Duke Kunshan Holds Workshop to Assess and Improve Students’ Critical Thinking Skills

Educators, employers, and government leaders are calling for better critical thinking skills in student, workforce, and citizen populations around the world. But what is meant by critical thinking? Can it be taught? Can it be measured?

On Sept. 23-24, two dozen faculty and senior staff members at Duke Kunshan University had the opportunity to explore these questions, and learn how to perform the “CAT scan” on students’ critical thinking skills with the Critical thinking Assessment Test (CAT) at a workshop held on campus by researchers from The Center for Assessment and Improvement of Learning (CAIL) at Tennessee Technological University. The workshop was funded by a grant from Duke University’s China Faculty Council through the ERIC (Education and Research Innovation in China) program. Edie Allen (The Language and Culture Center ), Linda Daniel (Duke Kunshan/Duke Libraries ), LI Hui (Duke Kunshan University Chancellor’s Office), Deedra McClearn (Master of Science in Medical Physics Program), and Ken Rogerson (Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy) served as the organizers and local committee for the workshop.

Dr. Kevin Harris and Dr. Ada Haynes from CAIL kicked off the workshop with an inspiring speech on the importance of critical thinking and the changing nature of education. As Dr. Haynes pointed out, “China has the largest growing population of active internet users, and 98.5% of them use social media platforms. However, identifying credible information on social media can be challenging, and higher education institutions should educate students to become well informed and deeply motivated citizens who can think critically.” 

Dr. Haynes

The speech was followed by a hands-on scoring session, during which faculty members and staff learned about the underlying skills measured by the CAT and scored CAT tests completed by Duke Kunshan students under the trainers’ guidance.

"One thing I liked about the test is that, instead of using multiple choice items, it uses short answer items. This brings the test closer to the way people think in real life; it is also better because it assesses how deeply students think about questions and how well they can explain their answers,” said Dr. Don Snow, professor and director of the Writing and Language Programs at Duke Kunshan University. “Of course scoring a test like this is somewhat more difficult because it has to be scored by teachers rather than a computer, but this has the added advantage of engaging teachers more fully in not only assessing but also teaching critical thinking."

Prof. Don Snow

On the second day of the two-day workshop, participants used development materials to create assessments within their own disciplines with the assistance and feedback of the CAT trainers. They also learned about the online development system of CAT and were invited to use the online system to develop culturally sensitive and discipline-specific assessments for their courses.

 “I found the workshop very helpful and inspiring. The CAT App can not only be used in teaching, but also in solving real-world problems we encounter as staff members of the university,” said Hui Li, Senior Advisor to Chancellors for Partner and External Relations. “I, together with several other colleagues, tried to apply the critical thinking skills to create a marketing plan for Duke Kunshan’s undergraduate degree program slated to launch in 2018. Understanding and evaluating information correctly will be very crucial to designing our marketing strategy.”