Students majoring in liberal arts fields see “significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study.” Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the smallest gains. (The authors note that this could be more a reflection of more-demanding reading and writing assignments, on average, in the liberal arts courses than of the substance of the material.)
In section after section of the book and the research report, the authors focus on pushing students to work harder and worrying less about students’ non-academic experiences… “Students who struggle to pay for college and emerge into a tough job market have a right to know that they have learned something, he said. “You can’t have a democratic society when the elite — the college-educated kids — don’t have these abilities to think critically,” he said…. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/01/18/study_finds_large_numbers_of_college_students_don_t_learn_much#ixzz1rPPGmmPT

See, A Lack Of Rigor Leaves Students ‘Adrift’ In College http://www.npr.org/2011/02/09/133310978/in-college-a-lack-of-rigor-leaves-students-adrift?sc=emaf and Study: US College Students Advance Little Intellectually http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/only-in-america/Study-US-College-Students-Advance-Little-Intellectually—146441905.html

Allie Grasgreen reported in the Inside Higher Ed article, It’s Not All Bad:

Students are getting a better and more demanding education than scathing accounts like Academically Adrift http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/01/18/study_finds_large_numbers_of_college_students_don_t_learn_much suggest, but they and their instructors have plenty more work to do, a new study says.
“It’s lukewarm,” Corbin Campbell, the study’s author and an assistant professor of higher education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, said of the academic rigor and teaching quality measured in the study.
While instructors were effective in teaching in-depth subject matter and the cognitive complexity of courses was about right, many students were neither expected to nor did participate in classes, most of which focused on “understanding and applying” rather than “analyzing and evaluating” course material.
The study included 150 class observations and syllabus reviews from one public and one private selective research institution, assessing academic rigor (quality of cognitive complexity, workload, standards and expectations) and teaching quality (in-depth subject matter ideas, using and transforming students’ prior knowledge, and supporting learning) in a wide range of undergraduate courses.
It’s the first pilot of Teachers College’s College Educational Quality project, which aims to ultimately create alternative, less quantifiable measures of educational quality than standardized tests, surveys and other performance metrics. After a 10-institution study this fall and a national one two years after that, the benchmarks could be put into a database and referenced by people and institutions nationwide.
While there’s a lot of talk from opposite camps – the Academically Adrift supporters who say students learn next to nothing in college, and the scholars and politicians who say the U.S. has the finest higher education system in the world – Campbell’s research suggests the reality is somewhere in between, she said. (Academically Adrift is not a perfect comparison to the study, however, as it measures learning over students’ entire time at college.)
“There are some strong educational processes happening at these institutions,” Campbell said, but she added that universities are “not maximizing their educational capacity.”
http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/02/07/academic-rigor-lacking-not-dead-study-says#ixzz2srxfE600

See, A New Kind of Study Seeks to Quantify Educational Quality http://chronicle.com/article/A-New-Kind-of-Study-Seeks-to/144621/

Here is the snapshot of the two College Education Quality reports:

CEQ SNAPSHOT REPORT
College Educational Quality at two selective research institutions:
Are they pushing the boundaries of student’s capabilities?
In the first pilot of the College Educational Quality (CEQ) project, the research team measured the pulse of educational quality at two selective research institutions (one public and one private)—by getting inside the classroom (more than 150 class observations) and investigating curricula (more than 150 syllabi analyzed). At these two institutions, we studied academic rigor (in terms of the quality of cognitive complexity required1, the amount of academic work2, and the standards and expectations assigned3) and teaching quality (teaching in-depth subject matter ideas, accessing and transforming prior knowledge, supporting learning4).
1 Based on Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001)
2 Based on decades of research on the importance of time on task (Fisher et. al., 1978; Stallings, 1980) and quality of effort (Astin, 1993)
3 Based on current frameworks on standards and grade inflation in higher education (e.g. Hu, 2005)
4 Based on Neumann’s (2014) claims on teaching and learning in higher education
Results painted a picture of a college education that is certainly not in crisis (as suggested by Arum and Roksa’s (2011) Academically Adrift), but perhaps not maximizing its educational capacity.
The good news:
• Most students attended class (82% of enrolled students).
• Instructors are relatively effective in orchestrating subject matter ideas in great depth.
• The cognitive complexity of courses is about what should be expected of college level.

