November 24, 2009, by Teaching at Nottingham

Critical thinking: developing students’ independence

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Rebecca Moor: “My sense is that they come to study law here and they’re expecting someone to say Okay, welcome to law school. Here’s the answer, it can be this or it can be that. And what they get instead is someone throwing a huge amount of law at them and essentially saying, There are no easy answers, it’s all about how you make your argument and how well you analyse the law.

“So, for example, students might come to me, and this is international students and non-international students, and say, if I say, Look, you’ve just written an essay and it’s entirely descriptive, you haven’t in any way, you know, come up with a main argument or a point or a thesis, and they say something along the lines of, Well, who am I to make an argument? I’m just a first year law student. I don’t know, it would be rude to tell my professor how the law is because they’re an expert and I’m not”

Chris Barnatt: “In terms of my own teaching, one of the ways I’ve tried to do that over the past few years is to use things like Podcast materials to complement but almost work against the lectures. So I will give a lecture on a topic and I’ll have a Podcast, not a recording of the lecture but a separate programme on the topic and they will talk about the same thing but they will use different examples, they’ll maybe do it in a slightly different order and that forces the student to go well, is this one right or is this one right. And of course the whole point is neither of them is right, they’re showing you can take the same topic and take it in different ways. So I think that helps overseas that have come from particular cultural perspective to be honest it also helps UK students as well who actually tend to, it’s almost that they get caught up in the same issue, they want to learn the right answer actually, that’s not the way higher education really works.”

Jane Evison: “Another reason for having us talk about contentious articles, or look at articles where people were disagreeing with each other, not necessarily us disagreeing with them, we were hoping to show, to demonstrate that kind of criticality.”

Richard Pemberton “We come back to this thing of them coming with, quite often, little experience of teaching, little experience of critical academic reading and writing, so this whole process is quite new. So I think it’s just a, kind of, extra tool that we’re adding in there. And you do see them develop, when you’re reading their essays over the course of a year, and they’ll tell you, “How can we criticise X?” X is a, kind of, guru in the field. You’re not allowed to say anybody against that person, because they’re an authority. So, to come to that, kind of, state where you feel competent enough to be critical of somebody who has published, it takes time, doesn’t it? And I think it did for us as well, when we were doing it our own ways.”

Jane Evison: “I think that’s very true. It is a process that you go through as an academic. And it’s also a case of evaluating things, rather than necessarily being critical. You know, there is a problem with the word “critical,” in the sense it’s taken always – you know, it’s taken to be a negative, to have negative connotations, that you’ve got to find things to criticise in a negative way, rather than things to comment on or evaluate.”

Mike Clifford: “Some students will want a very prescriptive approach, some home students, some overseas as well, they will say, you know, tell me what to do next, and they want to go away and do it, and when you ask them, Well, what do you think you should do next? There’s a kind of blank, say, well, you know, where do you think you’re going? What do you think you should be doing next week? What’s your plan? And sometimes there’s a long silence and they have to get used to that, that we’re looking for initiative and it’s very hard to teach someone to show initiative other than by saying, Oh, you know, okay, when you come along next week, I don’t just want to know what’s gone on the week before, I want to know, and then I’m going to. And we can discuss your plan”

Samer Alkassar: “Professors from the highest level down to, you know, lecturers, they all have the same mentality, they all have the idea that we are here to make sure that you learn. We are not here to trick you, we are not here to fail you, we know that you’ve come all the way alone from your home country and you’re in a different environment, but given that we want to make sure that you learn because, in my view, that’s how the UK has earned I would say its status in education. It is very pronounced and a highly ranked educational system for good reasons and these are some of the reasons I mention so it’s a very much give and take learning process, not like one way flow of information, that is not the case, I know that it’s a one way flow of information somewhere else, but it is not here.”

Samer Alkassar
Nottingham University Business School
Christopher Barnatt
Nottingham University Business School
Mike Clifford
Department of Mechanical, Materials & Manufacturing Engineering
Jane Evison
School of Education
Rebecca Moor

School of Law

Richard Pemberton
School of Education

Extracts from interviews with staff and students about experiences of internationalisation. This video was originally published as part of PESL’s Learning from internationalisation collection. Produced November 2009.

Posted in InternationalisationStudents' academic development