Unit 1: Introduction to Course and to Critical Thinking


Number of Lectures: 7

Total Length of Lectures: 1:54:07

Welcome to Bethel University's course An Introduction to Critical Thinking. This course is made up of a series of units, each of which contains one graded exercise and a lot of resources to help you complete the work for that exercise. You may want to skim down this page now to see how it is organized. A series of short* lectures and other materials are linked from this main page, and open in a new window to make it easier for you to come back to this page when you're done with a lecture to continue with the unit. Each lecture is available bothin Flash format, and also in text (pdf) format, and other materials are provided in whatever format is appropriate.

* Most lectures last around 10-15 minutes. They vary in length, with some being shorter than this and some a little longer, because each is focused on a particular topic, and they are no longer than they have to be. There's no filler here, like you might get in a traditional, face-to-face course that always lasts 50 or 85 minutes.

The main page for each unit introduces each lecture or document and provides the transitions between them. The introduction to each lecture tells you how long it will last, so that you can budget your time efficiently. In addition, the total number of lectures in the unit and the total time* that the lectures last, is given at the top of each unit. Be aware that this doesn't tell you how long the unit will take: you'll probably want to go through some of the lectures several times, and the time any given student will spend studying will vary a lot from person to person. So the figures quoted at the top of the page just gives you information to help you plan your study time.

* Time, both at the top of the page and at the link to each lecture, is indicated with hours (if greater than zero), followed by a colon, followed by minutes, followed by a colon, followed by seconds; so three and a half hours is given as 3:30:00 and fourteen minutes, forty-five seconds as 14:45.

Some students will find that the best approach is to read the text on the main page for each unit first, to see where things are going, then go through it again more slowly, listening to the lectures in order and going back as necessary to make sure you haven't missed anything. Other students might prefer to go through once in order from the very beginning, then go back over the unit to make sure they see how the various pieces fit together. You know best how you learn, but you might want to experiment, trying different approaches to each unit until you figure out what works best for you.


Introduction to the Course

Here's a short lecture that shows you how to navigate these lectures and allows you check to make sure that you can see the video and hear the audio: all lectures have both a visual and a audio component. The lecture also gives you some important recommendations for how to get the most our of these lectures. If you have trouble getting this to work, contact us so that we can help you get set up. (Lecture title: Intro_to_Online_Lectures)

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Introduction to Critical Thinking

Now that you're oriented to the course, let's begin by thinking about what critical thinking is. A theme that will run through several lectures in this unit is the problem of definition. From the student's perspective, you probably are wondering what this course is about, what you're expected to learn. The challenge here is that everyone things they know what critical thinking is, at least until you ask them to explain what they think it is -- or define the phrase "critical thinking," which amounts to the same thing. As you'll see, we take several lectures to define the term, starting with a more intuitive characterization and then getting a little more technical and precise.

Note that this course is focused on the practice rather than the theory of critical thinking. This means that you'll be assessed on your ability to think critically, not your ability to explain what critical thinking is. Still, it's important for you to have an idea what you're getting into from the beginning. Otherwise, you run the risk of seeing this course as a disconnected set of lectures and assignments. That would be unfortunate. Critical thinking is a skill, and to some extent people can be skillful without being able to explain (even to themselves) wherein their skill lies; but it's also true that one of the best ways to improve a skill is to think about how you practice it, and it is you know that allows you to be skillful. The technical term for this process is metacognition. So the reason we're presenting as much theory as we are is not because this is something you need to memorize. Rather, it's so that you can get the most our of the course, not just going through the units piece by piece, but thinking about what you're learning and why.