Room for improvement:
• Of the students who attended class, more than half (but not most) students were actively engaged in the course material.
• Only about half of students were expected to participate during class, and these expectations were often not tied to grading.
• Most classes focus on understanding and applying rather than analyzing and evaluating course material.
• Instructors were less effective at understanding students’ prior knowledge and in supporting cognitive and emotional features of students’ learning (important aspects of college teaching; Neumann, 2014).

This pilot study gives us a window into the educational quality of two research institutions. Yet, we need to know more about whether these findings would hold true at other institutions and institutional types. To answer these next questions, the College Educational Quality project will pursue a second, multi-institutional benchmarking pilot of 7-10 institutions in fall of 2014.
ACADEMIC RIGOR: LUKE-WARM AT TWO SELECTIVE RESEARCH INSITUTIONS
When testing the water of in-class academic rigor at our two pilot sites, we found the temperature to be luke-warm. Far more promising than Academically Adrift (Arum & Roksa, 2010) might suggest, we found that most students attended class (82% of enrolled students) and more than a half were actively engaged in class. The average class mostly asks students to understand and apply course materials, and occasionally analyze it – true both in class observations and in the required readings/assignments from syllabi. This is about what we would expect for college level coursework, according to Bloom. Yet, we also found that the coursework was perhaps not pushing the boundaries of students’ capabilities. In the average class, instructors expected about half of the students to be prepared and participate in class. On average, participation was set as an expectation in the syllabus, but not tied to grading. According to syllabi, in the average class, several readings were assigned and some (but not most) were long/complex; the assignments required a moderate amount of work.
TEACHING QUALITY: INSTRUCTORS TEACH SUBJECT IDEAS IN DEPTH, BUT DOES THIS TRANSLATE TO LEARNING?
Courses, on average, scored between “somewhat effective” and “effective” at orchestrating in-depth subject matter ideas (e.g. creating multiple representations of the ideas; giving students an opportunity to engage thoughtfully with the ideas; introducing students to how the ideas play out in the field). Yet, we know that in order to facilitate learning, students must connect the new course content with their prior knowledge (Neumann, 2014). Instructors scored between “ineffective” and “somewhat effective” at surfacing and understanding student’s prior knowledge. Students are more likely to learn subject matter ideas when their instructor supports and engages their learning process (Neumann, 2014). Instructors scored between “ineffective” and “somewhat effective” at supporting learning (e.g. helping students to realize the difference between old and new subject matter ideas; supporting students who are challenged by the contrast between old and new ideas).
DO COURSE CHARACTERISTICS MAXIMIZE ACADEMIC RIGOR AND TEACHING QUALITY?
Our findings showed that certain course characteristics had a positive influence on academic rigor and teaching quality. Classes that lasted longer than 60 minutes and classes that were smaller in size (5-25 students) were found to have a higher level of academic rigor and teaching quality. Higher levels of academic rigor and teaching quality were also found in classes that included activities and discussion and classes where students asked questions.
Most courses observed in the two selective research institutions had some of these characteristics…
• Most were longer than an hour (69%)
• In most courses, students asked questions during class (85%)

But many courses had features that did not maximize the potential for academic rigor and teaching quality:
• Many had a larger class size (68% of observed classes had more than 25 students)
• Only about half included a class activity (54%)
• Less than half included class discussion (41%)

REFERENCES
Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York, NY: Addison-Wesley Longman.
Astin, A. W. (1993). What matters in college? Four critical years revisited. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Hu, S. (2005). Beyond Grade Inflation: Grading Problems in Higher Education. ASHE Higher Education Report, 30 (6), 1–99.
Neumann, A. (2014). Staking a Claim on Learning: What We Should Know about Learning in Higher Education and Why. Review of Higher Education, 37, 249-267.
CORBIN M. CAMPBELL, Ph.D. ~ 212-531-5182 ~ campbell2@tc.columbia.edu ~ http//www.tc.columbia.edu/ceq
http://collegeedquality.weebly.com/results.html

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
Aristotle

The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.
Franklin D. Roosevelt

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.
Derek Bok

Related:
Trying to Find a Measure for How Well Colleges Do
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/education/trying-to-find-a-measure-for-how-well-colleges-do.html?emc=eta1

Cultural literacy: Is there necessary core knowledge to be academically successful? https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/cultural-literacy-is-there-necessary-core-knowledge-to-be-academically-successful/

Where information leads to Hope. © Dr. Wilda.com

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

Blogs by Dr. Wilda:

COMMENTS FROM AN OLD FART©
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Dr. Wilda Reviews ©
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Dr. Wilda ©
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What the ACT college readiness assessment means

25 Aug

Moi wrote about the ACT assessment of “college readiness” in ACT to assess college readiness for 3rd-10th Grades:

Carlalee Adams writes in the Education Week article, ACT to Roll Out Career and College Readiness Tests for 3rd-10th Grades:

ACT Inc. announced today that it is developing a new series of assessments for every grade level, from 3rd through 10th, to measure skills needed in college and careers…. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/college_bound/2012/07/act_plans_to_roll_out_career_and_college_readiness_tests_for_3rd-10th_grades.html?intc=es

There is no magic bullet or “Holy Grail” in education. There is only what works to produce academic achievement in each population of children. That is why school choice is so important.

