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Why Critical Thinking is so Hard for Students to Learn and How We Can Help

Event date: Tuesday, March 12, 2013, from 10:45 AM to 12:15 PM
Location: CTE - UNH 3030

Why Critical Thinking is so Hard for Students to Learn and How We Can Help [Event Flyer]

Presented By: Craig Nelson, PhD, Biology, Indiana University, Emeritus

Sophistication in thinking is prerequisite to many of the goals of liberal and professional education including critical thinking, mature valuing, effective oral and written communication and much more. The basic question is: Why are sophisticated ways of thinking so difficult for students to acquire? We will examine a major framework for fostering critical thinking and related skills: intellectual and ethical development. However, help with cognitive frameworks is only half of our challenges as teachers. For most students, critical thinking is a deeply social enterprise. The most dramatic gains by far come from carefully structured discussions and other aspects of social dynamics. An underlying theme will be that critical thinking can often be fostered best by increasing the ratio of support offered for a given level of challenge. This approach applies to ALL students but is even more important for those from non-dominant backgrounds.

Craig E. Nelson is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Indiana University in Bloomington, where he has been since 1966. His biological research (60+ papers) has been on evolution and ecology, most recently on sex-determination in turtles. His articles on teaching (20+) address critical thinking and mature valuing, diversity, active learning, teaching evolution and the scholarship of teaching and learning. He has presented invited workshops on these and related topics at numerous national meetings and at many individual institutions, both here and abroad. He has taught several courses in biology as well as freshman seminars, honors courses, collaboratively taught interdisciplinary courses (mostly in environmental studies) and regularly taught a graduate course on "Alternative Approaches to Teaching College Biology." He was instrumental in the development of IU's Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) program and was founding Director of Environmental Programs in its School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He received several awards for distinguished teaching, was named the "Outstanding Research And Doctoral University Professor Of The Year 2000" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and received the President's Medal for Excellence, "the highest honor bestowed by Indiana University," in 2001. He was the first President of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, which he helped found in 2004.

Refreshments will be served following the talk. Please RSVP to teachers@lmu.edu or x85866.

Please contact the CTE for any of the following:
  • Handout: "Why Critical Thinking is so Hard for Students to Learn? How Can We Help?"
  • Handout: "The 'Red Pen' Worksheet"
  • Critical Thinking Presentation Recording
  • Other Material:
    • Handout: "A Brief Introduction to the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL)"
    • Bibliography: "Suggested Resources for Scholarly Teaching (ST) and for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) with a Focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)"
    • Handout: "Achievement, Retention and Equity: Key Pedagogical Changes that Can Make a Real Difference in ANY College Classroom Without Lowering Standards"
    • Handout: "How to Do Active Learning Easily not only for STEM & Other Content-Heavy Classes"
    • Handout: "Fostering Achievement, Retention & Equity for All Students: Key Recent Examples"

Other talks by Craig Nelson at LMU:


This program will be video and audio taped and may be podcast. By your willing participation in the program, you expressly and irrevocably consent to be photographed, videotaped and/or audio taped and quoted/cited. The films, tapes, and other digital recordings will become the property of the Center of Teaching Excellence, LMU.