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Key critical thinking skills now taught in general education courses, community workshops

Many employers are more interested in whether employees have critical thinking and problem-solving skills than in the employee's field of study.

That is one reason UW-Stevens Point has woven critical thinking into coursework – from biology to history, natural resources to media studies. New this fall, critical thinking is part of the general education program for first-year students -- a rarity among universities.

"It's very unusual. I think we might be the only one in Wisconsin," said Dona Warren, head of the UWSP Critical Thinking Center.

A philosophy professor at UWSP since 1995, Warren has taught critical thinking to students and leads workshops to help faculty understand how they can help students to master the critical thinking skills most prominent in their disciplines. This begins with a common understanding of and common language about critical thinking. Faculty receive resources and techniques to consider and are encouraged to explore what critical thinking outcomes might look like specifically within their course.

"The hope is that the introduction to the common framework will give students the ability to more easily see how critical thinking skills are developed across the disciplines throughout their education here. So it's not 'one and done,' you've had your critical thinking course. Instead, it's 'one and run' with it now to see how you can continue to develop the skill set as you progress toward graduation," Warren said.  

Critical thinking is the process of identifying, analyzing, evaluating and constructing reasoning to decide what conclusions to draw or actions to take. Students learn to recognize and apply each step in this process in an intentional way. By being curious, analyzing data, preparing and defending a position, they develop a growth mindset.

These skills are essential to decision making, problem solving and communicating effectively.

"When employers are queried about what skills are most important in new employees and which skills are hardest to find, critical thinking ranks high on both of those measures," Warren said. Critical thinking is also the biggest perception gap between what recent graduates think they can do and what employers think these grads can do.

Beyond the workplace, she notes, "in surveying the political or cultural landscape, I don't think anyone would say we have too much critical thinking going on. There's a wealth of evidence to indicate that we are not consistently demonstrating as a species how to communicate across differences, how to understand how science works, how to know what media to trust."

The Critical Thinking Center offers lectures and workshops for educators, employers and community organizations. It worked with local businesses on professional skill development and a parish on empathetic understanding and communication.

Several events this fall are open to community and campus members:

  • Lecture series – Faculty and staff experts will provide insights on discerning what to believe on social media, critical thinking takeaways in select films and arguments for and against music streaming platforms. The three-part series begins Sept. 30.

  • Common book read and group discussion – Students and community members are invited to read Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, then take part in small discussion groups (led by faculty facilitators) about having conversations that bridge ideological divisions. Groups will meet at campuses in Stevens Point, Marshfield and Wausau and be available virtually. For more information or to register for the discussion groups, which begin in late November, visit the center's webpage.

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