There must be a way to introduce variation into the education system. The testing straightjacket is strangling innovation and corrupting the system. Yes, there should be a way to measure results and people must be held accountable, but relying solely on tests, especially when not taking into consideration where different populations of children are when they arrive at school is lunacy. https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/07/04/act-to-assess-college-readiness-for-3rd-10th-grades/

Huffington Post reports in the article, ACT Results Show 60 Percent Of 2012 High School Graduates Are At Risk Of Struggling In College, Career::

Sixty percent of 2012 high school graduates are at risk of struggling in college and a career, according to the ACT’s The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2012 report released Wednesday. The annual report takes into consideration scores earned by graduating seniors who took the ACT college and career readiness exam, which this year amounted to more than 1.66 million students, or a record 52 percent of the entire U.S. graduating class.

According to a statement, 28 percent of ACT-tested 2012 graduates did not meet any of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in English, mathematics, reading and science — a statistic that also held true in 2011. These benchmarks are empirically derived and based on actual grades ACT-tested students earned in college. The corresponding ACT benchmarks for English, reading, math and science are 18, 21, 22 and 24, respectively. Each of the four sections are scored out of 36 and averaged to determine a final composite score.

Fifteen percent of students met only one of the benchmarks, with a comparable 17 percent satisfying two. In total, 60 percent of test takers met no more than two of the four benchmarks, with only 25 percent of graduates hitting all four — on par with last year’s numbers. http://act.org/newsroom/data/2012/pdf/NationalNewsRelease2012.pdf

Here is a portion of the ACT press release:

HOLD FOR RELEASE until 3 a.m. Eastern, Wednesday, August 22, 2012

August 22, 2012

60 Percent of 2012 High School Graduates At Risk of Not Succeeding in College and Career

ACT® Exam Results Point to Need for Early Monitoring and Intervention

Readiness in Math and Science Improving Slightly

IOWA CITY, Iowa—Success in college and career is at risk for at least 60 percent of likely college-bound 2012 U.S. high school graduates, according to nonprofit ACT’s newly released report, The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2012. The annual report focuses on the scores earned by graduating seniors who took the ACT college and career readiness exam—this year a record 52 percent of the U.S. graduating class.

More than a fourth (28 percent) of ACT-tested 2012 graduates did not meet any of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in English, mathematics, reading and science, suggesting they are likely to struggle in first-year college courses in all four of those subject areas. Another 15 percent met only one of the benchmarks, while 17 percent met just two. In short, a total of 60 percent of test takers met no more than two of the four benchmarks. In comparison, only 25 percent of tested 2012 grads met all four ACT benchmarks, unchanged from last year.

Far too many high school graduates are still falling short academically,” said ACT Chief Executive Officer Jon Whitmore. “We need to do more to ensure that our young people improve. The advanced global economy requires American students to perform at their highest level to compete in the future job market and maintain the long-term economic security of the U.S.”

ACT’s empirically derived College Readiness Benchmarks are based on actual grades earned in college by ACT-tested students. They specify the minimum score needed on each of the four ACT subject tests to indicate that a student has a 75 percent chance of earning a grade of C or higher or a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in a typical credit-bearing first-year college course in that subject area. ACT continually updates its research to ensure that the benchmarks are reflective of college success.

College readiness levels remain particularly low among African American and Hispanic students. None of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks were met by more than half of students in those racial/ethnic groups. In contrast, the majority of Asian American and white students met or surpassed the benchmarks in all areas except science.

Many states have already taken steps to address deficiencies in college and career readiness.

There is significant work going on here in Alabama, as well as the other states, to implement a set of high-quality academic expectations that define the knowledge and skills students should master by the end of each grade level in order to be on track for success in college and career,” said Alabama Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice. “This ACT report affirms the reason why we are moving our state work toward a new goal of college and career preparedness for all students. As we embark on this new trajectory, we will work through our local school districts to ensure they are equipped with the very best tools and resources to accelerate student success.”

