‘What does the term Critical Thinking mean to you?’ A qualitative analysis of chemistry undergraduate, teaching staff and employers' views of critical thinking
Good critical thinking is important to the development of students and a valued skill in commercial markets and wider society. There has been much discussion regarding the definition of critical thinking and how it is best taught in higher education. This discussion has generally occurred between philosophers, cognitive psychologists and education researchers. This study examined the perceptions around critical thinking of 470 chemistry students from an Australian University, 106 chemistry teaching staff and 43 employers of chemistry graduates. An open-ended questionnaire was administered to these groups, qualitatively analysed and subsequently quantified. When asked to define critical thinking respondents identified themes such as ‘analysis’, ‘critique’, ‘objectivity’, ‘problem solving’, ‘evaluate’ and ‘identification of opportunities and problems’. Student respondents described the smallest number of themes whereas employers described the largest number of themes. When asked where critical thinking was developed during the study of chemistry students overwhelmingly described practical environments and themes around inquiry-based learning. When teaching staff were asked this question they commonly identified critiques, research, projects and practical environments to some extent. This research highlights that there is only limited shared understanding of the definition of critical thinking and where it is developed in the study of chemistry. The findings within this article would be of interest to higher education teaching practitioners of science and chemistry, those interested in development of graduate attributes and higher order cognitive skills (HOCS) and those interested in the student and employer perspectives.