The next lecture is intended to give you an intuitive understanding of what critical thinking is. It provides some rough-and-ready rules to help you ask of any problem "will this require me to use critical thinking?" but it stops well short of giving a technical definition. Also note the discussion in this lecture of the role of opinions. (Lecture title: What_is_Critical_Thinking)

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Up to this point we've spoken of critical thinking as a skill. That locution (way of describing it) probably isn't a surprise to you, but have you ever really thought about what a skill is, or how skills differ from the other things you might be expected to learn? The following lecture explains what skills are, and how they differ from content. This course focuses on skills development, but you will also encounter a lot of disciplinary content as well. It's very important that you not misunderstand what you're being expected to learn in this course, and this lecture gets you well on the way to making sure you keep your eye on what's really important. (Lecture title: Skill_and_Content_Acquisition)

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Up to this point, we've spoken of critical thinking as a skill, and that's caused some problems because, whatever it is, critical thinking is a complex thing and pretty abstract, and therefore hard to get a handle on. In the next lecture we change our terminology slightly, and speak of it not as a skill but as a bundle of skills. This allows us to conceive of it more clearly, and it has the added advantage that it should help you understand why it is that other courses you might take in college may conceive of critical thinking in very different terms than we do here. The answer, in brief, is that different courses tackle different bundles of skills. This doesn't mean that they presume different understandings of what critical thinking is; it just means that they have different emphases. (Lecture Title: Critical_Thinking_Skills)

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Learning Goals for this Course

The last lecture introduced you to the ideas of learning goals and outcomes. Goals are general categories of things that are to be accomplished, so a learning goal is a category of thing that is to be learned. Outcomes are more specific than goals, the things that fall under the categories that we're calling goals, and they are phrased with imperatives to indicate what it is that you'll be able to do, in practical terms, when you have acquired that outcome. Consider as an example the following outcome and the goal that it falls under:

Critical Reading

  • Summarize the explicit content of a text

When you've acquired this outcome, you'll be able to produce explicit* summaries of texts. This is a critical reading skill because one sign that you've understood a text is that you can summarize its contents. You'll learn more later about how critical reading differs from just plain old reading, but for now let's just say that "reading" is often used to mean basic literacy, namely being able to recognize words that you already know when they're written down, and being able to translate a written text into spoken language. You can, in this sense, read a text without really understanding it.

* "Explicit" in this context means that you're just summarizing the surface or direct sense of the text. It's actually a skill in its own right, which you'll pick up as part of the process of learning this and other skills covered in the course, to focus just on explicit content and not read additional meanings into the text that are merely implied.

One key sign of being able to understand a text is being able to summarize what it says, so that's a key critical reading skill. Summary, in turn, involves two subskills: being able to put a text in your own words without changing its basic meaning, and do this in fewer words than the original text did. (At this point you probably won't be surprised to learn that even basic skills can generally be decomposed into simpler skills.)

Now that you have an idea what we mean by learning goals and outcomes, let's look briefly at the four learning goals for this course. You'll encounter each of these in more detail later -- in fact, one unit of the course is devoted to each --but for now you'll just want a general overview. What follows are two lectures, each addressing two of the four outcomes.

This lecture addresses the first and fourth goals, namely critical reading, and argumentation (Lecture Title: Critical_Reading_Argumentation):

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This lecture addresses the second and third goals, namely the use of evidence, and bias and perspective (Lecture Title: Evidence_Perspective):

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Homework Exercise

Since this unit is just intended to introduce you to the course, you won't have to produce any work that will be graded in this unit. However, part of introducing you to the course is giving you an idea of what to expect, and since the bulk of your time will be spent reading papers and book chapters and writing about them, this introduction wouldn't be complete without giving you an example of what exercises will look like.

In subsequent units, you'll be given two reading assignments. The first will be for practice, and second for real -- it's the second one that will be graded. Here we'll just give you one reading, which is designed to show youhow, in practice, a few of the learning outcomes can be applied in particular cases.

And here's the reading itself. You'll want to read it before you go on to the next lecture:


And here's an outline that you'll want to print out and refer to when you're listening to the following lecture:

pdf Outline

Here's a discussion of the reading, which shows the application of a few of the course's learning goals (Lecture Title: Brodie):

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This is the end of the first unit of the course. If you have any questions, feel free to contact your instructor.