Importance of Early Monitoring and Intervention

ACT research points to the importance of early monitoring and intervention to identify students who are at risk.

Our research supports what many educators and parents have long suspected—that the best way to help our students prepare for successful futures is by monitoring their achievement, academic behaviors and goals starting early in their academic careers and providing appropriate help whenever we find they are not on track for success,” said Whitmore….

Gap Between Career Interests and Projected Job Openings

The ACT data point to a disconnect between the types of careers that graduates are interested in pursuing and the types of jobs likely to be available to them. The percentage of ACT-tested graduates interested in careers in the five fastest growing fields according to the U.S. Department of Labor—education, computer/information specialties, community services, management and marketing/sales—was less than the projected demand for workers in each case…

Record Number of Test Takers

ACT score results are increasingly reflective of the state of learning in the U.S. with each passing year. More than 1.66 million 2012 graduates—52 percent of the entire U.S. graduating class—took the ACT, including virtually all students in nine states. This represents a record level of participation for the eighth consecutive year.

The testing population is also becoming increasingly diverse and representative in terms of race and ethnicity. The current proportions of African American (13 percent) and Hispanic/Latino (14 percent) students in the ACT testing pool closely match those in the general U.S. population.

The full national report and each state ACT report can be viewed and downloaded for free on ACT’s website at the following URL: http://www.act.org/readiness/2012.

# # #

About ACT

ACT is an independent, nonprofit organization with a 53-year history of generating data-driven assessments and research. Headquartered in Iowa City, Iowa, and with offices throughout the world, ACT is trusted for its continual development of next-generation assessments that determine college and career readiness and provide the most advanced measure of workplace skills. To learn more about ACT, go to http://www.act.org.

Contact:

Ed Colby or Scott Gomer, ACT Public Relations

319.337.1028; ed.colby@act.org; scott.gomer@act.org

ACT has information at their site, Understand your scores:

How ACT figures the multiple-choice test scores and the Composite score

  1. First we count the number of questions on each test that you answered correctly. We do not deduct any points for incorrect answers. (There is no penalty for guessing.)
  2. Then we convert your raw scores (number of correct answers on each test) to “scale scores.” Scale scores have the same meaning for all the different forms of the ACT, no matter which test date a test was taken.
  3. Your Composite score and each test score (English, Mathematics, Reading, Science) range from 1 (low) to 36 (high). The Composite Score is the average of your four test scores, rounded to the nearest whole number. Fractions less than one-half are rounded down; fractions one-half or more are rounded up.
  4. We compute your seven subscores (Usage/Mechanics, Rhetorical Skills, etc.) in the same way, but subscores range from 1 (low) to 18 (high). There is no direct, arithmetic relationship between your subscores and your test scores—this means your subscores don’t add up to your test score….
  5. If you want to know more about what your test scores can tell you about the skills you are likely to know and what you are likely to be able to do in each content area measured by the ACT, see ACT College Readiness Standards. http://www.actstudent.org/scores/understand/

The ACT test highlights the failure of schools to teach critical thinking skills.

In Critical thinking is an essential trait of an educated person, moi said:

There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the state of education in America. A lot of that dissatisfaction comes from the belief that the education system fails to actually educate children and to teach them critical thinking skills. The University of Maine at Augusta defines an educated person:

An educated person exhibits knowledge and wisdom; recognizes and respects the diversity of nature and society; demonstrates problem solving skills; engages in planning and managing practices; navigates the on-line world; writes and speaks well; acts with integrity; and appreciates the traditions of art, culture, and ideas. Developing these abilities is a life-long process. http://www.uma.edu/educatedperson.html

Essential to this definition is the development of critical thinking skills.

The Critical Thinking Community has several great articles about critical thinking at their site. In the section, Defining Critical Thinking:

A Definition
Critical thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them.

The Result

A well cultivated critical thinker:

  • raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and
    precisely;

  • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to
    interpret it effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;

  • thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought,
    recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and

  • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.  (Taken from Richard Paul and Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008). http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766

The question is how to teach critical thinking skills. David Carnes wrote the excellent Livestrong article, How to Build Critical Thinking Skills in Children. http://www.livestrong.com/article/167563-how-to-build-critical-thinking-skills-in-children/#ixzz1kB28AgFS

Related:

Is a woman’s college the right college for you? https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/is-a-womans-college-the-right-college-for-you/

Georgetown University study: Even in a depression, college grads enjoy advantage                                           https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/georgetown-university-study-even-in-a-depression-college-grads-enjoy-advantage/

Report: For-profit colleges more concerned with executive pay than student achievement                                    https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/report-for-profit-colleges-more-concerned-with-executive-pay-than-student-achievement/

What , if anything, do education tests mean? https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/what-if-anything-do-education-tests-mean/

Complete College America report: The failure of remediation https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/complete-college-america-report-the-failure-of-remediation/

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

Are college students stuck on stupid?

