AbstractsEducation Research & Administration

Looking Beyond the Obvious : Theoretical, Empirical and Methodological Insights into Critical Thinking

by Heidi Hyytinen

Institution: University of Helsinki
Department: Institute of Behavioural Sciences; Helsinki University Centre for Research and Development of Higher Education (YTY)
Year: 2015
Keywords: kasvatuspsykologia, kasvatusfilosofia
Record ID: 1131299
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/154312


The central purpose of this doctoral thesis has been to deepen our understanding of the nature of critical thinking by combining theoretical, empirical and methodological perspectives. The concept of critical thinking has a central role both in research on the philosophy of education and in empirical research on learning and teaching in higher education. Although it is true that the philosophical and empirical analyses of critical thinking and knowledge differ fundamentally, the present thesis argues that there are shared concerns between these two scholarly traditions. The thesis consists of four studies, each of which approached this aim from different viewpoints. The methods involved both a philosophical approach and an empirical multi-method approach. The dialogue between the empirical and theoretical analyses offers new insights into conceptualising critical thinking and its prerequisites and extends our understanding of variations in critical thinking. Based on the theoretical findings of these studies, I argue that normative elements (how things ought to be) and descriptive elements (how things are) are fundamentally intertwined in the research on critical thinking. Therefore, educational research on critical thinking requires both philosophical and empirical approaches and also dialogue between these two approaches. The theoretical part of the doctoral thesis further demonstrates how philosophical research can contribute to the normative elements of the prevailing empirically-based theorisation of critical thinking, particularly by revealing some conceptual inconsistencies within this framework. The research further introduces the notion of fallibilism (human knowledge is uncertain) as a way out. Epistemological fallibilism fits the presumption of critical thinking better than relativism from the theoretical and pedagogical points of view. The empirical results revealed variation in (a) students skills and dispositions to think critically, (b) students ability to adapt their thinking and performance flexibility, (c) the nature of knowledge students consider to be relevant, (d) the knowledge that students use in problem-solving situations, as well as (e) the way students process that knowledge. Based on these variations two profiles were identified: (1) superficial processing or (2) thorough processing. Superficial processing students reproduced information in the problem-solving situation. These students did not analyse, interpret, evaluate or synthesise knowledge, and their reasoning was very poor. They palmed off justification for knowing on authorities and testimonies. In contrast to previous research, the results show that these students did not share the belief that knowledge is absolutely certain or unquestionable. Nor did these students share the view that beliefs accurately represent or correspond to reality. These students emphasised the uncertain nature of knowledge. The thorough processing students, by contrast, evaluated the quality of the information and considered its premises, as well as…