Teaching an Applied Critical Thinking Course: How Applied Can We Get?

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Teaching an Applied Critical Thinking Course: How Applied Can We Get?

ABSTRACT: Encouraging students to apply classroom knowledge in their personal, everyday life is a major problem confronting many teachers of critical thinking. For example, while a student might recognize an ad hominem argument in a classroom exercise, it is quite another thing for him or her to avoid the same in interpersonal relations, say with parents, siblings, and peers. One approach to this problem is the creation of interaction software to which students can turn for input on the rationality of their own thinking. Students can then speak to computers rather than instructors about their private lives without having to share confidential information with any other human being, yet still receive relevant feedback. I discuss software technology that actually performs this function. The software in question is an interactive, artificial intelligence program that checks beliefs for faulty thinking ("fallacies"), including inductive and deductive errors. The system "scans" student essays for possible fallacies; asks questions at relevant junctions; provides individualized feedback on fallacies committed; provides summaries of fallacies found; diagnoses thinking problems; issues recommendations; and provides other pertinent information.

The current movement in "applied philosophy" has helped to re-awaken the Socratic notion that philosophy is a way of living and not merely an academic pursuit. The crux of this movement has been that philosophical theories and methods can make valuable contributions to practical life problems. One very visible area of applied philosophy has been that of ethics. Thus, applied ethics today includes applications of philosoph...

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... of fallacy commission in each of the five groups of fallacies addressed in the course. In a sample of about 150 community college students, the mean total score on the PLAI pre-test was 132.543, whereas the total mean score on the post-test was 113.647 indicating a overall improvement (across all five fallacy categories) of 18.896.


While, at this juncture, more data needs to be collected and its significance evaluated, there is reason to think that instructors of critical thinking can, with the assistance of computer technology such as that summarized above, effectively narrow the gap between classroom and students' "external" world. Without undue invasions of students' privacy, instructors can oversee and assess their students efforts in applying critical thinking to personal living. And they can do this without ever having to leave the classroom!
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