8 Apr

In Critical thinking is an essential trait of an educated person moi said:

There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the state of education in America. A lot of that dissatisfaction comes from the belief that the education system fails to actually educate children and to teach them critical thinking skills. The University of Maine at Augusta defines an educated person:

An educated person exhibits knowledge and wisdom; recognizes and respects the diversity of nature and society; demonstrates problem solving skills; engages in planning and managing practices; navigates the on-line world; writes and speaks well; acts with integrity; and appreciates the traditions of art, culture, and ideas. Developing these abilities is a life-long process. http://www.uma.edu/educatedperson.html

Essential to this definition is the development of critical thinking skills. https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/01/22/critical-thinking-is-an-essential-trait-of-an-educated-person/

Scott Jaschik wrote an interesting review of the University of Chicago Press book ‘Academically Adrift’ for Inside Education.

If the purpose of a college education is for students to learn, academe is failing, according to Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, a book being released today by University of Chicago Press. The book cites data from student surveys and transcript analysis to show that many college students have minimal classwork expectations — and then it tracks the academic gains (or stagnation) of 2,300 students of traditional college age enrolled at a range of four-year colleges and universities. The students took the Collegiate Learning Assessment (which is designed to measure gains in critical thinking, analytic reasoning and other “higher level” skills taught at college) at various points before and during their college educations, and the results are not encouraging:

  • 45 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” during the first two years of college.
  • 36 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” over four years of college.
  • Those students who do show improvements tend to show only modest improvements. Students improved on average only 0.18 standard deviations over the first two years of college and 0.47 over four years. What this means is that a student who entered college in the 50th percentile of students in his or her cohort would move up to the 68th percentile four years later — but that’s the 68th percentile of a new group of freshmen who haven’t experienced any college learning.

“How much are students actually learning in contemporary higher education? The answer for many undergraduates, we have concluded, is not much,” write the authors, Richard Arum, professor of sociology and education at New York University, and Josipa Roksa, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. For many undergraduates, they write, “drifting through college without a clear sense of purpose is readily apparent…”

The main culprit for lack of academic progress of students, according to the authors, is a lack of rigor. They review data from student surveys to show, for example, that 32 percent of students each semester do not take any courses with more than 40 pages of reading assigned a week, and that half don’t take a single course in which they must write more than 20 pages over the course of a semester. Further, the authors note that students spend, on average, only about 12-14 hours a week studying, and that much of this time is studying in groups.

The research then goes on to find a direct relationship between rigor and gains in learning:

  • Students who study by themselves for more hours each week gain more knowledge — while those who spend more time studying in peer groups see diminishing gains.
  • Students whose classes reflect high expectations (more than 40 pages of reading a week and more than 20 pages of writing a semester) gained more than other students.
  • Students who spend more time in fraternities and sororities show smaller gains than other students.
  • Students who engage in off-campus or extracurricular activities (including clubs and volunteer opportunities) have no notable gains or losses in learning.
  • Students majoring in liberal arts fields see “significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study.” Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the smallest gains. (The authors note that this could be more a reflection of more-demanding reading and writing assignments, on average, in the liberal arts courses than of the substance of the material.)

In section after section of the book and the research report, the authors focus on pushing students to work harder and worrying less about students’ non-academic experiences… “Students who struggle to pay for college and emerge into a tough job market have a right to know that they have learned something, he said. “You can’t have a democratic society when the elite — the college-educated kids — don’t have these abilities to think critically,” he said.

The book rejects the idea of federal mandates on testing or the curriculum, suggesting that such requirements rarely work. And the book acknowledges that many college educators and students don’t yet see a crisis, given that students can enroll, earn good grades for four years, and graduate — very much enjoying themselves in the process. But in an era when “the world has become unforgiving” to those who don’t work hard or know how to think, Arum said that this may be a time to consider real change.

