Critical assumptions thinking critically about critical thinking. journal of nursing education


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Category development continued during the framing of this paper, and authors engaged in ongoing conversations to modify categories to better fit the data. In this process, we returned to the data to look for exceptions that did not fit any category, as well as contradictions and overlap between categories. Memos were kept to track the development or elimination of initial insights or impressions. Institutional ethics approval was obtained from the University of Alberta.

Participant identities have been masked to preserve anonymity. Three main conceptions of critical thinking were identified, each of which will be elaborated in greater detail below: biomedical critical thinking, humanist critical thinking, and social justice-oriented critical thinking. It is important to note that these categories focus on the process and purpose of critical thinking, as defined by participants. The results below interweave responses from different professional groups in order to emphasize the way in which each of the three core conceptions that we have identified crosses professional boundaries.

Some of these conceptions were shared by multiple participants but individual constellations of beliefs about what critical thinking means were unique and somewhat idiosyncratic. You have to interpret it, you have to analyse it, and you have to come up with some type of conclusions at the end as to how you deal with it. This perspective was identified as the dominant conception of critical thinking because the terms and concepts falling under this broad approach were most frequently discussed by participants; moreover, when participants discussed other conceptions of critical thinking, they were often explicitly drawing contrast to the biomedical view.

They might talk primarily about biomedical critical thinking, but also explicitly modify that perspective by drawing on the other two approaches identified: humanist critical and social justice-oriented critical thinking.

Critical thinking: Its relevance for education in a shifting society

Thinking about something for the betterment of yourself and the betterment of others. MD1 INT1. Taken together, these perspectives suggest that biomedical approaches to critical thinking fail to address the complex relational and psychosocial aspects of professional practice.


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  • The values are assumed. SW3 INT1. MD2 INT2. It might be tempting to see the three approaches outlined above as playing out along professional boundaries. Certainly, the social justice-oriented conception was more common among social work educators; the humanist approach was most common among participants from nursing; perspectives held by physician educators frequently aligned with dominant biomedical conceptions.

    However, while the disciplinary tendencies discussed above do appear in the data, these tendencies were not stable; participants often held more than one view on what critical thinking meant simultaneously, or shifted between perspectives. However, they also suggest that there are ways in which these contradictions can be productively sustained. In negotiating between humanist and biomedical perspectives, educators effectively modify the dominant perspective.

    MD1 INT2. Such results demonstrate that individual conceptions of critical thinking are multiple and flexible, not predetermined or stable. Educators bring certain values or perspectives into the foreground as they relate to the context under discussion, while others recede into the background. In overview, the three broad conceptions of critical thinking offered here biomedical, humanist, and social justice-oriented echo approaches to critical thinking found in the critical thinking literature [ 11 , 35 , 36 , 37 ].

    However, this study extends the literature in two key ways. First, our data point to ways in which different conceptions of critical thinking conflict and coalesce, within the field, within each profession, and even within individuals. Second, this tension offers an early empirical account of critical thinking in the health professions that suggests there may be benefits to maintaining flexibility in how one conceives of the concept.

    The diverse conceptions of critical thinking identified all appear to have some value in HPE. When educators take up different conceptions of critical thinking, the shifts they make are not just pragmatic; they actively negotiate the values and practices of the different communities in which they participate. Although we certainly saw hints of differences between professions, the strength of this study is that it captured the ways in which conceptions of critical thinking are not stably tied to any given profession.

    These observations lead one to speculate about what purpose fluidity in conceptions of critical thinking might serve. Educators often have different values and goals for their profession, and, thus, it is not surprising that the meaning of critical thinking would be contested both within and across professions. When conceptions of critical thinking are understood as flexible instead of stable, these acts of modification and contestation can be viewed as potential moments for critical self-reflection for individuals and for professional groups on the whole.

    Moreover, through their discussions of critical thinking, educators actively intervened to consider and assert what they value in their work. These different conceptions might be complementary as often as they are incompatible. Advances at the heart of HPE and practice have been hard-won through deliberate reflection, discussion, action, and often conflict. The sample also focussed on conceptions of critical thinking within health professions education at specific institutions in Edmonton, Alberta.

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    We expect that there may be significant differences between settings, given that what is meant by critical thinking seems to be highly contextual, even from moment to moment. Mapping aspects of context that impact how individuals and groups think about critical thinking would tell us much more about the values on which these conceptions are based.

    Although the boundary is definitely blurry, these groups engage in different kinds of work and participate in different communities, which we suspect may result in differences in how they conceive of critical thinking. Educators took up biomedical, humanist, and social justice-oriented conceptions of critical thinking, and their conceptions often shifted from moment to moment or from context to context.

    Moreover, such an approach is unlikely to be productive. We thank Dr. Paul Newton for his contributions to the analysis of these data, in his role as supervisor of the dissertation work on which this manuscript is based. Thanks also to Dr. Dan Pratt for his help and support in developing this manuscript. Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. Constructing critical thinking in health professional education. Open Access. First Online: 04 April Methods We used an inductive, qualitative approach to explore conceptions of critical thinking with educators from four health professions: medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and social work.

    Results Three main conceptions of critical thinking were identified: biomedical, humanist, and social justice-oriented critical thinking.

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    Hence, with this study, we sought to ask: 1. How do educators in the health professions understand critical thinking? Sampling Participants were recruited through faculty or departmental listservs for educators.

    Data generation Participants were invited to participate in two in-person semi-structured interviews conducted by the first author. Data analysis Data were coded through an iterative cycle of initial and focused coding [ 33 ] with NVivo software. Participants, when adopting this view, described critical thinking as directed toward social good and oriented around positive human relationships.

    In the humanist perspective, participants often discussed the purpose of critical thinking as: Thinking about something for the betterment of yourself and the betterment of others. Unlike biomedical critical thinking and similar to the humanist view, participants articulating this conception tended to make the values and goals of critical thinking, as they conceived of it, explicit. When taking this perspective, participants argued that it is necessary to understand social systems in order to think critically about individual patient cases. Other participants had measured responses to this approach.

    They responded either by making sense of and accommodating the new perspective, or by rejecting it. Acknowledgements We thank Dr. Conflict of interest R. Kahlke and K. Eva declare that they have no competing interests. Rev Educ Res. CrossRef Google Scholar. Facione PA. Millbrae: California Academic Press; Google Scholar. Black B. Ennis RH. In: Davies M, Barnett R, editors. The Palgrave handbook of critical thinking in higher education. New York: Palgrave MacMillan; Thayer-Bacon B.

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    Transforming critical thinking: thinking constructively. New York: Teachers College Press; Caring and its relationship to critical thinking.

    Facilitating Critical Thinking in Healthcare

    Educ Theory. Walters KS. Critical thinking, rationality, and the vulcanization of students. In: Walters KS, editor. Re-thinking reason: new perspectives on critical thinking. Warren KJ.

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    Constructing critical thinking in health professional education

    Critical thinking and feminism. Brookfield SD. Speaking truth to power: teaching critical thinking in the critical theory tradition. The full text of this article hosted at iucr.