The culture of college needs to evolve, particularly with regard to “perverse institutional incentives” that reward colleges for enrolling and retaining students rather than for educating them. “It’s a problem when higher education is driven by a student client model and institutions are chasing after bodies,” he said.

The analysis in the book stresses that there is significant variation within institutions, not just among institutions, with students in some academic programs regularly outperforming others at the same campuses. Arum said this suggests that institutions can improve student learning by making sure that there is some consistency across disciplines in the rigor of requirements. “You need an internal culture that values learning,” he said. “You have to have departments agree that they aren’t handing out easy grades.”

Further, he said that colleges need to shift attention away from measures of “social engagement” (everything that’s not academic) and toward academic engagement, even if some of those measures of non-academic engagement help keep students engaged and enrolled. “It’s a question of what outcome you want,” he said. “If the outcome is student retention and student satisfaction, then engagement is a great strategy. If, however, you want to improve learning and enhance the academic substance of what you are up to, it is not necessarily a good strategy…”

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/01/18/study_finds_large_numbers_of_college_students_don_t_learn_much#ixzz1rPPGmmPT

See, A Lack Of Rigor Leaves Students ‘Adrift’ In College http://www.npr.org/2011/02/09/133310978/in-college-a-lack-of-rigor-leaves-students-adrift?sc=emaf

and Study: US College Students Advance Little Intellectually http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/only-in-america/Study-US-College-Students-Advance-Little-Intellectually—146441905.html

The Critical Thinking Community has several great articles about critical thinking at their site. In the section, Defining Critical Thinking:

A Definition
Critical thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them.

The Result

A well cultivated critical thinker:

  • raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and
    precisely;

  • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to
    interpret it effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;

  • thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought,
    recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and

  • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.  (Taken from Richard Paul and Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008). http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766

The question is how to teach critical thinking skills.

Diane F. Halpren discusses a model for teaching critical thinking skills to college students in her article, Teaching for Critical Thinking: Helping College Students Develop the Skills and Dispositions of a Critical Thinker:

The How of Critical Thinking Instruction: A Four-Part Model

I recently proposed a four-part model of instruction for critical thinking (Halpern, 1998). Not surprisingly, it includes two parts we have already discussed—instruction in the skills and dispositions for critical thinking—but it also includes structure training as a means of improving the probability that students will recognize when a particular thinking skill is needed, even in a novel context. The problem in learning thinking skills that are needed in multiple contexts is that there are no obvious cues in the novel contexts that can trigger the recall of the thinking skill. With structure training, students are taught to create retrieval cues from the structural aspects of a problem or an argument so that when these structural aspects are present in the novel context, they can serve as cues for retrieval. I borrowed the term from Hummel and Holyoak (1997), who identified structure sensitivity as a fundamental property that underlies human thought: “First thinking is structure sensitive. Reasoning, problem solving, and learning . . .depend on a capacity to code and manipulate relational knowledge” (p. 427). For example, students may be able to explain why correlation is not causation when presented with this question on an exam but still not recognize that this same principle is operating when they read that children who attend religious schools score higher on standardized tests than those who attend public schools. Specific instruction in recognizing the structure of correlational problems can improve the probability that students will recognize these problems, even when the topic is different.

The last component of critical thinking instruction is metacognitive monitoring. Metacognition is usually defined as “what we know about what we know,” so metacognitive monitoring is determining how we can use this knowledge to direct and improve the thinking and learning process. While engaging in critical thinking, students need to monitor their thinking process, checking that progress is being made toward an appropriate goal, ensuring accuracy, and making decisions about the use of time and mental effort. In the jargon of cognitive psychology, metacognitive monitoring serves the executive function of directing the thinking process. It is made overt and conscious during instruction, often by having instructors model their own thinking process, so that the usually private activity of thinking is made visible and open to scrutiny.

http://education.gsu.edu/ctl/FLC/Foundations/criticalthinking-Halpern.pdf

Citation:

Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

Read an excerpt.

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa

272 pages | 20 tables, 20 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Cloth $70.00 ISBN: 9780226028552 Published January 2011

Paper $25.00 ISBN: 9780226028569 Published December 2010

E-book $7.00 to $18.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226028576 Published January 2011

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Aristotle

The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

Derek Bok

Related:

Trying to Find a Measure for How Well Colleges Do http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/education/trying-to-find-a-measure-for-how-well-colleges-do.html?emc=eta1

Cultural literacy: Is there necessary core knowledge to be academically successful? https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/cultural-literacy-is-there-necessary-core-knowledge-to-be-academically-successful/

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©